Questions to Ask During Change

Leading change is extraordinarily difficult. Go to Amazon and search "Leadership." Then count how many of the leadership books either have "change" in their title or a chapter devoted to leading change. If it's anything less than a vast majority, I'll buy you a cookie. 

There's a reason that books on leading through change sell well. It's tough. Yet the best organizations are constantly changing. You won't do ministry (or business) in 50 years exactly the same way you do ministry or business today (unless you're Amish, in which case you probably aren't reading this blog post). As a result, leaders need to figure out how to lead change - either gradually or dramatically - because change is coming.

Our staff wants to position our church so that change is a part of the culture. We know that good strategies are often the enemy of the best strategies, and are trying to get really good at evaluating everything we do in light of moving toward who we want to be next decade, not just next year.  As a result, we're constantly talking about change. 

But it's really tough, and we're learning a lot about what it looks like to lead change well. 

For us, it means constantly examining our answers to three big questions: (1) Do we believe where we're going is better? (2) What is it going to cost us? (3) Can we afford it?

If you don't believe the destination is worth traveling to, you might as well take your bags out of the car. Don't pass "go," don't collect 200 dollars. It's not worth the anxiety of saving-up for a trip you don't want to take. So forget it and plan to go somewhere else. 

Every destination has a cost. There may be multiple ways of paying the cost (cash, credit, frequent flyer miles, for example) but you need to figure out what the trip is going to cost. If you are a wise traveler, you'll assess the cost before you hop on the plane so you can afford the hotel once you land. In an organization, will a trip cost you money? Will it cost you investors? Will it cost you staff members? Will it cost you good-will or credibility? Will it cost you time and energy? You need to count the potential cost before you hop on the airplane. There may be a few unanticipated costs on your trip - you can expect that. But know the big ones, so you can prepare.

Then you have to figure out if you can afford the trip today. Kari and I would love to travel to New Zealand. It's her #1 dream destination, and we're dying to go there. But we know what a trip to New Zealand would cost us in terms of finances and away-from-home time and we can't afford it right now. But, we've got a vacation line-item in our budget that is slowly saving up for New Zealand. It may take us several more years, but unless something unforeseen happens, we'll make it to New Zealand. Same deal with leading an organization. Once you know where you want to go you are able to figure out whether or not you can afford the trip right now. If you can't, since you know what it is going to cost you know how to save and you can budget wisely so you get there as soon as you can afford it. . 

One last thing: you've got to ask these questions in this order. If you start counting the cost before you decide where you want to go, you'll never go anywhere; you'll lead out of fear. If you wait to save until you've got enough money, you'll hide your talent in the dirt and never invest (Matthew 25). Figure out where you want to go, figure out what it will cost, and then decide if you can afford it now, or if you need to wait. 

Book Briefs

I've been lax on book reviews recently. A good majority of the reason is that I'm still reading primarily toward completing my dissertation and those books aren't very interesting to review. But, I've read some others that I want to mention. So here are some brief reviews of the best books I've read recently (in no particular order).

Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands - Paul Tripp
I'm reading a lot by Tripp these days. This one was recommended by a friend. Tripp is a counselor and former pastor and has written what turns out to be a guidebook for anyone who wants to walk with broken people and point those people toward the Cross. If you're familiar with "nouthetic counseling," Tripp is a nouthetic counselor without the arrogant attitude. He points people to eternal realities and helps people understand the implications of the heart on behavior and identity, but doesn't do it with a closed fist. This is a good, helpful book worth reading for anyone who finds themselves leaning-into the lives of broken people, whether professionally or just as a friend.

Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories - Daniel Taylor
Taylor is a professor of English at Bethel College in Minnesota. As famous as English professors are for writing literature nobody wants to read, Taylor has written a gem. Written from a Christian perspective, Taylor shows how the stories of history, the stories of our lives, and the stories of our theology shape the lives that we live. We live within and interact within the plot of our own life and within the plot of the lives of others. Additionally, the stories we read, hear, understand, and believe shape our morals, values, ethics, character, and comprehension of the way the world works. This book will make you want to tell a lot more stories, hear a lot more stories, and pay awfully close attention to the stories (good and bad) you are a part of.

Replenish - Lance Witt
Every pastor needs to read this book. I read it at the recommendation of a friend and mentor and it hit me between the eyes. Witt does a masterful job at helping pastors release themselves from the unhealthy expectations of themselves, the church culture, and their congregations to focus solely on numerical growth (which causes every pastor alive to feel like a loser), and to focus instead on yielding himself to the work of God through His ministry and within His church. It's written in 41 short chapters that help the pastor (1) detoxify their soul, (2) set realistic goals for ministry, (3) establish patterns that are sustainable, and (4) build healthy teams. I'm going to buy a copy for our each of our team members for Christmas (don't tell them) so our team can keep some of these ideas at the forefront of our minds.

Read This Before Our Next Meeting - Al Pittampalli
Most leaders will be able to read this book in about 30 minutes. It's an easy, easy, read. Implementation on the other hand... "Read This Before Our Next Meeting" takes on the fact that the majority of a company's meetings are a redundant drain on productivity that as a result waste a fortune of company time and money. He offers some solutions to make meetings more productive. In short, he believes meetings should be solely for the purpose of conflict and coordination by a small group of only the people who have a (strong opinion about a matter and a dog in the hunt) about a soft-decision that has already been made by the leader. Meetings for formality; social benefit, and information are a waste of time. According to Pittampalli, if it can be accomplished in a well-written memo, don't waste the time with a meeting. People can read faster than they can meet. You won't agree with all his conclusions - he uses a fairly rigid top-down leadership style. However, most of his observations and solutions are spot-on.

Forever: Why You Can't Live Without It - Paul Tripp
Tripp is Gospel-centered, Jesus-centered, eternity-centered. That's why I like a lot of what he's putting out these days. This book is a shining example of that. Tripp points out that every human is hard-wired for eternity. Our longings, disappointments, shortcomings, angers, suffering, and struggles all reveal a yearning for something different; something better. Tripp does a great job walking through our daily lives, from relationships to jobs to religion to parenting to marriage, and the various circumstances and situations we find ourselves in every day, and showing how they can drive us toward worship of the God who makes "forever" available. This book is exceptional for two purposes: (1) It helps the reader better understand what is happening in his or her heart when they process their own real life. (2) It helps the reader connect the Gospel with the struggles, habits, hurts and hangups we see in the lives of others. Understanding what Tripp says in this book can help you be an incredible evangelist wherever you are because it gives Gospel-handles to real-life situations we all face every day.

Necessary Endings - Henry Cloud
In order to see growth, something often has to die. Yet all of us resist endings. As far back as high school we resisted breaking up with the girl we knew was bad for us, even though we knew that's where the relationship was headed. We hang onto the wrong job; the wrong role; the wrong employee. We resist ending programs, initiatives, traditions, and all kinds of things in our lives for all kinds of reasons. Cloud has written a brilliant book to help show why endings are important, why we avoid endings, and how to accomplish necessary endings as a friend, boss, employee, or parent. This is an extremely important book for leaders, and was a tremendous encouragement to me as a young leader.

Advance or Protect?

Last week I tweeted something I've been thinking a lot about recently - not necessarily specifically related to anything on my radar, but also not removed from some of the questions and thoughts I am asking and thinking as a leader in my particular context.

"At some point as a leader you have to decide if your objective is to advance or hold ground. You can't normally do both."

Think back to your days playing Capture the Flag. You can't take ground and protect the fort at the same time. You have to decide your strategy, and it means one or the other.

Now certainly in the overall war we might be protecting and advancing at the same time; that's not my point. My point is that as a leader in a specific objective, you're going to have to choose.

A product cannot be "new and improved" and celebrate that it is "the same as it's always been."

A company can't explore something never before seen if they are committed to only going places they've always been.

It is impossible for something to be cutting-edge and tried-and-true at the same time.

The difference isn't between right and wrong. Advancing isn't always better than protecting, or vice versa. Clear Coke advanced when Coca-Cola should have been protecting Coke Classic. IBM protected its turf while Apple and Microsoft advanced an open architecture model. You can choose to advance or protect and either one can be the right (or wrong) decision. But you can't do both.

Whatever it is you're responsible for leading, a primary question to ask is whether or not you're advancing something or protecting something. Either one could get you killed,  but fail to choose and you're a sitting duck.

Processing Sundays on Mondays

Every pastor I know struggles with Sundays on Monday. I have a good friend whose habit I have adopted. He refuses to take Monday off. The letdown after Sunday is often so profound that he says, "if I'm going to feel this crummy, someone ought to be paying me to do it." 

Sundays are a little bit like Christmas, and a little bit like Halloween. They're like Christmas in that the anticipation and planning of several weeks comes together in a huge celebration. 

Sundays are like Halloween in that most people approach you wearing a mask, and it isn't until they begin talking that you know what's underneath. Since pastors are only able to engage with many members of their congregation one day a week, it's necessity that most of the kind words of people get saved for Sunday. The gripes do too. 

I'm certainly not complaining - it's what I signed up for. But the result of Sunday for any pastor can be a disorienting mixture of adrenaline, emotion, praise, and criticism. Most pastors I know spend a large part of Monday trying to catch their bearings and get back on the horse. 

I read the story below on a Monday morning, and it immediately connected with me when it comes to the roller coaster of Halloween that I find myself processing on Mondays. Really old guys have a tendency to say really smart things. 

(HT: Michael Hyatt)

"A brother came to see Abba Macarius the Egyptian and said to him, “Abba, give me a word, that I may be [sanctified].’ So the old man said, ‘Go to the cemetery and insult the dead.’ The brother went there, hurled insults and stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it. The latter said to him, ‘Didn’t they say anything to you?’ He replied, ‘No.’

“The old man said, ‘Go back tomorrow and praise them.’ So the brother went away and praised them, calling them Apostles, saints and blessed people. He returned to the old man and said to him, ‘I have complimented them.’ And the old man said to him, ‘Did they not answer you?’ the brother said, ‘No.’

“The old man said to him, ‘You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you, too, if you wish to be [sanctified] must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of others or their praises, and you can be [sanctified].’”

Pastors and Political Endorsements

Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Dallas is in the news. Again. (Texas Pastor Stands Ground On "Cult" Comment Against Mormons)

I've met Dr. Jeffress on a couple of occasions. He seems to be a genuinely nice guy. I have some good friends who either are or have been members at churches he has pastored in the past and they love him. I have no reason to suspect that Dr. Jeffress is anything other than a wonderful man, but I'm disappointed to see him making headlines this way again.

First of all, pastors need to get out of the business of "personally endorsing" political candidates. The whole idea that this is a personal endorsement is hogwash in the first place. Unless your name is Joe the Plumber, the only reason anyone cares about your "personal endorsement" is that you have a position to be leveraged.

Second of all, to drop a bomb like saying "Mormonism is a cult" while introducing a candidate reeks of a disingenuous, selfish publicity stunt. Even if you agree with what Jeffress said (which I absolutely do, though the word "cult" carries some baggage and innuendo that doesn't paint the LDS church clearly or in a way that is helpful), to surprise a political candidate by handing his campaign this little "October Surprise" was either a foolish mistake or an intentional play to stir-up some controversy with Dr. Jeffress in the middle of it. I choose to believe the former, though it isn't much better than the latter.

Thirdly, if you're going to do something like this as a pastor, you might as well take the opportunity to tell people about Jesus. Jeffress mentioned that Mormonism started 1800 years after Christianity. Fine, but that doesn't make it a cult. People in Paul's day made the same claim about Christianity starting thousands of years after Judaism. How about some talk about the fact that Mormons believe in is a different Jesus; different salvation; different Gospel? Take the time to explain salvation by grace through faith through what Christ did on the cross. If you're going to use up the spotlight, at least go the distance. Let people know what you're for; not just what you're against.

When it comes down to it, I'm less worried about Dr. Jeffress being the "Jeremiah Wright of the right," and more worried about him being the "Pat Robertson of the right." When a pastor's message is that our hope for "push[ing] back against the evil that is engulfing our country" is found in a political candidate, we're in big trouble.

What I've Learned as a Leader From Steve Jobs

Not many people get to say they've changed the world. Steve Jobs, who died yesterday, could. If you've ever posted a picture to the internet, downloaded a song online, or done both of those things on the same device as you talk to your office on, you've benefited from Steve Jobs' leadership. Even if you've never used an Apple product, their presence and innovation pushed the market in a direction it might not have gone otherwise.

I'm not a CEO of a for-profit company. I'm not an Apple afficianado - I have an iPhone and an iPad because nobody else is doing what they're doing, but I don't have any brand loyalty. If someone else made something truly better, I'd buy it instead. And, I don't necessarily want to lead like Steve Jobs. His leadership style was legendary for being crass, condescending, and focused solely on the bottom line. We're trying to do vastly different things.  However, here are a few things I've learned from Steve Jobs.

1. Simplicity and focus can change the world. There were mp3 players on the market before the iPod, but they were nearly impossible to use. In a market where billions of things were technologically possible, he introduced a device with one button; a device that fulfilled one function. And sold gagillions. Jobs said, "That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."

2. Presentation Matters. If you cut corners you can't be trusted, and you have to go all the way. I love this quote (that I read in the Wall Street Journal, not the magazine where it originally appeared). "When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” Function isn't the only thing that matters; form matters too.

3. Intuitive systems allow for passionate followers. My two-year old can use my iPhone, and I didn't have to teach him. That's why people are so passionate about Apple products... you don't need to be a rocket scientist to be a power-user and do incredible things. People don't want to spend all their time figuring out your systems; they want to do something, create something, change the world. If your products, services, messages, or organizations are so complex they take forever to figure out, they'll go the way of the IBM computer. If your systems accommodate functionality without getting in the way of it, people will fall all over themselves to be involved with whatever you're doing.

Jesus and Money

Did you ever notice how Jesus got the order backwards when He was talking about money?

Matthew 6:21, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Don't we always say it the other way?

"Find something you have a heart for and give your money there."

But Jesus gets it backwards. He says, "Your heart will follow your money," not "Your money should follow your heart."

He says, "Figure out where you want your heart to be, and start investing there."

Funny how Jesus messes that up...

Gospel and Justice

I'm reading a lot these days in the area of external focus, social justice, and the mission of the Church. A lot of what is being written is incredible stuff, and it's neat to see my generation attempting to help put our hands and feet where our mouth is when it comes to issues of faith. That isn't a tension the Church has held well in the past and I'm optimistic that my generation could do better. Unfortunately, I'm also worried that we'll simply swing the pendulum back to another side.

A lot of what I'm reading today talks about social justice as a part of the "Gospel." Richard Stearns' book "Hole in Our Gospel" is a popular example. Writers warn about "bifurcating the Gospel;" that is, dividing the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) from the Gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). The Gospel of the Kingdom is the "good news" of the promised kingdom in which Jesus will reign in righteousness and justice and the creation will be restored to what God intended it to be: justice will be served, the poor won't be poor, violence will be no longer, etc... The Gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection is that because of Jesus' death on the cross you can be reconciled to God personally.

Stearns (and many, many others) argue that you can't separate the two. The Good News of Jesus' death and resurrection is inseparable from the Good News that Jesus is King and the world (through you) should reflect that. This leads to the conclusion (or at least implication) that if a person is not tangibly reflecting the Kingdom, they aren't trusting the Gospel and aren't going to heaven.

However, we have to be very, very, very careful that we don't just assume when the Bible says "gospel" it's always talking about the same good news. The word doesn't seem to be that specialized.

Plus, some degree of "bifurcation" is necessary. The message of the Kingdom is not good news until after you've trusted the message of Jesus' death and resurrection on your behalf. In fact, the news that the King of the Universe is going to rule on David's throne and judge in perfect righteousness and justice is terrible news if you are on the wrong side of justice. If you're a traitor, the message of the Kingdom is the worst possible news you could receive.

Until you're rightly related to God, the message of the Kingdom isn't "good news" at all. Once you've believed the Gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection, the message of the Kingdom is great news. But they're different messages we can't afford to get scrambled.

Forgiveness and 9-11

The cross is the standard for Christian forgiveness. Our inability to meet that standard of forgiveness proves we need it too. 

The men who flew planes into the World Trade Center towers, Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania were wicked, evil, godless fools who perpetrated an unspeakable act against people created in the image of God. As I watched the non-stop television coverage on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks yesterday I found anger that had been suppressed for a decade somehow rekindled inside of me.
Surely there is a stopping-point for the kinds of people God legitimately expects us to forgive, right? 


Matthew 18:21-35 is pretty clear. Jesus only expects us to forgive to the degree that He has forgiven. Beyond that, we're not responsible. 

In Luke 23:34, Jesus Himself models forgiveness. He forgives the Roman soldiers who spit in the face of God Himself while He slowly suffocated to death on a cross. As heinous as 9-11 was, it's not even a blip on the radar screen of heinous compared with what Jesus was willing to forgive just minutes before He died. 

Of course, forgiveness like that isn't realistic for you or me. It doesn't seem possible for me to erase the debt of those depraved lunatics who commandeered jets and killed thousands of innocent people.  

And that very fact should remind me that I need forgiveness too. I need a Savior too. My inability to live-up to Jesus' example of forgiveness only highlights the gap between Him and me. And when we're talking about an infinite God, an infinite gap puts me a lot closer on the scale to the people I despise than to the God I aspire to be like...


Commit to Answering, not Specific Answers

It's a foregone conclusion that the world is changing at a rapid pace. Culture changes, trends change, philosophies change, needs change... Organizations need to change too. 

One of the things I notice about leaders who navigate change effectively is that they commit to answering the right questions but they don't sell out indefinitely to a specific answer. 

For example, take the question: "How can we get someone from one place to another as efficiently and effectively as possible?" In the late 1800s, the best answer to the question was "horseback." But organizations that sold out to that specific answer were left in the dust once Mr. Ford's Model T came around in 1908. 

Organizations that made it were the organizations who stayed committed to answering the question. Organizations that failed to make it were the organizations who stayed committed to their specific answer. 

We've got to be good at asking the right questions, even when we are confident that the answer hasn't changed. Because with most of the things we do, someday the answer will change. The question won't change; the need won't change; the reason for an answer won't change; but the specific way we answer the question might, and we need to be ready. 

Managing Misses

If you know me at all, you know I love to play golf. I'm not much of a golfer; I need to play more and am confident I could get there.

Even still, over the past few years I've taken golf lessons with a guy I met through a mutual friend. He's helped the fundamentals of my swing a little bit but has helped the fundamentals of my thinking a lot. He has helped me approach shots differently, and think-through every hole differently. As a result my golf scores are starting to really improve.

One of the big things he says on a regular basis is that "Golf is not about playing great shots. It's about managing your misses." The other day I heard someone quote Jack Nicklaus who said in a great round he only hits the ball exactly like he hoped 6 or 8 times (less than 10 percent of the time), and he's the greatest golfer to have ever lived.

A lesson I'm learning about leadership (especially senior-level leadership) is that the great leaders I know function in a very similar way.

There are very few perfect decisions because there are no perfect leaders and very few perfect scenarios. All decisions have collateral effects, not all of which are expected and not all of which are enjoyable. Leaders rarely have all the information they need to make flawless decisions when they need to make them, and rarely have the ability to pull off the "shot" that looks exactly like the shot they imagined in their mind.

Leadership is not about hitting perfect "shots." It's about putting yourself in a position to manage your misses.
You have to hit shots in such a way that they're able to be great, but not catastrophic if you miss. Shots with a catastrophic downside are rarely worth taking - you can't recover from them.

You'll live an awfully discouraged life if you try to lead perfectly.The great leaders I know don't make exclusively perfect decision. In fact, they rarely make perfect decisions. Instead, they're able to string together a bunch of manageable misses that move them forward effectively.

Prosperity Gospel Testimonies

If you've spent much time in an evangelical church, you have probably been trained on how to share your "story." We teach people how to tell their story of faith in a way that allows the Gospel to be clear so that someone else could hear about what Jesus Christ has done in our life and think about their own response to the Gospel. No question, it's an incredible way to share your faith.

But (and I include myself in this), we need to be more careful how we train people to share their story. 

The normal parameters for a person's story are these: 

1. Tell about your life before you trusted Christ.
2. Tell how you trusted Christ. 
3. Tell how your life has changed.

The problem I have as I think more about it is with the third step. Because we want people to be compelled to  trust Christ through our story, the temptation is to load-up the third part of our story with all the incredible things that happened after we put our faith in Jesus. After we trusted Christ, we stopped smoking cold turkey, stopped cussing on the golf course, stopped reacting in anger against our employees, and experienced peace and joy that we'd never experienced before. The sky started raining lemon drops and gumdrops, and our home life was instantly transformed into a 1950s television show. 

The problem is, in doing so we inadvertently preach a prosperity gospel to people, causing them to make assumptions that aren't true. Sometimes after you trust Christ, bad habits don't automatically go away. Sometimes after you trust Christ your family still falls apart. Sometimes after you trust Christ your friends abandon you, or you get sick, or you lose your life-savings in a bad investment you prayed hard about.  

Trusting Christ doesn't ensure that your life will instantly get better, or even that it will trend better (in purely experiential terms) over the long-haul. You don't have to read the New Testament very long to recognize that sometimes life gets harder.

We've got to go deeper in our stories and stop treating them like bad infomercials. 

We don't want to rock the boat in the other direction either. The doom-and-gloom gospel isn't any more honest than the prosperity gospel. The hope of the gospel isn't simply that it improves our day-to-day circumstances. It's that it recasts those circumstances whether good or bad in light of eternity so that our response to those experiences springs-up from hope that is found somewhere outside what happens to us (Colossians 1:5). 

The Gospel is compelling on its own. We don't have to spin a positive story to make it more compelling. In reality, when we do that we make the Gospel less compelling because we promise something that doesn't always deliver on the back-end. 

Funerals are Mandatory

Three years ago I made a post about how I believe funerals should be mandatory for leaders. It's something Rudy Giuliani talks about in his book on leadership.

Anyone can be there when times are good; it takes a leader to show up when times are rough. But as I continue to attend funerals, I'm increasingly convinced that the primary benefactor of a funeral is the leader; not the people he leads.

Maybe it's morbid and weird, but there's something about a funeral that re-calibrates you.

Sometimes funerals can be encouraging. Nobody remembers your small mistakes - the ones you stew about all day - after you're gone.

Sometimes funerals are stimulating. They help us think about what people will remember about us. Will we be remembered for a lasting contribution to the lives of others, or will people only tell funny stories about us? Will it be obvious that people are searching for anecdotal stories to fill the time, or will it be obvious that they've been forced to condense because of the legacy of a life-well-lived?

I know it's a morbid topic, but if you've got half a reason to go to a funeral you really should go.

Interconnected Systems

I just finished "Leading Change" by John Kotter. It's a fantastic book for leaders who are attempting to help their organizations be better in fundamental ways.

In the book, Kotter talks about the difference between leading change in unconnected and interconnected systems. His insight is brilliant.

Imagine walking into your office and deciding you're ready for some change. Probably, you'll do it on your own. Shift the desk from one side of the office to the other side, take down a picture and use a hammer to nail a new picture on a different wall, move the bookshelves from one place to another. And by the end of the day, you'll be able to look at your office and say, "Wow. That looks better."

That's an "unconnected system." And, it's the kind of change most leaders have led successfully throughout their leadership.

Now, imagine walking into the same office for the same project, only now the bookshelves are connected to the desk with steel cables. The pictures are tied to the books on the shelf. Tables and chairs have wires attaching them together, and they're connected to the desk and the bookshelves.

That's an "interconnected system." It's the kind of change that's extraordinarily difficult for leaders and for those he leads.

The leader thinks he's simply moving the desk. Everyone in the office knows the desk needs to move. But when he moves the desk, the books fall off the bookshelf and everyone (including the leader) is surprised. Everyone knows the picture needs to go but can't figure out why nobody can seem to get the picture to budge from the wall.

Leading change within an interconnected system is tough work. The end-result is this: You'll likely have to change things that aren't intuitive to everyone in order to keep the bookshelves from falling over; expend more energy than your team initially expected; and make more changes than you imagined at first. It's tough, but it's the only way to the office everyone dreams of.

Have you experienced this? What other insight would you add to Kotter's discussion of interconnected systems?

Bridge or Destination?

One of the conversations our staff is having a bunch these days: Is this program a bridge or a destination?

Churches are notorious for creating programs to meet specific needs at specific times but with very little long-term clarity about how the program fits within the overall purpose of the church. That kind of lack of clarity leads to bloated budgets, overwhelmed staff, confusion of purpose, untouchable sacred cows, and programs that no longer accomplish what they were designed to accomplish.

From my perspective, programs need to be either bridges or destinations.

Bridges have the singular goal of helping a person span from one destination to another. You don't live on a bridge. They're utilitarian. As a result, you can tell whether or not a bridge is working by figuring out whether or not the people who get on the bridge exit the bridge in the place the bridge was designed to take them. If they get stuck on the bridge, fall off the bridge, or end up in the wrong place, you might want to examine your bridge.

Destinations are the places you land. You stick there and live for long periods of your life. You shouldn't need many destinations because destinations should sustain life fairly well. You can tell whether or not a destination is working by looking at how frequently someone has to hop on a bridge to get their legitimate needs met at another destination.

Would you build a house in a place where you had to drive long distances on a regular basis to get your basic needs met? Where you had to drive across one bridge to get groceries, cross another bridge to get to the doctor, cross two bridges to buy clothes, and another bridge to go to the restroom, and another two bridges to return to your home? Of course not - you would spend your whole life in the car.

Unfortunately, a lot of churches do this to people all the time. We create hundreds programs, each designed to provide a single basic discipleship need for people. We've got hundreds of bridges that go in hundreds of directions toward hundreds of destinations. Then we wonder why our churches aren't knocking the ball out of the park when it comes to disciple-making. People can't navigate our systems and don't want to live there anyway. So, they pick and choose the bridges and destinations that are closest and ignore the rest.

We've got to be more strategic at asking fundamental questions before we start a new program: If it's a bridge, is it the most strategic bridge to get people where they're going? If it's a destination, do we really want people to live here?


On my "to do" list for the last two weeks has been, "blog something." So here it is.

I've been completely under water with some classwork I'm finishing up and some neat things at church so the blog has suffered. I'm committed to getting back on the horse - blogging is too important to me for several reasons.

We've got a big Vision night for leaders this Saturday and then a neat Sunday - baptizing somewhere around 30 people this week. I'll be back in the saddle next Monday.

Small Improvement to a Big Overhaul

I read this quote the other day by Robert E. Kelly in "How to Be A Star at Work."

"Star performers do small day to day self improvements that add up over time. Roof raising impact seldom happen without a long string of smaller efforts preceding them."

It's not just true in work; it's true in life. Small changes every day add up, and often last much longer than grandiose overhauls. If you decide you want to be a Bible reader, your best bet is to commit to a small change in your routine today: get up 5 minutes earlier and read a chapter of the Bible before you get out of bed. Add 5 minutes and 1 chapter every month and by the end of the year you'll be reading your Bible for an hour every day and on track to read through the Bible somewhere around 3 1/2 times per year.

Decide tomorrow that you're going to start waking up an hour early every morning to read 12 chapters of the Bible, and you'll be lucky to make it a week.

If you're looking to grow in an area, small tweaks over a relatively short amount of time can really pay off.

Vision and Direction

One of the most difficult things for a leader is clarifying vision or direction for the group she leads.

The leader lives with the vision for a long time before he begins to go public. At that point, he sees all the interconnected parts and can be tempted to assume others will innately see those things as well. By that point, the vision is patently obvious to him - it's frustrating when it isn't patently obvious to everyone else.

If your team isn't "getting" your vision, it could be a problem with the way you are communicating the vision. It might be a problem with the vision itself. And it could be a problem with the person you are trying to lead.

Two-thirds of the problems with helping vision stick are the fault of the leader. Only one third is the problem of the people we lead. Yet in my experience, leaders tend to blame others the majority of the time.

"They weren't paying attention."
"They have different instincts."
"They aren't a team player."
"They are pulling in a different direction."

At least two-thirds of the time it's not "their" fault.  Assume first that it's a problem with your leadership. Assume they want to follow you if you'll lead them clearly. Rule out a flaw in your leadership before you bank on a problem with someone's followership. When you play the odds, it is usually to your benefit.

The Error of the "But"

As you might expect, I've had a few conversations about Rob Bell's recent book "Love Wins." Yes, I read it several months ago and will review it one of these days when my anger subsides.

However, in the meantime, I hear an opposite error from many people who want to critique Bell's theology that I think is also dangerous.

From time to time, while pointing out the fallacy of saying that if love "wins," hell can't exist, I hear people remind each other that "God is loving but He is also just."

It's a subtle error, but often subtle errors are sometimes just as catastrophic as the more obvious kind.

When we are talking about the perfections of God, Justice and love aren't opposites; they exist together.

If love is defined from a purely human standpoint, love and justice do contrast; but God doesn't define love by our romanticized, erotic, and selfish perspective. He defines love at the cross (1 John 4:10). The cross is the place where love and justice intersect. The Father loves us so much He sent His Son to die for us.The Father is so concerned about justice that He sent His Son to die for us.

If God is not just, He can not be loving. If God is not loving, He need not be just. If God's love doesn't demand His justice, Jesus' death goes down as the greatest overreaction in all of history.

When you set the two up as a contrast, you end up with the same heresy Bell does; you just come at it from a different side. When God's justice and love are separated from one another, you end up with neither justice or love... exactly where Bell ends up.

It isn't that God is just but also loving; it's that God is just and also loving.

Why I'm Not Posting

I'm finishing up my doctoral classwork this week and next. Through preparing for it, preparing to preach a couple of sermons even though I'm out of the office, and living in new house where (it seems) the World Wide Web doesn't stretch to our world, the blog was the casualty.

I'll get back once I get the canoe turned back over...

The Gospel is for Everyone

One of the gigantic misconceptions I lived with for a good deal of my life was that the Gospel, the death and resurrection of Christ, was something only the unbeliever needed to respond to. I grew up in a tradition that made that much clear - if you hadn't trusted Christ you needed to trust Him for everlasting life. But I got the impression that the believer had little use for the Gospel except to learn how to share it with an unbeliever.

That understanding began to change in college, and now it's very different. I don't preach at a "seeker" church, but every single Sunday my goal is to see every single person respond to the Gospel. Some respond for the very first time and cross from death to life in our services. Some respond to the gospel again, not so they can have life forever (they already have that); they trust Christ for life for now.

To put it a more theological way, whether we're talking about "justification" or "sanctification," being saved from the penalty of sin forever or being saved from the power of sin today, the object of our trust is always the same: the death and resurrection of Christ.

Paul makes this really clear.

What does the believing husband need? He needs to respond to the Gospel and love his wife like Jesus loved Him (Ephesians 5:25-33). If Jesus really died and rose from the dead for him, it should motivate him to respond by loving his wife differently.

What does the believing person who struggles with anxiety need? She needs to respond to the Gospel and trust that the very worst thing that could happen will never happen because Jesus died and rose from the dead so that her life would never face utter destruction (2 Corinthians 5:1-10).

What does the believer who struggles with insecurity need? To respond to the fact that Jesus' death and resurrection provides humanity with a chance for a new identity hidden "in Christ" so that redemption, adoption, inclusion, and a guarantee from the Spirit are our present-tense possession (Ephesians 1:1-14).

Paul tells believers "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in Him" (Colossians 2:6). How did you receive Him? By grace, through faith, in the Gospel.

The Gospel isn't just something elementary that we trust to get out of hell and then grow out of. It's Truth that demands our response in every single situation we face.

Good Theology, Bad Application

I've been reading through the book of Job recently. Something strikes me about Job's friends.

If you're at all familiar with the story of Job, you're probably familiar with his "friends" Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, who fit firmly in the "With Friends Like These Who Needs Enemies?" category. These guys are convinced that Job has sinned and that Job's troubles are God's discipline. So, they do what any good "friend" does when you're suffering: launch into long sermons giving you a well-thought-out rationale for why you're suffering.

What's amazing as you read these guys, however, is that their mini-sermons almost all begin with extremely good theology. They accurately portray God's sovereignty, holiness, power, and inability to make mistakes. The problem is with their application of good theology.

We normally read the story of Job to learn how to suffer well from Job's example. But a lot of us (myself included) could stand to read the story of Job to learn the danger of really good theology misapplied.

We're clear on God's sovereignty, and use it for an excuse to be passive in evangelism.

We're clear on God's omnipotence, and use it for an excuse to neglect needs we could meet.

We're clear on God's immanence (nearness), and use it for an excuse to treat Him casually, as if He were our "homeboy."

We're clear on God's grace, and use it as license to sin.

We're clear on God's holiness, and use it as an excuse to be mean.

When good theology is applied badly, it can be just as damaging as if we led with bad theology in the first place.

Cynics and Skeptics

One of the leadership lessons I continue to learn is the difference between cynics and skeptics, and how to deal with both. 

Cynics are people who have a "no" posture. They begin trying to figure out why they're against what you're proposing before a conversation has begun. They know they're against whatever it is you're doing - they just haven't figured out why yet. Cynics often feels as though they're the most important person in the organization. It's their self-given role to keep the leader "humble," or "in line." They're not interested in moving forward; they're interested in being right at someone else's expense. 

It's in the organization's best interest to run cynics off (or marginalize them) as quickly as possible. They don't add value, only division; chipping away at the foundation of the organization one objection at a time. 

Skeptics are late adopters. They take a long time to warm-up to ideas and are often difficult to convince. They often give a lot of push-back, but for very different reasons. Skeptics work from a "caution first" posture. They want to be convinced, they're just not yet. But if they ever are convinced, they'll become the biggest champion for your idea.

It's in the leader's best interest to have at least one or two trusted advisors who are skeptics. Unlike the cynic, the skeptic is for the leader and the organization. They can keep a leader from running too fast, too far, or in the wrong direction. They often (not always) will shine light on the leader's blind-spot and help him consider perspectives he might not see on his own. If nothing else, they will help the leader shape communication to take various perspectives into account.  

The challenge for leaders is this: it's far too easy to mistake skeptics for cynics. 

When a leader is passionate about something, opposition or criticism of any kind is hard to take. Too often, when we receive push-back - especially strong push-back - we immediately assume the source of the criticism is a cynic and seek ways to marginalize him. This kind of response only betrays our arrogance and often prevents us from hearing feedback that could help us lead better. 

Be on the lookout for cynics and root them out. They'll kill your organization. But beware of giving someone the "Cynic Tag" too soon. You might marginalize someone who could have helped you  go further, faster, while accumulating a lot fewer scars in the process. 


I've always been fascinated by the Creation account of the fact that God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3).

Was God tired? Did creation wear God out? Did He need a nap after a long, hard week at work?

Of course not. Never mind the fact that God doesn't get tired (Isaiah 40:8), Genesis says that God simply spoke things into existence. He didn't exactly tax  Himself creating the universe.

So why did He rest?

Not because He was tired; because He was satisfied. God was able to rest because He was satisfied with the work He had done. It was very good (Genesis 1:31). He was done.

Which makes it all the more interesting that humanity is later called to follow God's model of resting (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:8-11).

I don't think God was calling the Israelites to rest because their bodies needed the break. He wasn't establishing (much to my dismay) an unusually high value on naps. The motivation for God's rest wasn't fatigue, it was satisfaction. I think He calls people to do the same thing.

That's the point the Pharisees missed (Matthew 12:1-8). They thought the point was simply rest from something. Jesus pointed out that the Sabbath principle was more about resting in something... or rather in Someone.

See, our work is never done like God's was. Whatever work we do, there is no way to completely rest because we have everything like we want it.

To use myself as an example: I am never satisfied that a sermon is ready to preach. Preaching always feels premature. But every week I pick one day (usually Saturday) that I do everything within my power to not think about a sermon. It's a discipline of worship for me where every week I knowingly, willingly, consciously remind myself that I can be satisfied in the God of creation. If He doesn't go before me on Sunday, the message will fail whether or not I work on it Saturday or not.

I'm never satisfied with my "creation," but choose to rest from my work on Saturday because (thanks to Jesus) God is satisfied in His. My rest is a reflection of the fact that I'm satisfied in Him.

What about you? What do you need to rest from so you can rest in the Creator God?
One of the things Dave Browning mentions in the book "Deliberate Simplicity" is the difference between the "outreach church" and the "seeker church." I think it's a helpful distinction and Browning goes on to clarify what he means:

Both the seeker church and the outreach church believe that a bridge needs to be built between God and the lost. They just start building that bridge at different sides of the chasm.

I think it's an extraordinarily helpful, and important, distinction.


One of the things we're working hard on at McKinney is doing a better job celebrating the incredible things God is doing.

When you create a culture of celebration, you tend to do more of those things and you establish constant reminders that God is at work even though we don't always see Him working. Celebrations are like the little tick marks on a growth chart that remind you you're making progress even when you don't feel any different.

So, we're trying to do a better job celebrating everything; from stories of how God is working in individual lives to corporate "wins" that represent God's provision for our entire church.

I've learned that people (all of us) have to be coached and reminded of both how and what to celebrate. So, we're working on that.

One of our big goals was articulated pretty well by our Executive Pastor the other day: We want to be better at celebrating conversions than touchdowns.

For a church in Texas, that would be a monumental achievement.

Complexity and Focus

We're talking a lot about complexity and focus as a church staff. The more focused things are, in general, the more power they have. Light, for example, is useful when it's diffused but when it is focused a person can use light to cut diamonds. Water, to use another example, is useful in your swimming pool but if that same water is highly focused, it can cut steel.

As churches, we often fall into the trap of believing power is in acquisition. The more ministries and opportunities we acquire, the more power we will see.

But that's not the way it works. In my observation, power (obviously, from a human standpoint here) is not in acquisition; it's in concentration.

The deception of acquisition is that the busier we are, the better we feel like things are going. Unfortunately, my experience is that the busier things are... the busier things are. Busyness is not an accurate metric for success.

If you're a part of a busy church, you might ask yourself some questions before you acquire anything else:

  • Will it actually serve more people, or will it simply serve the same people another time?
  • Could an existing ministry do this effectively with just a little bit of repositioning?
  • Will this opportunity duplicate the purpose of another ministry and take resources (finances, leaders, physical space) away from both?
  • What used to accomplish this purpose? Do we need to gracefully close something down before something new can be successful?
  • Is this something someone else is already doing effectively? Why not simply let them do it and support them?
  • Does this help move people toward who they ought to be in Christ or does it simply provide an environment for them to stay the same longer.

The last question is a much harder question than it looks like on the front-end.

Power is in focus and concentration, not in acquisition. If you acquire new ministries and opportunities without a great deal of care, you'll end up top-heavy and spend so much time chasing your institutional tail that you'll have a hard time realizing what you're hoping to see.

Honest Feedback

A lesson I'm learning: The higher you go on an organizational chart, the harder it is to get honest feedback.

Depending on the person he or she is talking to, leaders at higher levels in organizations are most likely to get feedback from the extreme ends of the spectrum.

One group of people looks at high-level leaders with unbridled skepticism. They don't normally give face-to-face feedback, but take every opportunity they can to snipe at the leader and the things he or she does. The other group of people give nothing but praise. Although they are more likely to give feedback directly to the leader, they're often no less biased. They are much more fun to hear from as a leader, but not any more helpful.

Often people within an organization are shy about giving honest feedback to a leader higher on the organizational chart than them, especially when the feedback is less than positive. They fear, often legitimately (unfortunately), that they'll be viewed as insubordinate or as if they are not being "team players."

Leaders have to work incredibly hard to get honest feedback.

I read a story the other day about George Washington, who maximized the chance he would get honest feedback during the Revolutionary War by asking several sources, from his own soldiers to ordinary citizens, to give him feedback prior to moving forward in critical battles. When it sought feedback, he would almost always attribute the particular strategy he favored to someone else because he wanted to know what people really thought. Washington knew he needed to remove himself and his role from the discussion as much as possible if he was going to receive the kind of feedback he needed.

It's a great strategy. I'm interested in hearing from some of you who lead (or have led) in situations where you were higher-up in organizations. What strategies do you have for receiving honest feedback when it's hard to come by?

Be a Guest

I had the week off from responsibilities at McKinney yesterday so Kari and I decided to visit Pantego Bible Church yesterday. Pantego is in Arlington, about 30 minutes from our house. Several years ago I was a Student and Worship Pastor at a church in Arlington and had several friends who attended Pantego. Some of our friends have recently started attending there so it was a good excuse to see them as well.

David Daniels and his team are doing a great job at Pantego. It was great to be a part of their ministry for the day - God is doing some neat things through that ministry. But, the point of the post isn't to debrief my visit to Pantego. It's to tell you about two strongly-held opinions I have: 

1. Everyone needs to be a guest at an unfamiliar church at least once a year. 
2. Everyone needs to bring a guest to the church where you attend at least once a year. 

Especially if you're a pastor or ministry "professional," you owe this to your church. But even if you're not, you owe this to your church. 

On the first point, it's really important to experience the anxiety of walking into a new church - even a church with a good reputation - wondering what it's going to be like. Especially if you have kids for whom you'd love to not pay a professional counselor hundreds of dollars to debrief an awful church experience someday. It changes the way you show hospitality to people who are experiencing that anxiety in your church on any given Sunday. 

On the second point, it's important to see your own church through the eyes of a guest. When you view ministries, processes, systems, and communication as you, everything seems normal. You're used to them the same way people who work in restaurants don't know their clothes smell like the restaurant, but someone else can smell them from a mile away. When you bring a guest to your church and find yourself explaining and justifying everything that happens, or begging people to participate in things that aren't natural connection points for them, it might be time to re-think things and you are poised to be a part of the solution rather than continuing the problem. 

Prayer is Like Garbage

I love this quote from Dale Davis' commentary on Judges:

"Maybe prayer is like garbage. I regard taking out the garbage as part of the daily tedium of life, and it is something I leave, whenever possible, for other household members to do. Of course, I am wrong. Taking out the garbage should be viewed as a daily sacrament, for garbage in itself is a sign of provision. Potato peelings, apple cores, and squash seeds are silent witnesses that our Father is still feeding us. So garbage is not a tedious detail but a divine blessing. We can miss that because it is so routine. I guess our problem is that we don't think theologically about garbage."

Where am I?!

No, I haven't quit blogging.

We moved to a new home last week in a neighborhood that does not yet have internet (!) so my tendency to front-load blogs from home on the weekend has been severely impacted.

I was supposed to be in Kazakhstan last week and this week but the trip fell through at the last minute. So, I'm capitalizing on the fact that our Young Adult Pastor already had a two-week sermon series planned for these weeks and am taking a "study break" to prepare for some sermons I'm really excited about over the summer. More on that as we go, I'm sure... if I ever get internet at home again. 

The Small Sins

All of us has a tendency to minimize our own sin and maximize the sins of others against us. We tend to view the things we have done against God as the "small things" (we told a little white lie, or had a youthful moment of indiscretion). We view the things other people have done as the "big things." 

The issue is that we try to be the ones who decide which sins are worse. Unfortunately, though, we don't get to be the judge of that. 

Ultimately, I think in God's economy some of the "small" sins in our eyes might just be some of the "big" sins in his eyes. He separated all of humanity from Him for eating a piece of fruit, for goodness' sake. Certainly we would put "fruit eating" at the "small" end of the spectrum, right? But the deal is, it wasn't really about the fruit. It was about idolatry - believing they could be like God.

Idolatry is what sin boils down to. We believe someone else has a better plan than God, so we move forward serving that god. When we tell a little white lie, we are believing that something (or someone) is worth serving over and above the God of truth. When we fail to keep our word, we make a statement that something (or someone) is more important than God's command to be people whose "yes" means "yes" and "no" means "no." The small things are idolatrous every bit as much as if we were to switch religions altogether.

In that way, I think some of our smaller sins may just be the most offensive to God. The fact that we would abandon God as God or worship something other than God for something trivial like a little white lie or a moment of indiscretion has to be more offensive to God than if we had gone into sin whole hog.  

When we minimize our own sin as something trivial, that might just make it more offensive. 

Add or Subtract?

I've always been fascinated by the challenge Jesus gives people who would follow Him in Matthew 5:48. The Pharisees had given people an unsurmountable standard of living. Jesus preached His whole sermon from Matthew 5-7 to show that the Pharisees were placing a load on the shoulders of the people that was far too heavy. Their standard of behavior wasn't possible. Nobody can keep all those rules.

But here's the amazing thing about the sermon on the Mount: Jesus gave the people a standard that was achievable, but also much higher. He called them to perfection. Completeness. Wholeness.

The Pharisees had tried to reach holiness by adding behavior after behavior. Jesus was concerned about behavior, but the whole point of Jesus sermon was to demonstrate that better behavior wasn't the thing missing in the puzzle of human completeness. In fact, the problem wasn't an addition problem at all.

You don't become "perfect" when you've added all you can. Quite the opposite. You become whole; complete; everything God intended when everything you've added is scraped away.

Peter uses the illustration of refined gold to talk about holy faith (1 Peter 1:7) just before he reminds the people to imitate God's holiness (1 Peter 1:15) in a way that echo's Jesus' command in Matthew 5:48.

When we've trusted Christ and have His righteousness (Romans 3:22); identity (Romans 6:15, Galatians 2:20) and Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We don't need to add anything else. Instead, we should repent of the things we've done in our own effort, with our own resources, on our own time, for our own benefit, and spend our time yielding to the Spirit instead. That's the path of perfection.

The Final Verdict

A lot of my reading recently has been in 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. The other day I was reading in 2 Chronicles 12:12-14 in The Message about Solomon's son Rehoboam. It says, "Because Rehoboam was repentant, GOD’s anger was blunted, so he wasn’t totally destroyed. The picture wasn’t entirely bleak—there were some good things going on in Judah... But the final verdict on Rehoboam was that he was a bad king—GOD was not important to him; his heart neither cared for nor sought after GOD."

I couldn't help but think back to Rehoboam's Grandpa, King David. David's deal with Bathsheba is well-known. He also had moments of terribly weak faith where he trusted in the scope of his own human power over the power of the God who had given him everything he had (1 Chronicles 21:1-3). But, the final verdict on David is that He was a "man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 16:22).

For the leader with a pristine record of faithfulness to God, the temptation is to rest on our laurels and relax, failing to finish well. For the leader with failures in the past, the temptation is to believe that God cannot or will not use us in the future. 

What an encouragement for every leader to remember that the final verdict is not out on the legacy we will leave. 


I read "Deliberate Simplicity" after reading about it on a friend's blog. I'm a huge believer that simplicity is the key to impact, especially when it comes to systems, structures, and communication, so I figured the book would be right up my alley. I loved some of it and didn't love some of it. Par for most books I read.

One of the parts I loved was the idea of creating "prosumers" rather than "consumers." Here's the paragraph:

"In a Deliberately Simple church, we ask the people who attend to be prosumers instead of consumers. The word prosumer was coined by futurist Alvin Toffler to describe the psyche of a participant who actively contributes to the experience he or she is enjoying (as opposed to a consumer, who consumes the experience). With a pro(+)sumer, there is more of "it" after the individual has interacted with it. With a con(-)sumer, there is less of "it" after the individual has interacted with it." 

Worship and worship services are for prosumers, not consumers. Worship isn't something to be observed, taken or consumed; it's something to be given. It's participatory.

Bench-sitters who consume worship services consume worship. They take away from it. We need more contributors. Prosumers.

The Early Church and Us

I was reading in the first part of the book of Acts yesterday.

Anyone else find themselves feeling a little bit conflicted when you read the book of Acts and look at the church today?

I mean, it's awfully common for modern-day theologians and church growth consultants to pine for things to be "more like they were in the early church." And I get that. Who wouldn't want to see the extreme unity and sacrificial generosity of believers united around a purpose (Acts 4:32-35)? Who wouldn't want to see three thousand people trust Christ in a single day (Acts 2:41) and at least 365 people per year (Acts 2:47). Sign me up.

Then I read Acts 5 about an environment where two people were killed on the spot because they lied about their offering. I read Acts 6-7 about the intense persecution that drove an angry mob to kill a kid by throwing rocks at him. Ultimately I read Acts 8:1-3 about how the church began to be "destroyed" by fear of an evil man.

The early church wasn't singing Kum-Bah-Yah in a perfect holy huddle. They were fighting for their lives.

We seem to yearn for the days of the early church  with selective memories.

I'm praying for an Acts-like revival in Fort Worth. However, I'd also like to avoid the Acts-like persecution, if that's not too much to ask.

Fliers that Fail

We took our leadership team to Catalyst Dallas last week. In conjunction with our gardening discussion, we've been talking a lot about being intentional about everything we do as a ministry. You can argue a lot of things about the folks at Catalyst but their conference is one of the most intentional, thought-out, deliberate conferences I've ever been to. They think-through everything from the promotional box of Wheaties they sent pastors inviting them to the event to the way they say goodbye to people as they leave. I took our team to Catalyst primarily so we could observe that level of intentionality together.

But coming away, my very favorite thing about Catalyst might just be the fact that they took a couple of intentional fliers that didn't go well at all. They handed out snap-pops (the old party favors that pop when you throw them at the ground) as a way to illustrate a fear people have, but mostly just to liven up the crowd. The byproduct of the intentional silliness was a billion snap-pops on the floor of Bent Tree Bible Church that popped under the feet of every person who got up to go to the bathroom for the next two days. It was a horrible distraction, and I'm sure a nightmare for the facilities crew to deal with on Friday evening.

I love it when people take calculated risks, even when they fail. Those are always the fliers that get noticed because they end badly, but there were a host of fliers at Catalyst that worked brilliantly. If you don't give yourself the margin to fall, you'll never take a flier that works.

Obviously, you want to calculate the risk of a flier. You want to be wise about the odds. But life is too short not to take a flier from time to time. Even if it doesn't pan out for you.


Our Leadership Team has been talking a lot about gardening recently. Actually, they don't know they've been talking about gardening but they have. Don't tell them.

In order to be a good gardener, first you have to figure out what you're trying to grow. Then you need to provide the right environment and the right nourishment. From a human standpoint (of course), the right seed combined with the right environment and the right nourishment will produce the kind of fruit  you're hoping to see.

Our staff team knows we are 100 percent dependent on God to cause spiritual growth. For our part we want to plant the right kind of seed in the right kind of environment with the right kind of nourishment while depending on God to do His part (1 Corinthians 3:6). If we are haphazard in our gardening, we shouldn't be surprised when we aren't trusted to tend the garden of our dreams.

If you're trying to grow tomatoes, but throw a grab-bag of garden seeds into a pile of dirt, you shouldn't be surprised when the black-eyed peas overtake and choke-out your tomato plants. You may get a few tomatoes, but not nearly as many as you would have if you had planted more carefully.

If you throw tomato seeds into the wrong kind of environment, again - you might get enough tomatoes for a salad but you won't be sharing with the neighbors.

If you combine the right seeds in the right environment but use all your water and fertilizer on the cucumbers, you'll be tempted to brag about your pickles even though what you really wanted was something else.

Our Staff and Elders spent quite a bit of time over the last couple of years thinking about what "crop" God has called us to cultivate at our church. Now we're asking the equally critical questions: "What environments and nourishment will be essential to have that kind of garden?" and "What things could threaten that environment or compromise the crop?"

It's the spade-work of gardening: It's not always fun or rewarding and the results seem like a long way off. But if you've ever seen a flourishing garden, you know it's worth the work. Especially when the stakes are so high.

Different in a Religious Culture - Part 2

Yesterday I posed a question I think a lot about. I'm not sure an easy answer exists, but I'm going to keep asking it until I stumble on something that is sufficient. Meanwhile, I like the overall way Tim Keller starts us down that kind of thinking in an article you can find here

He says: 

"Christian community must go beyond [simple fellowship groups] to embody a 'counter-culture,' showing the world how radically different a Christian society is with regard to sex, money, and power. 

Keller argues that the very best way to stand against the culture today is to stand in opposition of the predominate idols of our culture (sex, money, power); idols that reveal themselves on both sides of the equation. 

Rather than idolizing sex or fearing sex, we live out a healthy perspective of sexuality. 

Rather than hoarding or extravagance, we promote radical generosity toward eternal investments rather than those poised for short-term gain.

Rather than seeking for power and lording it over other groups, races, and classes of people.

Then, Keller goes on to say:

In general, a church must be more deeply and practically committed to deeds of compassion and social justice than traditional liberal churches and more deeply and practically committed to evangelism and conversion than traditional fundamentalist churches. This kind of church is profoundly 'counter-intuitive' to American observers. It breaks their ability to categorize (and dismiss) it as liberal or conservative. Only this kind of church has any chance...

What do you think? I think he's on the right track...

Different in a Religious Culture

One of the things that I think a lot about as a pastor is Jesus' command to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) and Paul's command to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). There's no question, from the beginning to the end of Scripture, God wants people who follow Him to be different from the people around them.

That's fine and dandy for a believer in a culture whose behavior and lifestyle is hostile to Christian morality. A Christian in a tribal community that promotes human sacrifice or child abuse is not difficult to spot. But I'm a pastor in Fort Worth, TX.

We're not just in the Bible Belt. Bible Belt buckles are manufactured here.

Although there are 40,000 unchurched people who live within a 5-mile radius of McKinney Church, I live in a very moral city. It's often impossible to tell a Christ-follower from someone who is far from God, not just because Christians don't frequently live up to their calling. That's part of it, but the other part is that even the people in our culture who are far from God tend to "behave" fairly well.

So what is it about a believer that should set them apart in a moral culture like a light on a hill? What would you tell a person, or a church, about specific things they should do (or not do) that would immediately set them apart from the culture in a clear, compelling way?

I'd love to hear your perspective and then I'll post a quote tomorrow that I think gives a fairly good start. Fire away until then.

Heaven is For Real: Review

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back"Heaven is For Real" by Todd Burpo has been getting quite a bit of publicity recently. A friend encouraged me to read it and review it and I agreed before I really understood what I was getting myself into.

The book is a touching, endearing, well-written story about a father's (Todd Burpo) conversations with his son (Colton) as Colton describes an experience from when he was 4-years-old and in the hospital suffering from a ruptured appendix. Colton claims to have visited heaven and is able to describe his experience in a way that convinced his father, a pastor with at least some degree of Bible training.

According to the author, Colton described being able to see scenes within the hospital that he would have had not knowledge of, described heavenly scenes that are described in Scripture but had not been described to Colton, and perhaps most chillingly, described a sister in heaven who had been miscarried by Colton's mother.

Now, in the interest of fairness, I should probably give a couple of disclaimers:

First, I entered the book with (I think) an acceptable degree of skepticism. To be blunt, if the apostle Paul was given a glimpse of heaven, warned not to describe it, and then given a thorn in the flesh as a reminder to stay humble (2 Corinthians 12:1-10), it is hard for me that God is going to take a 4-year-old there so that his dad could write a book about it. Obviously, God can do whatever God wants to do, but I feel like some degree of skepticism is justified anytime someone claims to have been to heaven.

Secondly, it's impossible to argue against a person's experience, no matter how outlandish. Todd and Colton Burpo will always carry a trump card in any conversation that says, "Say what you want; I experienced it." I get that.

I don't know what happened to Colton Burpo. It's a fascinating story. However, from a Scriptural standpoint, I have a couple of concerns.

1. The first (and most significant to me) is a throwaway line toward the end of the book that doesn't reflect part of Colton's trip to heaven but is extremely important to take into account. Talking about the crucifixion, Mr. Burpo writes, "The Scripture says that as Jesus gave up his spirit, as he sagged there, lifeless on that Roman cross, God the Father turned his back. I am convinced that he did that because if he had kept on watching, he couldn't have gone through with it." Those two sentences contain a grave misrepresentation of God's character (as a God who could have lacked the power to comply with His own sovereign will) as well as the truth about the reason for the cross in the first place. God did not just turn His back - He "forsook" his Son who had "become sin on our behalf" (2 Corinthians 5:21). God didn't lack the will to see the cross through; His moral character demanded He forsake the embodiment of sin. Unfortunately, the mis-characterization of that event goes right to the heart of the Gospel which is awfully important when dealing with a book about heaven.

2. With regard to Colton's account, many of the things Colton mentions are fascinating observations for a 4-year-old. I completely understand why this book has been so popular. However, several of Colton's descriptions of "heaven" are actually descriptions of a place that has not yet been created; only described in Revelation 21 as existing after the first heaven and earth have passed away (Revelation 21:1). I understand (and Mr. Burpo makes the point) that God's conception of time is different from ours. However, Colton's descriptions of heaven mix the old heaven with the new heaven. Although there might be a dimension in which the future is the present in heaven (a discussion for another day), Scripture seems to be very clear that the new heavens and earth and the first heavens and earth are different places. They don't coexist.

Again, I don't know what it is the Colton experienced. But, after reading the book I remain skeptical that it was heaven. As a result, I have a hard time recommending the book to someone else. It's tempting to run with a story because (a) we want to believe it is true, and (b) so much of the story is plausible and nothing validates the existence of God like verifiable supernatural events. However, we've got to be discerning because nothing invalidates the testimony of Christians as quickly as our tendency to jump on board something that doesn't turn out to square with Scripture. We've got to be careful.

The People You Lead

There's a fine line between leading with vision and manipulating people that leaders can't ever afford to cross.

Leaders need vision; they need to lead toward something. And leaders need followers, following him toward that vision.

However, the leader who only leads the organization to accomplish his vision is destined to be a short-lived leader.  Wise leaders lead towards what is truly best for those he leads, no matter what. He has the hearts of the people he leads at the front of his mind rather than his own agenda.

People are not obstacles to be avoided or stepping stones to be navigated. They're not cogs in the machine or pieces on a chessboard. They are't a means for achieving what we want as leaders. We are responsible (from a human standpoint) to provide what they need in pursuit of their vision, even if the vision isn't fully developed in their mind. 

Tom Landry used to say, "My job is to get a bunch of men to do the very thing they hate so that they can achieve the one thing they want more than anything else." Most of those players didn't anticipate the cost or the steps, but they could see the Super Bowl. Landry's responsibility was not to manipulate those players into achieving his goals; it was to give every waking moment to helping the players achieve theirs, even when they couldn't see it.

In John 13, a famous example, Jesus' disciples didn't seem to notice their smelly feet. Jesus could have commanded that they wash His, but instead chose to lead by meeting a need the disciples didn't even realize they had in pursuit of the thing they wanted more than anything else even when they didn't realize it: to be like Him. Because He loved them.

When it comes down to it, love is the only right motivation for a good leader. It changes the way we view ourselves; the ones who lead; and our role altogether.


May's edition of "Wired Magazine" has an article about Voyurl, a new service that allows you to voluntarily share your browser history in real time for anyone who wants to follow it. According to the article, Sitesimon and are similar, though most of them are more connected to social media sites and encourage the user to only allow certain sites.

I can't imagine why anyone would want to spend a bunch of time following the browser history of someone. It really does seem, in most cases, like voyeurism at it's creepiest levels.

Then again, I live in a world in which the internet has been a bugaboo for hundreds or thousands of pastors. The prevalence of illicit material that can be accessed cheaply, conveniently and "privately" gives an occasion for the sin natures of many pastors (and Christ-followers, for that matter) to cross boundaries they shouldn't.

I can't imagine why anyone would follow someone's clickstream. I also can't imagine why every pastor alive wouldn't sign up for this kind of thing. As a person who wants to be above reproach in everything they do (2 Timothy 3:2) I can't imagine anyone not wanting to give the people they lead a glimpse into an area that used to be private.

I've used Covenant Eyes for a while - a service that sends my wife and some trusted friends a digest of all the sites I visit in a week. Though I will continue to use it, this opens the door to even more people.

Your congregation shouldn't ever have to fear that they'll see your face attached to a scandal in the newspaper when they wake up in the morning. This is one more way to provide them some assurance. It's also a good way for them to see some of your hobbies and the things that interest you (prepare for a daily digest of Oklahoma State Sports and a whole lotta Facebook...).

If you're interested in being voyeuristic, or seeing what I'm up to, check me out at:

If I discover there is a reason someone shouldn't allow this kind of information to be out there, I'll be sure to let you know.

Changing and Dying

In Robert Quinn's book "Deep Change," he talks about how change has to come within the leader before it can move to the organization. Early in the book, Quinn interacts with the idiom "change or die." Common thought within organizations is that they must either risk change, or risk death. 

Death can occur from change, just like it can occur from non-change. Change too quickly and the organization goes into shock and dies. Fail to change and the organization goes into atrophy and dies. Change management may be the trickiest role of the leader.

Quinn points out the most organizations choose the death of atrophy over the potential death of change because it's slower - the old frog in the kettle situation. He says,

"We actually seem to prefer slow death. Slow death is the devil we know, so we prefer it to the devil we do not know. The alternative... may appear to be the road to fast death. It certainly involves self-modification and deep change. Deep change requires discipline, courage, and motivation. We would rather experience the pain of slow death than the threat of changing ourself." 

Quinn goes on to say, "Change is hell. Yet not to change, to stay on the path of slow death, is also hell. The difference is that the hell of deep change is the hero's journey. The journey puts us on a path of exhilaration, growth, and progress."

If you're going to go through hell, you might as well do it as a hero, choosing the difficult path of progress rather than the appealing dead end of complacency.

Reaction to Osama

I'll never forget where I was when the Towers feel on September 11th. I was finishing my apple fritter at Daylight Donuts where I went to read in the mornings during college. We stood there and gasped as we watched the second plane fly into the second tower. We cried as the towers fell.

Osama Bin Laden was the mastermind behind one of the most despicable, disgusting, hateful, evil acts to have been perpetrated in my lifetime.

Now he's dead.

I have to admit feeling equal parts ecstatic and sick to my stomach.

The ecstatic part seems to have been the prevalent mood on Facebook and Twitter. I get that. Justice has been served against a terribly evil man. I am grateful for our military and our leaders who have the responsibility to serve justice on God's behalf.

However, Proverbs 24:17 is also at the front of my mind. "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls." So is Ezekiel 33:11, "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their wicked ways and live."

In this case, it's especially poignant for me. I've prayed for Osama Bin Laden for almost 10 years. I prayed that he would trust Christ, 'Isa, his Messiah who died a death sufficient to forgive even His evil. I prayed that he would believe and repent.

Today he believes, but it's too late.

I'm certainly glad Osama can do no more evil on the earth, but I can't celebrate his death.

If you believe in true justice; if you believe in a God who is as perfect in His justice and wrath as He is perfect in His love; the entrance of anyone into a Christ-less eternity is hardly something to celebrate. It should grieve our hearts, deepen our gratitude for the Cross on our own behalf, and renew our reflection on the perfect holiness, wrath, and justice of the God of grace and mercy.

Come quickly Lord Jesus.

Neighborhood Easter Egg Hunts

For the past few months our church has been thinking through our responsibility to be "good neighbors." It's been a part of our church DNA for the last 50 years (McKinney was "missional" before "missional" was cool), but is something we have been re-emphasizing recently.

One of the outflows of that conversation was an opportunity our Children's Ministry Team initiated for families to host Neighborhood Easter egg hunts. We offered kits with invitations, instructions, and some supplies to anyone from our church who was interested in hosting a neighborhood Easter egg hunt. Over the past weekend, we had neighborhood Easter egg hunts in 25 different neighborhoods across Fort Worth.

Several things I love about the idea Nita and her team came up with:

  1. It gave people a chance to begin relationships with their neighbors with a low-risk, easy first step.
  2. It wasn't a bait-and-switch. We didn't fill eggs with tracts or church propaganda in lieu of candy, or force people to sit through a Bible study before they could hunt eggs. 
  3. There was enough flexibility for neighborhoods to adopt the idea to fit their context. The Children's Ministry team gave enough instructions to be helpful, but not so many that the hosts were handcuffed. 
  4. It provided the context for relationship with a neighbor, which was our initial goal. Our ultimate goal is to see neighbors who don't know Jesus introduced to Jesus through an intentional relationship with neighbors who love them. 
  5. It wasn't about McKinney Church. We weren't trying to find a roundabout way to invite people to McKinney Church. We were inviting them to an Easter Egg hunt and then into relationship with their neighbors. Our desire is that that will lead to an invitation to know Jesus. The invitation to McKinney Church will be the natural outcome of that process at various places in the process. But we didn't want to confuse the invitation. If people respond to an invitation to trust Christ and decide to connect with the church down the street, we're okay with that and wanted to make sure our invitations didn't confuse that. 
Stories have already begun pouring in. Now we're looking for something similar to do this Summer. I'd like to see our people engaged in 100 neighborhoods by next Easter. 


From time to time (or maybe every week), new people darken the doors of your church. Some of them haven't ever been in a church before; some of them haven't ever been in the church you attend before. Either way, the way you refer to them matters. Language is important.

"Visitors" are just passing through. You never expect visitors to stay long; they're only visiting. You "visit" a place, and then leave. Sometimes you come back, but even then it's only usually as a visitor. Visitors are nameless, faceless people; clients, customers.

"Guests" hold an honored place. They may be strangers, but they're welcome because they're invited. We invite guests in order to deepen our relationship with them - it's why we have guests in our home or guests in our business - we want to strengthen our relationship. It's what we expect from their visit.

Before we talk about "visitors," we would do well to ask ourselves if that's really all we want them to be.

Passing By

Last Sunday Manny Fernandez, one of McKinney's mission partners, spoke during our main service. He talked about the two storms Jesus' followers faced with Jesus and pointed out something I hadn't ever seen before.

In the familiar story about Jesus walking on the water in Mark 6, where the guys have just witnessed Jesus feeding more than 5000 people. It's obvious from their constant arguing about bread (Mark 6:30-44; Mark 8:1-13; Mark 8:14-21) that they don't really understand who Jesus is. They understand he's a miracle worker, but they don't "get it" that He's the God of the Universe.

He forces them to get in the boat and runs the crowd off, and then goes to pray. He sees (Mark 6:48) the disciples straining - in their own power, with their own strength, and their own effort - to row the boat against the current. But they're about to be overpowered by the wind.

In fact, there was an old sailor's tale that the Phantom of the Deep would appear to sailors right before they "swam with the fishes." When Jesus comes walking on the water, the seasoned fishermen think He's the Phantom of the Deep, and they're about to die. They're straining against a sinking ship.

And Mark says, "Jesus was going to pass by" (Mark 10:48). Doesn't that seem awfully insensitive of Jesus, like He's taunting the disciples as he passes by them and waves?

Here's what Manny pointed out. Think about a couple of other times when God-followers worked hard in their strength and were ready to give up and hit "reset" on the whole thing. Moses got there in Exodus 33, worn out from leading the people by himself and desperate for someone to help him. Elijah got there too in 1 Kings 19, worn out from running from Jezebel and defeating the prophets of Baal.

In both those cases, these leaders, worn out from straining, begged God to reveal Himself. And in both cases, God "passed by them." He revealed Himself in such a way that there was no mistaking, no wondering, no denying that they had been graced by the presence of the Lord God.

Is it possible that Jesus was about to provide something to these disciples? Is it possible he was "passing by" them in the sense that he was about to reveal Himself in a way that far exceeded their temporary circumstance? Possible that they were about to get a revelation of Jesus that compared to the revelation received by Moses and Elijah?

If so, Mark 8 is a great reminder for people who follow Christ - even more important than seeking temporary relief from life's greatest storms, we ought to be on the lookout for God to pass by. God tends to reveal His character most clearly in times when we are primed to see it. In those cases, in the middle of the storm, the best thing Jesus could do is pass right by.