Merry Christmas

Kari and I will be enjoying this week with our family. See you after the first of the year.

Why Shepherds? Part 4

This week I've tried to make the case that the shepherds in Luke 2 aren't there by accident. God made the spectacular birth announcements to shepherds (1) because Jesus as the Good Shepherd is the great fulfillment of God's promise in Ezekiel 34 and (2) because the other shepherds who should have been caring for the welfare of the people of Israel were asleep on the job. Every time Jewish leaders were reminded that the shepherds in the field heard first it should have been a stinging rebuke of their negligence.

So what? Here are a few observations from Luke 2 and Ezekiel 34 that apply to us as leaders today.

- Leadership is a stewardship. Shepherds didn't own the sheep; they managed them for someone else and were accountable to him for the welfare of the sheep-owner's assets. Whether we lead a church, an organization, a small group, or a family, God cares about the way we lead.

- God cares more for the welfare of the sheep than He does the position of the shepherd. When leaders refuse to manage well what has been entrusted to them, it is good stewardship on the Owner's part to replace the manager.

- God is looking for shepherds who will watch after the sheep, even when it is inconvenient, scary, exhausting, or bothersome. Nobody wants to stay up all night with a bunch of stupid sheep. But if the sheep are important to their owner, they should be important to us; whatever the cost.

- Faithfulness often gets rewarded in unexpected ways. In Luke 2, several guys watched over their sheep like they had undoubtedly done for many moons. They had likely seen several interesting things during their nights keeping watch over the sheep. On this night, they saw angels singing and received a sneak peak at the Good Shepherd who had come to save the world. God may not peel back heaven for your faithfulness in the minutiae of what He has called you to do, but He might.

Why Shepherds? Part 3

I started this week's post on Monday by saying that I don't think the shepherds' involvement in the Christmas story was a coincidence. Those guys weren't just in the right place at the right time. God chose to announce the birth of Jesus to specific shepherds for a specific reason. 

Yesterday I pointed to Ezekiel 34, in which God rebukes the leaders of Israel for being lousy shepherds. The angels should have sung for King Herod. God expected the king to be good shepherds (2 Samuel 5:2; Isaiah 44:28; Jeremiah 3:15, etc...). They should have sung for the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were also supposed to be good shepherds. 

But Herod and the Jewish leaders were shepherds who had fallen asleep on the job. 

When the angels appear in Luke 2:8, they appear to shepherds who were doing what shepherds are supposed to do: keeping watch over their flocks. And at night, no less. 

Night time is when predators like wolves and hyenas stalk lambs who stray from the flock. Night time is when thieves look for flocks to pilfer. Night time is when sheep - who can only see around 10 yards during the day - are prone to wandering away in the darkness. 

Night time is when sheep are the most vulnerable. It's also when shepherds are most vulnerable to taking their eyes off the ball. They're tired and sleep deprived. They're afraid. They're bored. Night time is a hard time to be a shepherd. 

But despite the obstacles, the shepherds in Luke 2 are exactly where they should have been doing exactly what they should have been doing: keeping watch over their flocks. 

When the Good Shepherd arrived, the angels announced the news to the shepherds who were doing what shepherds were supposed to do. The "shepherds" who were asleep at the switch missed the announcement. 

So what? In case it's not obvious, I'll finish out tomorrow talking about the implications for leaders today. 

Why Shepherds? Part 2

Yesterday I submitted that the shepherds' appearance in the Christmas story is more than just a coincidence. God picked shepherds, and specific shepherds, to be the recipients of his big announcement. Those guys weren't bit players in the drama - they tell a significant piece of the story.

You don't have to be an Old Testament scholar to know that shepherds play a big part in the Old Testament. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons, Moses, and David were all shepherds. In fact, as you read through the Old Testament you get the idea that when God wanted something done, He looked for a shepherd to work through.

In fact, that's precisely the point God makes in Ezekiel 34.

When we think about Christmas prophecies, we usually think about Isaiah 7, Isaiah 9, and Micah 5. But Ezekiel 34, as it turns out, has Christmas written all over it, though it's not all peace, joy and good tidings.

Ezekiel 34 is a stinging rebuke and judgement against Israel's leaders, who God says should have been been serving as shepherds of the people of Israel. Instead, they were selfish (Ezekiel 34:1-2); oppressive (Ezekiel 34:3-4); negligent (Ezekiel 34:5-6) stewards over the people God had trusted them to lead.

They were shepherds who were asleep on duty.

As a result, God promises to remove those leaders as shepherds and to replace them with someone else, Himself (Ezekiel 34:7-16). God announces judgment on these corrupt, oppressive, self-centered "shepherds" by shepherding the people Himself, caring for the people Himself, and restoring the flock Himself.

The judgment is announced in Ezekiel 34. In Bethlehem 2000 years ago, God made good on His promise.

The angels appeared to shepherds because this baby was the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-13) God had promised way back in Ezekiel 34. That's great news for sheep; bad news for the former shepherds. The angels should have appeared to the Jewish leaders. The angels should have appeared to the king. But those leaders were under judgment.

But why these shepherds? I think there's a reason these specific guys made it into the story. Check back tomorrow.

Why Shepherds? Part 1

Luke 2:8-20 is a familiar part of the Christmas story. There were shepherds living in the fields, watching over their flocks at night when a host of angels fill up the night sky and announce that a Savior is born who is Christ the Lord. They were "sore" afraid. 

Did you ever stop to wonder, why shepherds? 

Jesus was born a king, but God didn't pull back the sky to reveal the angelic host for Herod, who found out in a roundabout way through some wise men/astrologers from another land. 

Jesus was born the Jewish Messiah, but the Scriptures don't record any angelic visits to Pharisees or Sadducees.

The heavenly choir sang a command performance for a few hired-hands and a bunch of sheep. 

Why? Why shepherds?

I think there's a really good reason shepherds (and these shepherds in particular) get such a prominent place in the Christmas story. Their appearance isn't just coincidental, or filler in the story. The shepherds were intentional, and send a really powerful message for leaders every time we think about the Christmas story. 

Stay tuned this week. 


One of the things our staff team has been working through over the past year is the idea of alignment. We want to be a church that is committed to "developing Christ-centered people who make a difference," and want everything to align around that purpose. We don't want sideways energy that steals resources and focus from the reason we exist as an organization.

The problems with seeking alignment around anything are that (1) Almost everything can be justified in light of a common purpose, and (2) Alignment problems or perceived alignment problems are easily misdiagnosed.

Anyone's pet project or sentimental favorite can be rationalized in light of the overall purpose. And almost everyone can give anecdotal evidence concerning why something is working or not.

It is also easy miss the difference between things that are broken and things that are misaligned. Some things point the organization in the right direction, but aren't moving the organization because something else is broken. If your car keeps veering off the side of the road it could be because it is out of alignment. It could be because you have low tire pressure in one or more tires.

There is no such thing as a silver bullet when it comes to alignment and accomplishing your purpose. But you want to make sure your purpose is clearly defined and that you're accurately diagnosing things that are broken.

Comfort Zone

Have you ever noticed that most of Jesus' most poignant teaching moments with the disciples took place around the Sea of Galilee?

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) took place on the shore. The Feeding of the Five Thousand (Mark 6) took place there too, as did Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33) and their restoration after He rose from the dead (John 21).

The Sea of Galilee was the place Jesus found and called several of them (Matthew 4:18). It was their turf. They were fishermen who had likely grown up around that lake.

I can't prove this, but I think the location for Jesus' lessons was intentional. He pulled them out of their comfort zone inside their comfort zone.

I think there's a lesson inside all the lessons: disciples desperately need Jesus even in spaces where they're comfortable.

The Big Problem

If you live in Fort Worth, you have undoubtedly heard about the new advertisements on city buses this Christmas season. There has been quite an uproar about the advertisements by an atheist organization declaring that "millions of Americans are good without God."

Some bus drivers are claiming they will refuse to drive buses with the advertisements on them. Reports of the potential for hundreds or thousands of people boycotting city buses seem to be credible. Some Fort Worth pastors are organizing church-wide boycotts of the bus.

Perhaps obviously, I'm in favor of consumers voting with their pocketbooks. There are stores and services I will never patronize again because of the way they treated me or my wife. And you had better believe I privately tell my friends about my experience in hopes that they'll join with me.

However, I'm not sure I can think of a scenario in which I think a church as an institution needs to be in the boycott business.

I'm more saddened by the sentiment of the advertisements than I am angered by them. That an organization called "Coalition of Reason" could have such a flawed and subjective definition of "goodness" can only be an indication of their blindness. Who gets to decide what defines "good" in order to declare that millions of people are "good?" Who or what is the standard?

I wish the advertisements weren't on the city buses, but I'm not going to waste a bunch of time worrying about them for two reasons:

First, I simply can't picture a person walking down Hulen Street, seeing a bus drive by that says "Millions of Americans are good without God" and saying to himself, "Gee... I had no idea." Honestly, I put less confidence in a city bus advertisement's ability to change a person's worldview than I do the "John 3:16" sign at football games; and that puts the advertisements pretty low on my confidence list.

Secondly, I'm far more worried about people inside the church who teach and live as if they believe they are "good without God" than I am atheists who expresses a spiritually blind opinion. I'm far more worried about functional atheists' ability to discredit the church than I am a city bus advertisement put out there by real atheists.

My uncle Phil had a really great post yesterday that says virtually the same thing, better than I could.

Security through a Team

From time to time I have worked with people who refuse to build a team around themselves. They thrive on being the Lone Ranger; the person with the plan; the one everyone looks to when a problem needs to be solved or a task needs to be accomplished.

Almost always, this tendency is based in insecurity. People feel like a team makes them irreplaceable. They're afraid if they empower a group of people to lead underneath them they will make themselves expendable. If they are the only person who knows how things work, they can't be replaced.

In reality, I think the opposite is true. Short of an ethical or moral challenge, the failure to build a team is as sure a way as I know to find yourself replaced. Building a solid team of people who can do your job better than you is as sure a way as I know to get promoted.

Teams allow you to focus on a higher level of tasks and to take on more responsibility. If you fail to build a team you create a ceiling for yourself - you are only able to be responsible for the things you are able to do yourself. As the organization continues to grow and change, you won't have the margin to grow with it and you won't make it.

Team-building ensures margin, allows focus, and maximizes effectiveness. As a result, it might be the most important trait of a person who wants to be a high-level leader.

Humble Yourself

Ever notice that 1 Peter 5:5-7 and James 4:6-10 give commentary on the same Proverb, and offer the exact same advice?

Both James and Peter reflect on Proverbs 3:34: "God mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble." And, both James and Peter give the same advice: "Humble yourself so that God may lift you up."

A lot of times we talk about "being humbled" as if humility is something that happens to us passively at the hands of another person or circumstance. That isn't the way James or Peter see it.

If you remember, both James and Peter were writing to people who were struggling under awful circumstances (1 Peter 1:6-7; James 1:2-4). If humility came through circumstances, these people would have had been poster-children already.

But Peter and James talk about humility as something we should do to ourselves. It's active.

Pride can be defined as "an unhealthy interest in ourselves." Humility is the opposite. Humility is what happens when we see ourselves the way God sees us: as empty-handed, broken people who are completely dependent on a Savior through the power of the Spirit. And it isn't something that "just happens" to us.

We need to constantly, consistently remind ourselves that we are nothing more, nothing less than "in Christ." When we actively humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, the God with a hand strong enough to raise us from death to eternal life will lift us up in this life as well.

Platforms vs. Programs

My love/hate relationship with Apple is well-documented. I have a knack for buying lemons from Apple (on my ninth iPhone) and have even worse luck with their customer service trying to remedy my problems. And yet, I keep going back. I've tried to leave on multiple occasions, but keep going back for one primary reason.

Apple's philosophy is to create platforms that let the customer leverage the technology in a way that makes it useful to them.

Apple doesn't try to hang onto all the power. They don't try to corner every possible market. To do so would cause them to stretch far too thin and create a wide variety of mediocre, highly specialized products. They would be Microsoft.

Rather than trying to meet every imaginable need, Apple has created highly customizable tools that allow people who truly understand the specialized market to leverage Apple technology in a way that is useful to them. They empower the customer to maximize their platform.

I feel like a lot of our churches stretch themselves far too thin. Rather than thinking about platforms, we spend our time thinking about highly specialized programs that cause us to stretch too thin and create a bunch of mediocre stuff.

I wonder what it would look like if we focused more on creating platforms that allowed people the flexibility and adaptability to customize it to their specific needs as they seek to become Christ-centered people.

Kinds of Authority

I had a conversation last week with my friend Jeff Jones, the pastor at Chase Oaks Church. Jeff Jones and Gene Getz along with some other guys wrote the book on pastoral transitions. Jeff has been really kind to sit down with me every few months and walk me through the lessons he learned having walked an extremely similar road to the road I am walking.

Last week we had a conversation about their leadership structure moving through transition. One of the most helpful things about their leadership structure is (and was) its clarity when it comes to authority. A primary reason is some work they did with Brad Smith several years ago which helped them define and assign three primary kinds of authority that can be held by various groups. It is available as a part of a field guide produced by The Center for Church Based Training.

Input Authority is the authority to be heard on a specific issue. Decision Authority is the authority to make a final call concerning a specific issue. Veto Authority is the ultimate authority to overrule or overturn a decision. 

One of the most helpful things an organization can do is to clarify which roles carry which authorities. When lines get muddy, communication and expectations almost always break down. When people are asked for their opinion without clarity about the type of authority they carry, they normally always expect that they carry decision authority. 

People at high levels on organizational charts normally have implicit veto authority. When they express an opinion, it carries a great deal of weight even if they do not mean for it to. When they are clear about the type of authority they carry on a decision they are able to  express opinions with care. 

In my experience, almost everyone in an organization is okay with not having veto authority on most decisions. They are not okay with confusion about where authority and accountability lie. Great organizations are organizations in which every team is clear on every decision about what kind of authority they hold.

The Land Between - Review

I bought "The Land Between: Finding God in Difficult Transitions" by Jeff Manion on accident. I'm researching "pastoral transitions" for a dissertation and uploaded a bunch of books to my Kindle dealing with that topic. Somehow this one slipped into the bundle - maybe it was the word "transitions" in the title.

Before trying to send it back (I'm not even sure how you do that with a Kindle), I decided to read a couple of pages to make one hundred percent sure it didn't apply to my topic. It didn't apply to my topic, but I read the entire book before I knew what I was doing. I'm weak.

Manion takes a highly pastoral, highly personal look at tough transitions in life: the transitions that involve loss (loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of a marriage, loss of a home, etc...). Using the Israelites' wandering in the wilderness as a template, Manion helps to show how times of transition - the wilderness - can be transformational times in our life either for good or bad. To quote Manion, "The wilderness where faith can thrive is the very desert where it can dry up and die if we are not watchful."

I feel like the "wilderness wanderings" deal gets allegorized and over-used in a lot of cases. It is easy to stretch the metaphor so far beyond what the passage actually warrants that authors (and pastors) do more harm than good. In my opinion, Manion absolutely does not do this. His book doesn't feel like a self-help book with Bible verses forced in merely so he can sell the book at Lifeway.

"The Land Between" is really, really good. In fact, I'm ordering several copies to hand out to some of the people I counsel who could use the encouragement.

My only complaint about the book is that the Gospel doesn't make an appearance. I understand that the Israelites wandered a few thousand years before Jesus, but I sure wish there had been at least a mention of the fact that there is no hope for wandering in the wilderness without the Passover Lamb. Even still, this is a very good book that would make a really nice Christmas gift, especially for someone you know who is well-acquainted with the wilderness.

Performance Issue or Heart Issue?

Not long ago I was visiting with a guy who is emerging from a prodigal son season in his life. He's made a bunch of really dumb choices and wrecked a bunch of relationships in the process of drifting from the Father. Today he's on the journey back home, but is realizing that pig slop doesn't rinse off as quickly as it goes on.

As a part of our conversation, he lamented the "wasted years" of his life and said, "It just kills me that I let it go that far. If I had only made the decision back then to be in the Word every day, pray more often, and stay involved in church, things would never have gotten this out of hand."

His rationale is logical. Unfortunately, it's not biblical.

My buddy's prodigal journey wasn't the result of a performance issue; it was the result of a heart issue. He didn't wander away because he wasn't reading the Bible enough, praying enough, going to church enough. He wandered away because he has a heart that is prone to wander away.

In fact, it's God's mercy to my buddy that he didn't keep performing well when he went away. If he hadn't quit performing at the same time his heart wandered away, it might have taken him a lot longer to realize his need to return. He would have still been going through the outward charade fooling himself into thinking he was still close to home and causing him to attribute his "rock bottom" experience to a host of different things for some time before he realized what was really missing.

The reasons kids wander away from God at college isn't that they stop going to church. The reason husbands wander away from God and into the arms of another woman is not that they failed to read their Bible enough or pray enough; it is that sin is at work inside our bodies (Romans 7:23) so that we wander away from God.

The problem isn't our performance, so a change in performance won't fix it. The only solution is to be renewed through the Spirit (Romans 8:1-11) from the inside out (Romans 12:1-2).


In their book "The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership-Powered Company," Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel argue that leadership development should happen at every level of an organization. The very best organizations develop leaders internally for every position. Not only is this attitude great for the company, it's great for team members as well.

"Development is the ultimate perk. It can't be taken back once given, and it leads to other benefits."

Perks like bonuses, vacations, stock options, and merchandise discounts can all be taken away. Give someone a skill or an opportunity that can truly help them develop as an individual, and you can't ever take that back.

Obviously, financial (and other) incentives aren't bad. In fact, if you only offer development as a perk, you will develop your team members right into a great role at a different company who will give them development and financial compensation. But, it shouldn't be overlooked as a really important part of what you offer employees. And I'm not talking about company-wide in-services that aren't truly helpful. Offer your employees an opportunity to get better at the things they love doing, and you'll give them something that will help them (and your organization) long into the future.


I had a conversation with a guy the other day who is working through some career choices, trying make it to the top of his profession as quickly as possible. He's at a fun place in life, with a lot of talent and a lot of potential, just waiting for the right time to make his move.

During our conversation I remembered a quote I read several years ago by Jack Welch that really stuck with me. Welch was the long-time CEO of GE whose name is synonymous with the words "leadership" and "management" in some circles. He gave this advice to young leaders:

"If you treat the job you're on today like it's the last job you're ever going to be on, and you do it better than anyobody's ever done it before, I guarantee you won't stay on that job."

It's easy to get focused on the ladder rather than the job. The irony is, the best people to move up are the people who aren't focused on the ladder at all.

You want a promotion? Pretend like you'll never have another promotion and do your job like you're going to do it for the rest of your life. Spend all your time focused on a future job rather than your current job and you're likely to end up with neither.

Focus on the Target, Not the Hazards

I had this all queued up to post today and then Ken said virtually the same thing in his sermon yesterday. Great minds think alike, or more likely, this is something I stole from him in the first place.

One of the reasons golf is the most difficult sport known to man is that the game is almost 100 percent mental. Once you learn the basic fundamentals of a swing the difference between a great golfer and a below-average golfer is between the ears.

When great golfers step up to a ball, they know they are going to make a good shot and hope they can make a great shot. When I step up to the ball, I hope I'll see the ball again.

One of the best lessons I ever learned in golf was to focus on your target, never the things that lie between you and your target. If you stand over the ball and tell yourself, "Don't hit it in the water. Don't hit it in the water. Don't hit it in the water," guess where your ball is going to go? Even if the water is behind you the ball will find its way there.

Sanctification (becoming more like Christ) is the same way. A lot of us try to move through the game of life focused solely on avoiding the hazards. Then we wonder why we end up there so frequently.

Because of the Gospel, we have a new identity in Christ (Ephesians 1-3; Romans 6-7) and the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4; Romans 8) which allows us the ability to focus on the target - Christlikeness - with confidence that God has already given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). The hazard shapes the shot, but Christlikeness is the focus.


I spent this weekend with the great students from Faith Bible Church in Edmond, Oklahoma talking about the book of Daniel at their student conference. Since my inlaws are in Edmond and my parents are just a few minutes away we decided to make a week out of the conference and spend some extra time with family.

In order to take advantage of the time with our family, I'm going to take a blog hiatus until after Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, our elders started a blog a couple of months ago. They've worked really hard on it; check it out.

Have a great holiday.

Non-Christians and Unadopted Puppies

Have you ever noticed that many Christian people talk about "non-Christians" the same way we talk about unadopted puppies?

"You need to befriend one."

"They need you to take an interest in them."

"Be intentional when them."

"If you don't love them, who will?"

Maybe that's why in Luke 10, Jesus never answers the man's question "Who is my neighbor?" Instead, Jesus tells the guy a story inviting him to be a neighbor whomever he is around. Seems to me that it is important for us to live the Christ-centered life around everyone we meet - not to show extra kindness to a group of people who meet a certain narrow definition.

Old People, New Focus

A few weeks ago I got to teach what we call our "Prime Timers Class." It's one of my favorite classes to teach in, because the class is full of men and women who have been walking with Christ for longer than my parents have been alive. Some of them have been walking with Christ since before my grandparents were born.

It's easy for younger pastors to marginalize an older generation. It's also easy for an older generation to marginalize a younger generation. My heart is to be a part of a church where many generations are actively celebrating the unique perspectives and gifts of other generations, rather than fighting for their own territory.

We talked about Psalm 71, a Psalm that most scholars attribute to David. Many of the scholars who attribute this Psalm to David believe it was written during the time when a younger generation was literally attempting to marginalize the older generation - David's son Absalom was trying to take his father's throne (2 Samuel 14-18).

The whole Psalm is great, but I love the perspective of the Psalmist. He trusts in God to plead his case (71:2-4) and rehearses God's past faithfulness to Him (71:5-8). He begs that God would not cast him away in his old age (71:9-13) and commits to hope and praise no matter what knowing that God wouldn't waste the years God spent developing him (71:14-17). And I love, love, love the Psalmist's  request in 71:18, right before he begins to worship for the rest of the Psalm:

"Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come."

He isn't focused on preserving or protecting the past - he's not concerned with forms. He says "Don't let me die, Lord, until I've made sure the next generation knows how great you are."

We can discuss forms and styles and volume and traditions, but I'm thrilled to serve a church with a huge contingent of older men and women who are more focused on fighting for a chance to build the future than fighting for a chance to preserve the past.

Positive Contributions

Love this quote by James Boyce, quoted in "The Externally Focused Quest" by Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw:

"Until we produce our own quality art, our hysterical denunciations of what is admittedly "artistic trash" will fall on deaf ears. Until we show how Christians in government can and should function, being concerned not just for our rights and privileges but for the good of all and with justice for all, we will rightly be ignored.... [Quoting an associate,] "If we have not paid our dues by years of making positive contributions to culture, we simply do not have the cultural clout to pontificate about cultural crises." Only by participating in such cultural endeavors and thus by modeling what we believe can and should be done will we gain a hearing and actually begin to be effective."

What Christ-centered contribution have you made this week?

Incarnational Ministry or Messiah-Complex?

Last week I had a great conversation with one of our staff people about the idea of "Incarnational Ministry." 

Incarnational ministry is a buzz-word used to describe the responsibility of believers to be the "hands and feet" of Christ on the earth.

In my experience, there is a fine line between "incarnational ministry" and a messiah complex. 

It is absolutely true that the church should be the "Body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). We should be Christ's representatives on the earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). 

However, I worry when some of my friends start talking about "being Jesus to the culture" that the unintended consequence is a messiah complex, not incarnational ministry. 

It is Jesus' responsibility to "be Jesus;" it is our responsibility to be good reflections and representatives. There's a fine line there that we don't want to miss.   

Redeeming the Time

Had a neat conversation with a guy I meet with regularly about the concept of "redeeming the time." Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:15-16 to "be careful how you live - not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil." The NIV translates "redeeming the time" "making the most of every opportunity" which gets at the point but probably doesn't totally capture it.

When you redeem something, you trade something with some value for something that has more personal value to you. For example, when you buy a $20 shirt, you exchange a piece of paper with $20 in value for a shirt that has more value to you than the $20 bill. The store is willing to make the exchange because they value the $20 more than they value hanging onto the shirt. You redeem the shirt by exchanging something with value for something that you perceive to have more value.

In Ephesians 5:15-16, Paul talks about "time" as something that has inherent value. Rather than simply wasting it, he challenges us to make an investment; to exchange the minutes, hours, and days that we have for something we perceive to have more value.

The guy I was talking to this morning is a great example. He spends a couple of hours every week tutoring a kid in partnership with one of the ministries our church supports. Essentially, he is trading those two hours for something he perceives to have more value. Eternal value, in fact.

Rather than simply hanging onto his time and letting it pass through his hands, my friend is choosing to invest it in something he will be able to enjoy millions of years from now. He's making a good investment...

Sexual Detox - Review

It seems like I do two different kinds of marriage counseling as a pastor: (1) the kind where the guy is addicted to pornography and deciding whether or not to leave his wife for a woman he thinks will be "better," and (2) the kind where the guy is addicted to pornography and his wife is deciding whether or not she can ever look at him again.

In truth, I do more marriage counseling than that but the statement above isn't much of an over-reach. When a couple comes in to visit about their marriage, I often just assume it has something to do with porn.

We live in a world and a culture that is almost completely saturated by porn. It's free, virtually omnipresent, and so easily accessible many people with a porn problem first stumbled on it by accident. From George Costanza exchanging suggestive pictures with an unknown seductress to Joey and Chandler celebrating free porn, sitcoms and other media have taken the taboo out of pornography to the point that many men and women feel as if it is something akin to politicians: a reality we wish we could live without, but that probably isn't going anywhere.

This is the culture to which Tim Challies has written "Sexual Detox: A Guide for Guys Who Are Sick of Porn"

Challies is a blogger, book reviewer, and ministry leader who doesn't mince words when it comes to the danger of pornography or of the power of the gospel to heal, restore, and reconcile men who have fallen in this area. Guys who struggle with porn won't find Challies' tone judgmental or condescending; their wives and friends won't find it permissive or acquiescent.

Challies deals with the reality of porn, the effect of porn on a marriage, a frank and biblical "theology of masturbation," and a gospel-centered method for "detoxifying" the bedroom and the soul of the effects of porn.

"Sexual Detox" is written with the concise easy style that is consistent with Challies' skill as a blogger. It won't take more than an hour or two to read and deals with hard issues without being inappropriately graphic in a way that would be counterproductive. So, there shouldn't be any excuses not to read it.

In fact, if you're a ministry leader, dad, or young man over 14 years old, or if you plan to be married to one of those people some day, you need to read this book.

I highly recommend this book, not because the topic is comfortable or particularly interesting, but because it's too big an issue to the hearts and minds of the future to address uninformed.


I've been doing some pre-thinking and reading about the New Testament book of Colossians because we are going to study it as a church next Fall. Colossians 1 might be my favorite chapter in the Bible.

This morning one of our elders sent me this video. It's a powerful visual illustration of what happens when the "Sustainer" is removed.

Colossians 1:17 - "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."

When Your Kids Drive You Nuts

Our small group has been reading "Grace Based Parenting" together. I heard Tim Kimmel at a conference a few years ago and really love what he has to say. The study has been a good one for our group.

Last week, one of the girls in our group had some great advice for the group which was connected to Kimmel's observation that your child's greatest strengths are often the things that drive you the most nuts.

What my friend said was this (paraphrasing): "Someone told me a long time ago that we should use our frustration with our kids' tendencies to motivate our prayers. Rather than going nuts because your kid is strong-willed, spend time thanking God for the strong-willed nature in your child and asking Him to allow that strong-willed nature to shine through when your child is 13 or 14 and facing pressure to conform to any number of scary things."

That's great advice I've already put into practice this week. Our oldest has some strong-willed tendencies but is also pretty sensitive and is very cautious when it comes to trying new things. I've spent quite a bit of time praying this week that God will use his sensitive side to shape him into a fantastic friend, while using his strong-willed, cautious nature to make him a bold, wise leader.


I tell people I was a music major in college simply because I looked at the course requirements and didn't see any math classes. That's only partially true... okay, only mostly true. I hated math growing up, particularly pre-calculus. The only single redeeming quality in pre-calculus was that we got to break out our TI-82's from time to time and plot graphs on our calculators. For that reason, and that reason alone, I remember asymptotes.

What's an asymptote? Simple: it's a straight line that is closely approached by a plane curve so that the perpendicular distance between them decreases toward zero as the distance from the origin increases to infinity.

See why I avoided math?

An asymptote describes a curved line that runs closer and closer to a straight line but which will never ever intersect the straight line.

Sanctification (the process of becoming more like Christ) is often just like an asymptote. Think of God's character as the straight line and our character as the curved line. When we first trust Christ, we seem to be becoming more and more like Christ in a hurry. But the longer our journey goes, the more we begin to realize that there's never a point at which the lines will intersect in this lifetime. Thus, as we mature, the change is not nearly as dramatic.  

Sometimes this is frustrating for believers who long for the good old days when they were changing like crazy. But as I talk to people who are further along in the sanctification process I've realized something: the more mature you get the more you stop caring as much about the degree of progress and focus instead on your nearness to the straight line.

Your focus changes. Rather than thinking about who you used to be, the focus becomes who you will be. So even though change is less dramatic, it's sure and steady, approaching the straight line more and more every day.


A friend of mine recommended "Drive" by Daniel Pink on the golf course the other day. Since there was nothing redeemable about my golf game, I figured I should take his recommendation so I had something to show for the day.

The subtitle for "Drive" is "The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us." As the title would suggest, it's a book about how to motivate people, primarily employees, to do their best work. But, the title is deceiving on some levels: the truth about what motivates us is only surprising to an older generation of employers familiar with a different paradigm. Young executives, companies, and non-profits follow this book's advice almost intuitively.

The long story short: according to Pink the old model of motivation that depended on carrots and sticks are not only not helpful as motivators, they can be harmful. Instead, Pink's research has found that employees are best motivated when they have the ability to direct their own lives, the ability to improve at something that truly matters, and the ability to be a part of something bigger than themselves (autonomy, mastery, and purpose).

So long as pay and benefits are fair and equitable, money and benefits cease to be a good motivator for people over the long-term. They become unquenchable thirsts; they're never enough. At best, they cause employees to care less about doing a good job for the sake of a job well done (what self-respecting person would work harder unless the carrot keeps advancing too). At worst, they cause people to be unethical and dishonest.

Instead, companies with employees who thrive are companies who find a way to empower their employees to be as autonomous as possible, continuously improve their skills, and view the scope of their responsibilities in light of something that truly matters.

Pink's book is good, and based on fascinating research. The primary thrust of the book is on the science behind the theory, but the book isn't highly technical or a difficult read. The last part of the book gives a "toolkit" of ideas for leaders who want to grow in this area. If you are in a position of authority and need to motivate people well, "Drive" is definitely a book you'll want to pick up.

Global Missions: Deep or Wide?

There's a fairly big movement among churches these days in the area of global missions. Rather than supporting several different global partners in several different locations, churches are choosing to focus their involvement in just a few areas. They argue that this pattern allows them to go "deep rather than just wide."

The idea is this: If the church focuses on one specific area, they can streamline all their resources (time, talent and treasure) and invest all their energy in a specific area to make a more lasting impact. Many churches identify strategic global partners that are congruent with local opportunities (for example, a church in a community with a large Vietnamese population would focus global partnerships in Vietnam). Bob Roberts at Northwood Church has even coined a term for this kind of philosophy: he calls it "glocal."

I love a lot of the ministry these churches are doing, and certainly don't want to say anything that would disparage it. But, I feel like the choice between deep and wide is a sucker choice - a false dilemma.

I feel like you can go deep and wide with a breadth of partnerships, provided the church is actually engaged in partnerships. 

If your church wants to be intimately involved in every aspect of the ministry, you can't do that with a breadth of partnerships. But then again, that's not really partnership; it's just an extension of your authority and presence overseas.

If your church wants to come alongside people who are having great ministry in a specific context in a way that postures the church to respond to the individual needs of those ministries and be involved in their work, there is no reason the church can't do that for a breadth of partners. If you choose partners who are good at partnering and combine that with a philosophy of true partnership, there is no reason the church can't go deep and wide at the same time.

God is at work all over the world. I love the ability McKinney Church has to truly partner with dozens of people in dozens of locations doing dozens of different types of ministry. It allows our people the freedom to  choose to engage in partnerships that are particularly meaningful to them while providing regular reminders of the breadth of what God is up to in a variety of contexts.

Topical or Expository?

I hear this question all the time, particularly when I talk to guests who visit our church. "Do you preach expository messages (passage-by-passage through books of the Bible) or topical messages?"

The answer is, "yes."

Here's my thinking on preaching: whatever the message is, it has to be straight from the Bible. We don't preach out of Newsweek or Time Magazine or our own opinions and crazy hairs. Beyond that, we've got some flexibility.

There are several benefits of going passage-by-passage through a book: It's much more difficult to take a passage out of context, much more difficult to avoid hard passages, and people gain confidence being able to put the pieces of Scripture together. They're less likely to say "my pastor says..." and more likely to say "the book of Romans says..." That's a win for any pastor whether he knows it or not.

There are some liabilities of expository messages: Who wants to go passage-by-passage through 2 Chronicles for 6 years? Also, it's much harder to address specific needs relevant to your congregation and culture if you don't happen to be preaching through a Text that specifically addresses those issues.

There are also several benefits of preaching topical messages: you are able to get a more comprehensive view of what the Bible says about a specific topic (ie. "marriage" or "God's attributes") You are able to explain the forest, not just the trees. The metanarrative of Scripture becomes more clear through topical messages done well. One of my pastor friends is fond of reminding me that Scripture never records Jesus preaching an expository sermon. That's probably a stretch (Luke 4:21 is a 8 word exposition of Isaiah 61), but he has a fairly good point: Jesus preached a lot of topical messages.

However, there are some liabilities there too. It's easy to force Scripture into your point. It's easy for people to remember your point but not the Scripture. And, it can lead people towards a mentality of worship in which they rely on the pastor to interpret the Scripture and tell them what to do. The Reformers fought pretty hard to ensure that wasn't necessary.

So, which do I preach? I preach both. I probably lean towards exposition because I feel like it fits my gift-mix and because I feel like more than people need to be told what to do, they need to learn how to figure out what to do from the Scriptures on their own. My method of preaching is an attempt to help people study the Bible for themselves, and that's more simple with exposition. But that's a personal preference based on my individual giftedness and strengths; not a conviction that everyone else needs to hold to.

There's room for a lot of styles, so long as all the styles are faithful to the Text.

Come and See?

Because of my compulsive problem with boxes I mentioned yesterday, I often have a hard time describing our church to other people.

We've got a lot in common with "missional" churches, but everyone talkin' 'bout missional ain't going there...

We've got a lot in common with traditional Bible Churches, though I don't use an overhead projector, don't wear a suit, and can't remember the last time I parsed a Greek word from the platform.

We've got a lot in common with non-denominational churches, though not the pew-jumping, snake-handling kind.

You get the picture.

This past week I stumbled on something that gets at a piece of who we are. It doesn't totally characterize us (it isn't a box), but I think it's fairly helpful. Someone asked me if we were an "attractional" church. Obviously, I shunned the box. But, I said this: "Rather than a Come and See church, we want to be a Go With Us church."

Our heart is that the very best ministry we do will never happen "in here." We want to do great ministry "in here," but that's not what is attractive about us. If you really want to see what's attractive about us as a church, go with us.

The Problem With Boxes

For several reasons I don't do very well with being categorized. Part of it is my generation; part of it is my desire to be an individual rather than a statistic; part of it is my uneasiness about the baggage that comes with categorizations. 

My experience is this: when people put themselves in a box, they normally do it because they identify with the majority of the people inside the box with them. They identify with the core of the box. 

When people outside the box look at the box, they only identify the people on the fringe. 

In that way, boxes are inherently unhelpful. If they are only helpful once you've established you agree, the box is no longer necessary.

For example, characterizing oneself as a "Calvinist" would only be helpful in conversations with other Calvinists. People outside the Calvinist box would generally assume that a "Calvinist" is a hateful fatalist who doesn't believe in evangelism - they would identify the "box" by the fringe. 

Characterizing oneself as a "Dispensationalist" would normally only be helpful to a person who is like-minded. Otherwise, you're in the same box as the wigs on TBN and the person who wrote the book "88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988" and the "89 Reasons..." sequel. 

Rather than jumping in a box, it is far easier to say, "Lots of people define those categories differently. Here is what I believe..." 

Boasting in Receiving

At McKinney Church we've been preaching through the book of Romans chunk-by-chunk for the last several weeks. This past week we finally made our way out of the "bad news" of Romans 1:1-3:20 and into the "good news" of the rest of the book, talking about how righteousness for God is different from righteousness from God.

Righteousness for God turns us into performers who hope our good performance will elicit God's applause. The only problem with that idea is that Romans 1-3:20 is true and, as it turns out, we're awful performers.

Righteousness from God turns us from performers to receivers, which is better because it's our only hope.

When you understand that right standing in the eyes of the Judge (righteousness) is a gift, it eliminates your need to perform and eliminates your room to brag. Whoever bragged about what a great gift-receiver they were?

You can't brag as the receiver, you can only boast in the Giver.

We don't have right standing before God because we were good, holy, righteous, moral, upright, or religious. We have righteousness because God gave us an extravagant gift that we receive freely by faith. We can't accept the credit; we can only accept the gift.

I'm Busy

From time to time we'll debrief an event or program as a staff. Attendance is very rarely a metric we pay an inordinate amount of attention to, but we do want to gauge the response to something we have done in order to evaluate the investment we have made and to make sure what we are doing is helpful.

Almost always, the comment is made, "Well, people are busy."

I understand that, but refuse to accept it.

People are busy, but people have always been busy. Today people are busy with little league games, social activities, work events and school events; a hundred years ago people were busy tending the farm so their family could eat dinner. Busyness is a true statement, but it is not a statement of the real issue.

"I'm busy" represents a value judgment, plain and simple.

We will make time to do the things we truly value. If we value eating, we arrange our busyness so we can hold a job and earn a paycheck. If we value rest, we arrange our busyness so we can go to bed at some point during the day. If we value the football game, we arrange our busyness so we can watch it. And so on...

If I am too busy for your event, it means I value something else more, plain and simple. That isn't always a problem, but sometimes it is. Sometimes "busyness" is a mask that hides our idolatry. Sometimes "busyness" is a symptom of a greater disease. And sometimes "busyness" is an excuse that allows us to politely say "your event isn't helpful to me but I don't want to hurt your feelings."

In your planning, don't allow "busyness" to be a trump card that keeps you from going deeper. "Busyness" should always drive you to ask the deeper questions: What do people value more? Why is that the case? Is that their problem or mine?

Commonplace Blog

I'm currently reading "Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation" by Steven Johnson. The topic is interesting to me, but even if it wasn't I would have bought the book after seeing the publisher's viral marketing campaign video on YouTube. That video is must-see. I'll write a review of the book another day.

Essentially, Johnson's thesis seems to be that good ideas are almost never the result of an "aha" moment, but the slow combination of many seemingly unrelated pieces of information and ideas that combine in the right environment to evolve into a good idea. In fact, much of Johnson's book uses the illustration of Darwin's theory of natural selection to show how Darwin's idea evolved in a way similar to the way he believed mankind had evolved.

Now obviously, I reject many of the implications Darwin came up with. Yet, the process he went through in reaching his theory is fascinating.

Johnson takes quite a bit of time to describe what Darwin called his "commonplace book." Commonplace books were like scrapbooks for ideas, quotes, recipes, and information that became popular in the 17th century. Great thinkers like John Locke, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Milton, and Mark Twain were all well-known keepers of Commonplace Books.

Commonplace Books became a place where thinkers would collect information that had virtually nothing in common. They would hand copy entire sections from books that they found interesting, recipes they might try, mathematical equations and virtually anything else they were thinking about. The Commonplace Book became a repository to store unrelated ideas and information  "just in case" the thinker needed the information in the future.

According to Johnson, these Commonplace Books provided the "Primordial Soup" that combined ideas and thoughts so that when the conditions were just right, unrelated ideas became related in what only appeared to be an "Aha" moment for thinkers.

It's a fascinating topic.

Ultimately, for me I guess, the purpose of this blog is to serve as my own version of a Commonplace Book. I don't do any of the things people say you should do in order to attract readers, mostly because I don't really care if anyone reads this blog or not. My post count binges and purges, I don't stick to a single topic, and I don't have a specific audience in mind. I'm just hoping to collect enough of my thoughts and ideas that some day I will say something really smart.

Until then, I hope you enjoy the hot, steamy bowl of primordial nothingness.

3 Cs

A few weeks ago a friend of mine passed along a tape (prehistoric MP3) of a talk he had heard many years ago by Jim Dethmer, a former pastor at Willow Creek Community Church who summarized his learnings in ministry for a group of pastors.

Primarily, the focus of this particular talk was a description of the local church existing as three things simultaneously: Cause, Community, and Corporation. According to Dethmer, these three circles exist together with some overlap but also with some independence.

As a Cause, the church is on mission like a soldier. The cause is the ultimate end of the organization and is worthy of any sacrifice.

As a Community, the church is like a family. Belonging, transparency, caring, and nurturing are the name of the community game.

As a Corporation, the church is an organization. Structures and systems that are effective and efficient are necessary to the church's survival.

Though there are some notable breakdowns in Dethmer's illustration and it certainly isn't comprehensive (these three traits could also be said to define a social organization that doesn't hold the Gospel as central), Dethmer's illustration is helpful, primarily in helping the leader discern which hat he is wearing at any given time.

The leader might put on his "corporate" hat as he attempts to motivate an employee toward better performance and then immediately switch to his "community" hat by inquiring about that employee's family. The wise leader will maintain a balance between all three circles. If he only wears the "cause" hat, the church will be cold spend much of its time chasing its tail. If he only wears the "corporation" hat, the church will get lost in a sea of metrics; nickles and noses will eclipse the cause. If the leader only wears the "community" hat, the church will be the most loving place of pointless wandering a person could ever experience.

Understanding these three important traits of the local church can go a long way in helping leaders lead a focused, balanced church.


I grew up in a church tradition that had a lot of committees. The Personnel Committee hired and fired staff; the Curriculum Committee picked out what Sunday School classes would study; the Facility Committee picked out the color of the carpet, (assuming they could ever agree themselves on what color the carpet should be). 

The benefit of committees is that you make decisions with an abundance of counselors, which is wise (Proverbs 24:6).

The problem with governance by independent committees is that you tend to have groups of people making decisions without a perspective of the whole. You invite a silo mentality that inevitably breeds conflict and division because committee members don't have access to the big picture. 

In the best case scenario with independent committees, there is a Committee that oversees committees. However, even then it is next to impossible to get anything done. The oversight committee has to inform all the committees about the decisions of the other committees. Each individual committee has to report to the oversight committee concerning their activities. This opens up an almost infinite number of extra lines of communication, all of which provides the potential for misinformation. 

It also ensures that the majority of your people will be governing ministry, but will be so leveraged in meetings that they'll never get around to doing it. That also breeds division and conflict because each committee will begin to resent those who aren't members of their committee because they aren't doing the kind of ministry the committee directed. The truth is, they'd love to but they are tied up in committee meetings of their own. 

My advice is to simplify your structure as much as possible. Streamline your committees and eliminate as many lines of communication as possible. Otherwise, you'll find yourself hamstrung with meetings, laden with conflict, and looking for a way to blow the thing up and start over. 

How People Change - Review

Last year I posted a review of a small group study our small group had done called "The Gospel Centered Life." The study was powerful, and transformed our small group in some really important ways.

In the back of the study, there is a list of "Gospel-Centered Resources" that includes the book "How People Change" by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp.

In short, as the title suggests, "How People Change" talks about how people change.

But far from being another in a long list of self-help pablum currently available at your local Christian bookstore, "How People Change" focuses on the real issues and the only solution. According to this book, "A behavioral approach to change is hollow because it ignores the need for Christ and his power to change first the heart and then the behavior."

Lane and Tripp point to the reality that most Christians live with an under-developed understanding of our identity in Christ. They say "...each of us lives out of some sense of identity, and our gospel identity amnesia will always lead to some form of identity replacement. That is, if who I am in Christ does not shape the way I think about myself and the things I face, then I will live out of some other identity."

"How People Change" looks at several New Testament examples of change, and notice a pattern of change in a person's life: Heat is applied which either causes good fruit or thorns to emerge depending on the nature of the root. Whatever the result, fruit or thorns, the authors say should be seen in light of the cross which provides the power and resources for good fruit, and the cleansing and power for redemption from thorns.

Honestly, I love the heart of this book. For me, it was a book that started really strong and tapered off at the end. The heat, thorn, cross, fruit metaphors and examples started to lose me toward the end of the book. However, the first half of the book was easily, easily worth the price of the book. Three cheers for guys with the perspective and guts to go against the best-seller grain in favor of the truth: our biggest problem isn't self-help; it's a Savior.

Tennis Evangelism

I'm not much of a tennis player. Those of you who go to my church know that there's a story behind that which involves my wife "almost" beating me early in our marriage. But, that's not the topic of my entry today so I won't go there.

If you watch a great tennis match, you know that the best tennis players are those who can volley the ball back and forth in such a way that they maneuver their opponent out of position. Once that is accomplished, they go for the kill shot and win the point.

It strikes me that a lot of us view our intentional conversations with people who are far from God in much the same way. We volley the conversation back and forth hoping they'll make a mistake and get out of position and we'll be able to hit the "kill shot" and lead them to Christ.

Can we stop doing that?

Seems like the point of evangelism is not to make sure our opponent is defeated, but to make sure that our friend wins.

Rather than trying to out-maneuver our opponent so that we can go for the kill shot, it would seem like we ought to view our conversations as opportunities to lob the Gospel so that they come out winners.

It's more than semantics. The difference changes everything about our perspective in the conversation. If we view people who are far from God as primarily opponents who need to be defeated, our approach will be combative and relentless. If we view them as friends with an opportunity to win, we will  treat the conversation gently and kindly, but deliberately and intentionally. It makes all the difference in the world.

Holy Encounters

In his book "The Weight of Glory," CS Lewis says this: "Next to [communion] your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses." 

When we have conversations with people throughout the day, we have an opportunity to interact with beings who are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

My "to do" list wasn't created in the image of God. My meeting this morning wasn't created in the image of God. My email wasn't created in the image of God. But the hundreds of people I will interact with today - whether bumping shoulders at the grocery store or in a more intentional setting - were created as representatives of a Creator God who is in the business of reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5).

CS Lewis says we won't interact with a more holy object today than the people we see. Sort of changes the way you think about those encounters, doesn't it?

Would you Show Up?

Sometimes churches tend to function a lot more like the government than we would like to admit. 

We notice a gap between where people are and where we feel like they ought to be. But we aren't always sure how to move people from Point "A" to Point "B" so we create programs. Sometimes programs are effective, but more often than not they're a feeble attempt for leaders to say "we tried" when they're questioned about "why our people aren't ____." 

Fairly often, church (and government) programs are poorly conceived and poorly executed, and don't achieve the end they were intended to receive. Instead, they're simply opportunities for the same people who always take advantage of programs to take advantage of another program they don't need, which comes closer to enablement than helping. 

As we plan, I'm asking our staff team to think through several questions. Two of them are: (1) Are you confident that a majority of attendees will be your target audience rather than simply professional church people? and (2) If you were not paid to attend, would you want to show up? 

If the answer is "no" to both questions, we try to kill the program before it starts. If it's "no" to one of the questions, we evaluate it pretty closely. We're trying to be efficient and effective, not enablers. 

Directions and the Big Picture

I'm a guy, so I rarely ask for directions. Thanks to GPS technology, I can search for directions in the privacy of my own home where nobody will ever see and I won't have to forfeit my Man Card. It's also why I'm glad I live in Texas where land is flat and there are no trees: I can generally find my bearings wherever I am. My little brother lives in South Carolina and it makes me really nervous to drive there because I can't ever tell where in the world I am. 

In "How People Change" by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp, the authors use a great illustration to show how asking for directions can sometimes be a bad thing. 

Let's imagine that you and I are on the corner of a typical big city street. We have a specific place we need to go, but no idea how to reach it. We need directions! Let's say that as we're deciding what to do, a native of the city asks if we need help. This person gives us very precise directions that take us from where we are standing to where we need to go. Has she totally solved our problem? Not really. If we deviate from her instructions in the slightest, we will be lost again, because we still don't know the city. We really need what this woman has: an overall, "helicopter" view of the city. In her mind, she can see how every neighborhood connects with the others and how all the streets intersect. She has such a complete, big picture view of the city in her mind that it is virtually impossible for her to get lost. If she could have downloaded that big picture to us, we would not only get to our destination, but we would never get lost in that city again!

One of the mistakes we make in handling God's Word is that we reduce it to a set of directions on how to live. We look for directions about relationships, church life, sex, finances, marriage, happiness, parenting, and so on. We mistakenly think that if we have clear directions we will be all right. But we keep getting lost! All the wise and precise directions given to us in Scripture haven't kept us from getting lost in the middle of our personal "big city.""

The point to Lane and Tripp's book is that the Gospel provides the overall perspective. Without it, we're doomed to get lost in our journey. But with the knowledge of the Gospel always on our mind, we have all the direction we need. 

Desire and Power

Matthew 7:9-11 have been a huge source of encouragement for me this week. Progress is slow on a couple of big projects I'm working on, and one of them took a discouraging step back early in the week. While I was fighting through the blahs, I spent some time thinking about Jesus' words encouraging us to ask.

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

Obviously, I'm still fairly new to fatherhood. My two-year-old can't ask for much, but I already know I will want to give him everything I can that is in his best interest for the rest of his life.  The problem with my desire is my limitations. There will be many times where my sons will ask for something I desire to give them but can't. There may be other times when my sons want something I am able to give them but don't want to.

With a loving, heavenly Father that will never be an issue. He has both the power to do whatever we ask and the desire to do what is in our best interest. That's good news.

Shrink the Auditorium

When the church where I'm a pastor built our current facility 7 years ago, they built it with a vision toward what God could do in the future. Our auditorium is big enough to sustain a significant amount of growth in the future while our education space was built to sustain about half as many people. There were lots of strategic reasons for that decision but the byproduct is that although our education space is maxed out, our auditorium is half-full.

For the past three or four years we've had conversations as leaders about the energy level in our worship services. We've tried several things to try to ramp-up participation with varying degrees of effectiveness, but recently stumbled on something that has made a huge difference.

We had a small group of leaders in our auditorium for a time of encouragement and vision-casting. We pushed the whole group toward the middle of the auditorium so the space wouldn't swallow us. The result was phenomenal. We had a time of singing that was one of the most powerful times I've experienced in a long time. That evening, several people said, "We've got to figure out how to do this every Sunday."

So, we roped off a significant portion of our auditorium, pushing people toward the middle.

Several people have had to give up "their seats." I've received a few nasty emails about the change, and we've had a few anti-establishment rope-jumpers who are testing us to see if the ushers will pass the offering plate to the forbidden area, but nobody who sits toward the front is complaining about the change.

As I told the congregation on Sunday, we've never been a church that was much for trying to make an auditorium look full. We've always been a church who wants to worship together. And it's hard to worship together if we're not together. We've tried to make the change in such a way that doesn't sacrifice comfort but in a way that makes it clear: we value corporate worship much more highly than we value the comfort of having 8 seats between you and the nearest person.

If you want to kick-start some energy as the people in your church worship together, consider shrinking your auditorium so they can worship, together.

Approval is a Bad Metric

I'm always on the lookout for ways to know if I'm successful as a leader as well as for ways to track whether or not our organization is successful. Though I don't know any magic metrics for either, I do know one thing: approval is not it.

I don't know a person alive who doesn't love approval. I certainly do. But the desire for approval is an evil task-master who will never be completely satisfied.

If approval is your primary metric, you'll never reach your potential as a leader or an organization.

- You'll become an insecure leader leading an insecure organization. You will thrive when people compliment you, but that only lasts as long as your most recent performance. The next time you'll wonder why the same people didn't say the same things.

- You'll never make difficult decisions. Difficult decisions often alienate people. You won't have their approval. Sometimes, the disapproval of people will be the very best outcome.

- You'll never be a true leader. Leaders who seek approval first always follow public opinion; they don't lead the public.

- Your influence will shrink. Nobody wants to follow a leader who has no courage and no spine. Using approval as a metric will ensure you never make the decision that needs courage.

- Your organization will only go as far as people are comfortable going, which is not very far beyond where they are.

This isn't to say you should ignore the opinions of others. Those opinions will test your theories, enlighten your blind-spots, sharpen your thinking, and check your pride. They will also help you think through pacing, communication, and the cost of moving forward. Approval is an important thing to measure, but it isn't a good metric for measuring success.

Why Pastors Don't Last

As a follow up to my post last Thursday: I'm far too young and inexperienced to be considered an expert on pastoral longevity. However, I think one of the largest reasons the longevity of pastors is so staggeringly short at most churches has everything to do with the principle of hiring to your weaknesses.

Particularly at smaller churches, the expectations on pastors is staggering. The pastor is expected to be a great preacher, great at pastoral care, great at general leadership, and great at managing people. The only problem with those expectations is, the church didn't hire Jesus as their senior pastor. No mortal person is equally good at all those things.

What happens is this: pastors are hired because of their strengths (which are almost always directly related to the previous pastor's weaknesses). If he's a great preacher, the chances are good that he's not going to be a great administrator. During the first year or so, the pastor will ride the momentum of his preaching but at some point his administrative inabilities will rear their ugly head. So, he'll either get frustrated and quit, or the church will get frustrated and fire him. Then they'll go hire an administratively gifted pastor and ride that momentum until they realize they can't stay awake during his sermons and the cycle will repeat itself.

Even (maybe "especially) at smaller churches, you will dramatically increase your pastor's longevity if you allow him to assemble a team that compliments his gifts. Otherwise, you might as well keep your pastor search committee in the on-deck circle; you're going to need them in a couple of years.

Hire To Your Weaknesses

One of the greatest lessons anyone has taught me about leadership is that it's counter-productive to spin your wheels trying to be something you aren't.

On a scale of 1-10, I am by nature probably a 4 or a 5 when it comes to administrating and managing people. I might be able to do the work of a 5 or a 6, but it will take me an inordinate amount of time and energy. I'll never ever be an 8 or 9 or 10.

On the other hand, I feel like I'm probably a 7 or 8 when it comes to communicating and applying Truth in large groups and one-on-one settings. When I spend my time trying to improve in that area, sometimes I can do it at a really high level.

So, as I have the luxury of hiring people, I'm always looking to hire people who can round me out. I need people who can administrate at a really high level so I can delegate that to them. That way, the organization benefits from a unified leadership that is well-rounded so long as the leadership stays aligned.

Admittedly, that luxury is simplified in a larger church with the resources to hire several staff positions. However, I'm convinced if I was a pastor at a small church I would follow the same philosophy. For most senior pastors at small churches, the first full or part-time hire is a worship leader. For most pastors, that may be a mistake. There are people within congregations of almost any size who could lead music at a level appropriate for the size of the church. If you're like me: primarily a preacher and less of an administrator, why not hire someone first who can help you lead and manage the volunteers you'll need? Otherwise, you're likely to run-off your newly hired worship leader anyway...

No matter the size of your church, your most important and pressing hires are directly related to your most glaring weaknesses as a leader. Resist the urge to make the "traditional" hire just because it's traditional. That's a great way to find yourself out of a job.

Leading From The Second Chair - Review

We're in the process of searching for a couple of critical staff positions at the church where I serve. Both are significant roles with seats at the table where decisions are made. They're "second chair" positions. So, in preparation to make those hires I read the book "Leading from the Second Chair" by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson.

This  book sets out to help leaders be better followers. Almost every leader follows someone, so almost every leader can benefit from this book. How can a strong leader lead while he follows? Bonem and Patterson provide some help.

Bonem and Patterson address three primary paradoxes that the second chair leader has to face: the subordinate/leader paradox, the deep/wide paradox, and the contentment/dreaming paradox. How can a leader lead when he has to be subordinate to someone else? How can a leader balance the tension between a deep understanding of an organization along with a broad scope of responsibility? How can leaders be content with the direction the first-chair takes when they have dreams of their own? Those are the questions this book answers extremely well.

Bonem and Patterson's book is replete with real-life examples, mostly from the church world, of second chair leaders who have had significant ministry from a chair other than the first chair. This makes the book easy to read and apply. It also contains a section at the end of each section written specifically to first chair leaders helping them understand how they can more effectively lead second chair leaders.

The one major weakness of the book is that throughout the book the authors pepper in stories about the biblical story of Joseph in order to make their points. It's a really distracting feature of the book because the connections feel contrived rather than natural connections to the biblical story. Joseph wasn't a second chair leader for much of his life that the book draws on; he was a slave or a prisoner. I certainly hope my future Executive Pastor doesn't relate too strongly to those parts of Joseph's story!

"Leading from the Second Chair" is a great book for anyone who serves in a role as a leader who reports to someone else. Though the primary focus of this particular book is for church leaders, the second chair leader in any organization will find it encouraging, stimulating, and thought-provoking as they seek to lead their organization even when someone else is in charge.

If I Were In Charge...

If you're familiar with our situation at McKinney, I'm currently in a second-chair role in our church transitioning to the first-chair role at some point in the next several months. I haven't completely transitioned into the first-chair role, but am enough into the "straddle," that I'm starting to get some perspective on the second-chair role.

One thing that has become increasingly clear to me during the transition is this: sentences that begin with "If I were in charge..." are most likely to be the most foolish words you'll say all day.

It's impossible to grasp the full-scope of decision-making without the responsibility for making the decision. If you're not the one whose head will role with a bad decision, you can't speak with any accuracy about what it is you would do if you were in charge. I've learned that the hard way.

I have a word file on my computer titled "WIAP." The letters stand for "When I'm A Pastor." I started the file more than a decade ago when it became clear to me that I wanted to be a pastor. That file has been a place where I've collected leadership ideas from books I've read, as far as all the things I said "When I am a senior pastor, I'll..." I wanted a place to capture some of those ideas so I wouldn't forget them when I grew up.

You might think over the decade the folder would get significantly bigger; it hasn't. Instead, the more and more responsibility I've received over time, the more things I deleted from the file. Many of them were not realistic. Others were based on arrogant assumptions I had about how organizations "should" be run.

I've retained some good ideas over the years, but I like to think I've matured to the point that I keep my mouth shut in the few instances that a first chair leader has made a decision I wouldn't have made. I don't want to be a fool talking about things I don't understand.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor - Review

I picked up "When Helping Hurts" at the recommendation of a guy who reads the blog from time to time. He was excited about it and thought it might be the kind of book I would be interested in. He was right. Thanks James!

When Helping Hurts is written by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett. The title and subtitle are fairly self-explanatory. Essentially, this book is written on the premise that many of our benevolence strategies may be counter-productive. Early in the book they use this illustration: "When a sick person goes to the doctor, the doctor could make two crucial mistakes: (1) Treating symptoms instead of the underlying illness; (2) Misdiagnosing the underlying illness and prescribing the wrong medicine. Either one of these mistakes will result in the patient not getting better and possibly getting worse." "When Helping Hurts" demonstrates that when wealthy, Western Christianity seeks to help the disadvantaged, we can easily make the same two mistakes. 

The authors point out the dangers of a messiah complex combined with a hidden health/wealth gospel that says explicitly or implicitly, "You are poor because you don't know better or aren't honoring God. We can fix you." 

Instead of the messiah complex, Fikkert and Corbett argue Christians who really want to help the poor should concentrate on making an accurate diagnosis: does the situation call for relief, rehabilitation, or development? They point out that relief is the most common diagnosis, though it is rarely the accurate diagnosis. Providing relief from the outside that systems and people on the inside are able to provide is almost always counter-productive. Outside help in non-emergency situations will devalue the people being helped, break systems that were intended to provide relief, and prevent long-term relationships from developing.

This obviously has implications on Short-Term mission trips. Fikkert and Corbett point to a stewardship question that mission committees and churches must answer: When is it appropriate to send a team as opposed to simply funding a team already on the ground. They point out that many short-term trips cost more per person than it would cost to fund an entire indigenous team for a year. That isn't to say Short Term Missions are not important and valuable, only that they must be closely evaluated to ensure good stewardship. 

A mission philosophy of partnership seems to be far more strategic than purposeless Christian tourism because it comes alongside someone with the capacity and skills to truly engage a culture in its own rehabilitation and development for the long-haul. 

"When Helping Hurts" is a really important read for anyone involved interested in alleviating poverty in the world for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel. It is a quick, well-written, easy read that packs a paradigm-shifting punch for much of the Western Christian world.