Job and Value

Wherever you work/serve there are two things you should contribute: (1) The job you're paid to do, and (2) the value you bring to the organization.

Most of the time, the two things overlap but not completely. Especially if you're not at the top of the organizational chart.

Your job description is what you are given. It reflects some of your gifts and talents, but almost never the full spectrum of value you can bring to the organization. People who advance in leadership and responsibility are people who add value to the organization above and beyond their own specific area.

However, the opportunity to bring extra value to the organization is earned, not owed. You have to be invited to add value outside your area.  If you move too quickly to speak into areas that are not expected of you, you are more likely to be seen as a contrarian, idealist, or person who over-steps.

The very best leaders - the people who advance - are those who earn trust by doing their job well, and then pounce on opportunities to add extra value in areas outside of the job description.

Books in my Queue

This is my cop-out post when my brain is fried and I don't have anything ready to write about. Here are some books on my list. I'm currently slogging through James Davidson Hunter's "To Change the World." It's taken me a couple of weeks and my Kindle says I'm only 60% done. I'm fairly sure I only understand an infinitesimal portion of the book, but am extremely interested in it. Here are the books in the lineup:

Leading from the Second Chair - Bonem and Patterson
When Helping Hurts - Fikkert and Corbett
Leading for a Lifetime - Warren Bennis

Winning on Purpose - Review

For the last several months our elders have been doing some thinking about how they can bring increased clarity and efficiency to their role as they lead our growing congregation. One of the books they've been reading as they think about leadership is called "Reinventing your Board" by John Carver. Carver has a governance model that isn't specifically designed for churches, but that does an extremely good job helping leaders clearly define and communicate their roles and responsibility. It's a really helpful book worth the investment, but is extraordinarily dry.

Don't tell our elders, but I recently discovered a new book called "Winning on Purpose" by John Kaiser that takes a similar approach in a much, much, much more accessible format.

Kaiser argues that great leadership groups play to win just like any other team. They establish clear roles, clear objectives, clear boundaries, and a clear purpose. Someone has to pick the plays, someone has to execute the plays, and it's really important to know which is which.

Kaiser makes the point that there are three things that make a game worth playing: an object, rules, and a way to keep score. Absent any of these criteria, the game isn't going to be fun for long. The "Accountable Leadership Strategy" in "Winning on Purpose" brings these three things into focus and helps leadership groups find focus and clarity around each one.

"Winning on Purpose" discusses the difference between "wimpy boards" and "controlling boards" and helps governing boards avoid both ditches.

I realize most of you who read my blog are not pastors or elders in your local church. So, this isn't the kind of book I would normally review. However, I think it will be helpful enough to the few of you who are pastors or a part of a governing board somewhere that I decided to review it anyway. You won't adopt everything Kaiser recommends; that's okay. But what he's saying is good, good stuff.

Surrendered to Ministry?

I think I'm going to embark on a self-commissioned mission to eliminate Christianese phrases that don't make any sense. I'll try to be nice about it, but sometimes I hear people say things (or catch myself saying things) that mean absolutely nothing, or worse, they convey the exact opposite of what we hope they will convey.

Yesterday at church, a guy asked me when I "surrendered to the ministry."

Can we stop saying that?

It's like God caught me in a weak moment and pulled a gun on me, forcing me to "surrender" to ministry as if being in ministry is a bad thing, and as if ministry is something that all Christ-centered people are not called to do.

I love what I do. I love the fact that people invest their money in such a way that I get to do it every day. There was a day in which I said "I'll never be a pastor." But I'm not a pastor today because I had to surrender my dreams; God worked in my life and in my heart to where I would have to surrender to do anything else.

Full-time ministry, whether you get paid specifically for that or get to do it while you get paid for something else, is an unspeakable privilege. It's the greatest fun I can imagine and is perfectly consistent with the desires of my heart. It's not something I had to surrender to.

Preventing Group Elephantiasis - Part 4

I spent the week talking about the importance of a strategy that forces groups to think about multiplication rather than simply growing bigger. Ultimately, it asks the group to think outside itself - something groups usually aren't good at.

The natural inclination of groups is to move toward self-preservation and to turn inward. We're afraid if we multiply our group, or our organization for that matter, we'll lose the things that made it great. In reality the opposite is the case. Relationships, accountability, depth, trust, and all the other marks of a strong group only get thinner the bigger a group gets. That's an intuitive statement as long as it's not connected with the possibility that something in your group might change.

Ultimately the question for leaders of groups is this: why does our group exist, really? If the reason is anything other than "to get as many people as possible in one group" you have to think about multiplication. Relationships are developed better in smaller groups. Movement toward a purpose happens quicker in more agile groups. Topics and content can be more relevant to peoples' lives when their lives are actually known. Authenticity and truth-telling happens in smaller groups. And leaders are developed more quickly when they are forced to step up and lead.

So how big is too big? Depends on the purpose of your group. That's for you to discern. But whatever the organization, whatever the group, there is a ceiling. And if you wait until you discover it by accident before you begin thinking about how to get down, you (and your group) will have a sore head and a long fall.

Preventing Group Elephantiasis - Part 3

Healthy groups multiply rather than just getting bigger. However, it isn't always an easy process. We've tried to establish multiplication as an expectation for our groups, but it doesn't always go well. Here are some pitfalls to avoid:

- Don't let the vision leak. Because multiplication isn't always comfortable, it's important that the purpose stay in front of both groups until the multiplication is complete. Some people won't like it; some people won't buy it. Make sure everyone understands it.

- Don't wait until the group has no other options. If you wait until the group is unhealthy and obese, you will carry unhealthy DNA into the new group.

- Don't wait until you feel like all the leaders feel ready. In truth, no leader will be ready to lead until he or she has led. It takes experience, not just training, to make a leader. Often we find that multiplication forces new leaders who would never feel ready to spread their wings and discover something they didn't previously realize.

- Don't talk about "splitting." Ever. Splitting is violent and detrimental. Multiplication is natural and necessary for future maturity. Relationships are not severed in multiplication but they do change. It is tempting to talk about a group "splitting." Don't.

- Don't fold in the face of pushback. Multiplication isn't always fun. There will always be people who won't understand the point; who favor stability over instability. The funny thing about multiplication is that it's the only way to ensure stability in the long-run. The status-quo is a delusion when it comes to groups.

- Don't worry when things don't work out like you planned. Multiplication is a messy process that contains a lot of variables that can't be predicted. Keep the vision clear, keep your leaders encouraged, and roll with the punches.

Multiplication is the only way to ensure that what is great about a group gets passed along. When it's done often and done well, the entire organization gets healthier.

Preventing Group Elephantiasis - Part 2

I mentioned yesterday that Group Elephantiasis - where groups keep getting bigger and bigger - is terminally dangerous. We try to help all of our groups, especially the new ones, set their sights on reproduction rather than elephantiasis. But it isn't always easy. Here are some of the things that have helped us be successful:

- Focus on a leadership development culture. If you've got the right leaders to lead a multiplication, it's a lot easier for the group to buy-in.

- Establish the expectation as early as possible. If the group is aware that the goal is multiplication, they will be less likely (notice, I said "less" likely) to grow settled in instincts that will prove to be unhealthy. We try to have this conversation with groups before they begin if at all possible.

- Initiate multiplication but allow the multiplication to unfold on its own. A group will almost never initiate multiplication - elephentiasis is far too comfortable. However, we try to resist the urge to tell people whether they should be a part of the new group or stay a part of the old group. Contrived relationships never work.

- Establish the leaders before announcing the multiplication. Multiplication takes work and intentionality. Someone needs to be on the hook for ensuring all that happens. Clear leaders will be important to establish in both the existing group and the new group.

- Plan extensively, multiply quickly. If the actual multiplication is drawn out, fear will emerge and the new group will experience a false-start which will crater future opportunities to multiply.

Multiplication is messy and difficult, but is almost always worth it. Tomorrow, I'll talk about some of the mistakes we've made in the process.

Preventing Group Elephantiasis

In the medical world, it's worrisome when an organism won't stop growing bigger. We want young organisms to grow, but at some point it's appropriate (and important) for the growth to stop. Continued growth will inevitably lead to serious and even terminal health concerns. 

The same is true in churches, whether you're talking about small groups, Sunday School classes, Adult Bible Fellowships, or the church as a whole. At some point (and it's different for each group just as it's different for each organism), Group Elephantiasis will be terminal. 

The end result for groups can't be just to get bigger. If that's where the vision stops, it will seal the fate of the group. The end result for which groups should aspire (much like organisms) should be reproduction. Otherwise, the group will get so large that the identifiable traits that once attracted people to it will become grotesque and bloated, only barely resembling the traits people once recognized. To the person who is familiar with the group, they'll hardly notice the change over time. The person seeing the group for the first time will have a different experience. 

We try to build mulitplication/reproduction into the DNA of new groups at McKinney because we recognize that the best way to get more good DNA is not to just grow bigger body parts; it's to pass the good DNA along to young, healthy groups that can make better use of the good DNA and pass it along to others. 

So how does it work? I'll try to tell you in the next two days. First: how to multiply/reproduce a group tomorrow. Wednesday, I'll talk about what not to do.

Self-Help Heresy

The Self-Help Gospel may go down as the most damaging heresy to emerge in the 20th and 21st centuries. 

The idea that you and I are able to fix our brokenness on our own solely through a series of steps, positive thinking, better intentions, or more effort is an anti-orthodox, anti-gospel, anti-Christian idea. 

John 15:5 is awfully clear: "apart from Me you can do nothing." The Gospel is clear that any meaningful improvement has to come as a result of God's work in us because of what Jesus has done (Romans 6:23, Philippians 2:13; Romans 12:1-2, etc...). Our self-help is nothing more than heinous idolatry that is equivalent to disgusting, filthy rags laid at the feet of God (Isaiah 64:6). 

Whatever our brokeness, we have to be completely dependent on God through Jesus' death on the cross to fix it. Anything else makes Jesus at best a "part Savior;" a reprehensible thought.

Why are you still in existence?

I had a conversation yesterday with a friend of mine about Will Mancini's book "Church Unique." (I reviewed this book a year or so ago if you're interested in seeing that).

One of the things Mancini's book has caused me to ponder is the question "Why is your organization still in existence?" It's a question I ask all the time, especially as a pastor.

I pastor a church in Fort Worth, TX, a city where "Buckle of the Bible Belt" is not emphatic enough... There is almost literally a church of some kind on every corner and a really good church every 2 or 3 square miles. In business terms, this is an extremely saturated "market."

The question is: why is it that the church I lead exists? Why have we not chosen to sell our building and disperse the people who attend here to some of the other really great churches in Fort Worth?

There has to be a reason. If your church isn't unique, it might be time to examine other options.

"Unique" doesn't mean "better." "Unique" doesn't mean that nobody else can do what your church is doing in an arrogant sense of the concept. "Unique" means that your church (or organization) has a critical, strategic, intentional reason for existing. If it doesn't, maybe it shouldn't.

Good Enough

I'm a person who tries to pursue excellence in everything I do. It's a personal value, and a value of most of the organizations I've ever been a part of.

On its face, there's nothing wrong with valuing excellence. We usually talk about how we serve a God of excellence and therefore strive to pursue excellence in everything we do out of a response to him. Those are right sentiments, but sentiments that can pretty quickly become perverted in the hands of a perfectionist person who needs a way to justify his obsessiveness.

Sometimes I think we could honor God by valuing "good enough" as much as they value excellence.

When the pursuit of excellence in one area causes other important areas to be neglected, that doesn't honor God.

When the pursuit of excellence causes us to denigrate the gifts of others because they aren't as "good" as ours, excellence doesn't honor God.

When "excellence" is a code word for "control" and leads us to value programs and production above people, excellence isn't necessarily the best thing we can pursue.

Excellence is important, don't get me wrong. But "good enough" might be good enough when it comes to truly honoring God. 

The Serious Sin of Procrastination

I'm one of those guys who tends to work way too close to my nose. I'm a closet procrastinator who usually uses the excuse that "I work best under pressure."

Thanks to Joe Thorn for calling me out.

Poor People and the Church

Last week I got the chance to visit with the head of an organization that is doing extraordinary ministry with the homeless community in Dallas about how churches can reach out and truly help those who are poor and disenfranchised. It was a long, very helpful conversation. Here are a couple of the things I've been chewing on: 

If life is a 100 yard dash, you started at 95 yard line due to no fault of your own. If you don't succeed, shame on you. Just remember there are lots of people standing in the parking lot trying to get into the stadium due to no fault of their own.

Laziness and stupidity is spread across the socio-economic continuum at an almost identical depth.

If we'll stop treating the poor like a trip to the zoo, people's perception of the poor will change.

- There are very few places on the planet where poor people are treated as partners and peers. 

- How can Christians worship a homeless guy on Sunday and then rush past the first one they see on a sidewalk on Monday?

- The church cant do much for the poor the way they attack it. You can do an awful lot for people when they are your friend and you truly care about them.

Radical - Review

David Platt's book "Radical - Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream" is a book I've heard a lot about in the past few weeks. Several people have recommended it to me, and with good reason. Platt's book is in many places a refreshing, no-holds-barred call for American Christians to start living an active faith rather than a passive one.

Platt calls out the Western tendency to remake Jesus in our own image, a Jesus who doesn't ask anything of us; needs us as much as we need Him; and whose greatest desire is for us to be comfort. In short, as the subtitle implies, David Platt argues that God's greatest concern is not for us to achieve financial independence, security, and material possessions to leave to our kids.

Platt's book is a call for Christians to reconsider the cost of discipleship, and to examine their lives in light of eternity. How many of the words we say on a regular basis have an eternal impact? How many of the dollars we spend will be seen as a good investment in a million years? Are our lives organized around the call of Christ or around the dreams of another god, namely the god of self?

"Radical" is a strong challenge for Christians to live differently; radically; and my life will be different as a result of reading it.


This book is hard for me to recommend for the same reason I have a hard time recommending "Crazy Love," another book in the same vein. These books are both a reaction against the dumbed-down, seeker-sensitive movement that has sissified the Christian life to the point that the Church is indistinguishable from the world, a reality that Platt and Chan are right to rail against. But, they've gone too far. Platt bases his argument for radical discipleship on our response to the Gospel, saying "[The] Gospel evokes unconditional surrender of all that we are and all that we have to all that [Jesus] is." In the next paragraphs, Platt infers that if that kind of unconditional surrender is not a part of your current experience, you need to question whether or not you're headed to heaven when you die. The problem is: who could honestly say that it is?

He takes it a step further in chapter 6 where he admits that caring for the poor had been a "blind spot" in his own life for several years. But later in the chapter he says, "Indeed, caring for the poor (among other things) is evidence of our salvation. The faith in Christ that saves us from our sins involves an internal transformation that has external implications."

Dr. Platt's statement here goes way too far, not to mention the fact that it is inconsistent. If caring for the poor is evidence of salvation but was neglected by Dr. Platt for much of his life, are we to infer that Dr. Platt was not a believer for the first several years of his ministry? Nobody would say that. Certainly Dr. Platt would not say that.

Now, I absolutely believe that salvation should (and will) have external implications. But Dr. Platt's over-reach here is extremely dangerous because of its potential for causing believers to look to their behavior as the source of their security rather than the object of their faith.

Believers should care for the poor. We should be ashamed of ourselves for not caring for the poor. But we do not need to fear that our conversion was false because we haven't cared for the poor in our past.

The Radical life should be lived out of an overwhelming gratitude for the Gospel, not out of fear trying to prove that His grace has been applied to us. That's a critical distinction that unfortunately gets muddied in Dr. Platt's otherwise very good book.

Occupational Hazard of Over-Statement

During my class last week we had a great conversation around the topic of "over-statements" leaders tend to make. You know the over-statements: pastors over-state how effective their programs are, or how many people come to their church. Other organizations over-state how many people they reach or how many products they sold last year. Over-statements are dishonest, but awfully typical. And there aren't many leaders other than Jesus who are innocent of falling to this temptation.

Why is it that even leaders with extraordinary character have a tendency to over-state information, even when it doesn't need to be over-stated in the first place?

One of the guys in our discussion suggested that as organizations grow, leaders develop groupies who reward them for over-statement. Those groupies thrive on their connection to the leader; the more successful he (or she) is, the more a groupie thrives on the connection. So, the leader gets lots of opportunities to practice over-statements to the point that he begins to believe they are true. The more often the tape of a lie plays itself across our lips, the more likely we are to begin to believe the lie, and the more likely we are to tell the lie again. It becomes comfortable, and we begin to believe it.

It's a vicious cycle.

I tend to think my friend's logic is true. If so, it's just another reminder: you lie to yourself long before you lie to anyone else. And sometimes, if you aren't careful, those you'll get good enough that you even fool yourself.

The Good News We Almost Forgot - Review

I recently heard someone predict that in the future, theology will become even more important but will need to be less complex. The theologians of the future will be those who are able to master the art of putting complex truth in a simple, accessible way. Kevin DeYoung is one of those theologians.

The subtitle of DeYoung's Book "The Good News We Almost Forgot" is "Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism." The subtitle is deceptive to a reader who doesn't give a flip what happened in the 16th century or have the foggiest idea what a "catechism" is, because DeYoung's book is both contemporary and accessible.

DeYoung looks back at the Heidelberg Catechism (catechisms are distilled theological Truth presented in the form of questions and answers) and demonstrates its usefulness to people wanting to think deeply and simply at the same time.

The Catechism was written in 52 sections so that a pastor could preach on each section each year. It is essentially a commentary on the Apostle's Creed, Ten Commandments, and Lord's Prayer. DeYoung writes a contemporary commentary on the commentary.

This book is an easy read that you'll want to read a couple of times. In fact, I'm considering making it a part of my discipline next year: a chapter a week.

I certainly don't agree with everything DeYoung says in this book, particularly with regard to baptism. But that shouldn't be a distraction for the reader. DeYoung writes with an approachable spirit and gracious demeanor that allows the reader to deal with differences the same way.

If you're interested in theology but have a tendency to get lost in the weeds, DeYoung's book will be a helpful resource.