Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ministry Blunders

You've planned hard. You've gone over it at least a dozen times. You've practiced and rehearsed until it hurts. You've got it just right. And then the service starts. It's called, "ministry blunders." Like a tornado that drops out of the sky without the sound of a preceeding siren or warning, so too comes those darn moments in which a blunder comes swiftly upon the pastor.

In our second year of ministry, we wanted to honor our moms during a Mother's Day service. During the week our staff decided to honor three types of mothers. The first mom was the oldest mom. The second mom was the mom with the most children. And the final mom was to be the "newest" mom. We were pumped up about this - and we had some pretty good gifts to hand to these moms as well (spa stuff). So, we sent our associate pastor to deliver the message to the congregation that morning. Dave (our Associate) got off to a great start. He honored the oldest mom first. It went off without a hitch. Next was the mom with the most children. Pow! A woman with eight children won hands down. The cheers were getting louder and momentum was definately on our side. Remember that one little verse in the Bible that reads, "After pride comes the fall?" Well, it's true. As we approached the last gift for our mom, Dave cleared his voice and said,

"We have one more gift to give out to you moms out there. And this gift is for the "youngest mom." Ouch! Ouch! Instead of the "newest mom," Dave said - "the youngest mom."

Seated in the third row was a 14 year old girl who had gone through a terrible relationship with a 17 year old boyfriend and had become pregnant. Her parents encouraged her to give the baby up for adoption. And this was her second time in a church - period. And even more amazing is this fragile young mom raised her hand. By now Dave caught on that something was terribly wrong. Our congregation didn't know if they should clap or cry. But what happens next is the F5 of all tornados. Dave looks out at this young lady and he says, "Wow. You really are young." Can anyone dig a whole big enough for him to escape? It was awful and awkward. We never really did recover that Sunday. You might say it was a pretty good ministry blunder.

OKAY... so what about you? Do you have a ministry blunder or two that you could share with me. Love to hear it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Just feeling Blah?

Do you ever have those moments in life in which you're just half of step off in your walk and you just can't pin-point the reason? It can lead to some real frustration. Everything seems to be going good - but there's just something missing and it is controlling you. You just can't get comfortable in your skin. We all feel this way from time to time.

Let me share with you some simple steps that I find helpful in order to identify the culprit.

1. I first start with the physical. Am I run down? Am I tired? Have I been able to sleep - at the appropriate times, which should be evening. Sometimes when we feel blah, the tendency is to start to analyze our emotions first. But I have found that the physical check up is the best place to start. I often find that if I retire to bed earlier that evening, I get much better results the following day.

2. Next, I go to the spiritual. It's funny what a few good promises from God's word can do for me when I'm feeling blah. I need to be reminded that it is okay in life -not to be okay in life. God is there for me in the good and the bad. Often times my tendency is to try and fix my wrong attitude as fast as I can and move on. But I've learned that God can often do His best work during my blah moments in life. So, what I find true in my life is that I am more prone to get into His Word more frequently on the rainy days of my life - more so than the burst of a beautiful sunrise that greets me in the morning.

3. And finally I go and lean on a friend. Proverbs has some great verses on friendship and how a friend can truly carry our burdens when we can no longer bare the weight. Moses had Aaron and Hur to lift his arms during a very challenging and personal battle in his life, as Joshua fought against the Amalekites. We all get weak from time to time and get into a funk. A true friend stands with you during such times and lifts our arms (spirits) when the tank is empty.

Well, hopefully you'll give these three a try and see what happens the next time you hit the wall. Give me a shout and let me know if it works 4 - YOU.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Signs of a True Friend

1. When you are sad -- I will jump on the person who made you sad like a spidermonkey jacked up on Mountain Dew!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
2. When you are blue -- I will try to dislodge whatever is choking you.
3. When you smile -- I will know you are plotting something that I must be involved in.
4. When you're scared -- we will high tail it out of here.
5. When you are worried -- I will tell you horrible stories about how much worse it could be until you quit whining, ya big baby!!!!
6. When you are confused -- I will use little words.
7. When you are sick -- Stay away from me until you are well again. I don't want whatever you have.
8. When you fall -- I'll pick you up and dust you off--
After I laugh my butt off!!
9. This is my oath...I pledge it to the end.

Confessions of a Church Planter Part II

Last week I posted the first four things I learned in my my first eight years of being a new church planter. I have now listed the remaining four things below.

Year five: Too much sugar isn't good for the body.

My fifth year of leading was, perhaps, the most eye opening for me. Similar to buying that first new car, it didn't take long for that new car smell to start wearing off at our church. Most people in the community now no longer viewed us as a "new" church, but - pre-owned. The new gimmicks that once worked to get people in the doors of our church was far less effective in our fifth year. The new "thang" had worn off. And even more disheartening was this: The people who had been attending our church for sometime were now searching for more substance than sugar. We now started to hear voices insisting that we were a church that was "a mile wide and an inch thick." Unfortunately, I could not argue with them. In our first five years as a church we baptized over 200 new believers - but I soon learned that this was just half the battle. I failed to think through the next important step, discipleship. After each new baptism I starting thinking, "What in the world are we going to do with "them?" The result: We had an expanding church of new believers but no growth hormone. Our church was stuck in infancy. And I was stuck in a state of confusion. The fifth year.

Year six: The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over with the same results.

Have you ever watched the movie, Groundhog Day, featuring Bill Murray? In a nutshell, Bill Murray's character (who plays a weatherman) wakes up each day to the same day - nothing ever changing. Awake at 6:00 AM, everyday. Same song on the radio, everytime. Same people in the same places, all the time. The best word to describe this movie is, insanity. In my sixth year at Willowbrook I was feeling a touch of insanity coming on. Everything started to be predictable. The stage looked predictable. The message. The music. The drama. The programming. You name it. It was all so predictable. So, the only thing that I thought would shake us from this horrible bout of insanity was - a land and building campaign. We gathered our troops together and we found some land as a church. We did an all church financial campaign that was, for the most part, successful. I could feel the momentum changing. Each Sunday seemed a bit different. And different was good. We all started talking about our future together in this new location and with this new building. ONE PROBLEM: The land and building project had now become our focus, not reaching our community. In one year, we lost our overall mission. I could write a lot more about this - but the bottom line is this: We got less creative and more predictable - and the result was insanity. In our sixth year we just became another church down the road. I had failed to do a good job keeping the vision forefront during a time of important change. Year six.

Year seven: Anyone can take the helm when the sea is calm.

Have you ever questioned your own leadership? Sure. We all do from time to time. But what happens when others start questioning your leadership? I had attended a conference sometime back when John Ortberg shared these words, "There will come a time in everyone's ministry that you can only lead so far. A good leader knows when that time has arrived and helps find another leader who can take the church the next mile." Very powerful - yet humbling words. As a church planter, you are the only pastor that your church has ever known. And yet, to be fair to the church, you should probably not be the only pastor that the church should know. With each stage of the church comes new leadership challenges. And according to John Ortberg, a leader may not be "naturally" qualified to reach the next step. This is where discernment is so important. In my seventh year of leading Willowbrook I started an internal investigation, a true heart investigation, as to my leadership abilities and how it related to helping our church reach the next important steps. I started reading materials on leadership every chance I got. I attended conferences, spoke to men and women that I highly regarded as leaders, and probed as much as possible to see what it takes to lead - with courage. I was a leadership junkie. It was very time consuming. In addition, our land and building campaign had come to a stand still (lack of progress) and leadership was even of greater importance during this time. Anyone can take the helm when the sea of life is calm, but when the waves come crashing, would I have what it takes to lead a church with courage and wisdom? Year seven.

Year eight: What does it profit if a man gains the whole church, but loses his family?

Have you ever seen a crisis? Sure. They're all around us. But if you are a pastor, you are usually on the side of helping someone in their time of crisis. How it works is like this: Your pastor phone rings. You push your family away as you go into a private room in your home and you talk for hours - helping someone in their "crisis." After you hang up, you notice that your home is surprisingly quiet and that everyone has retreated and gone off to bed - not waiting up for Superman. You feel good about what you did. You helped someone in a crisis. You give yourself a gentle pat on the back. But when you role into bed, there is no pat on the back from your spouse. Instead, there is just silence. Now, you repeat this for seven years and if you're like me, you will be able to redefine what a true crisis is. I am in debt to Henry Cloud and John Townsend for some excellent materials on marriage. But most of all, I'm in debt to my wife who put up with this form of false religion for years. Here I stand, Sunday after Sunday, telling other families what steps are needed to have a dynamic home, while all along - here am I, not following the very words I speak. Year eight has been a time of refocusing, reframing, and rethinking what family is all about. In many ways, my kids now have a real dad, my wife has a true husband, and to be very honest with you, the church has a better pastor. I'm just going out on a limb right now - but I'm going to say it anyway: If you're a pastor and you're currently putting in more than 45 hours a week (and you have a family), you're not the brightest bulb on the tree. If you're a pastor and you and your spouse do not have weekly date nights, family nights, and play dates, you're really not doing your family or your "church" any good. It took me eight years to figure this out. I'm not going to lie - I'm afraid for many pastors today who glamorize their travel and speaking schedules on Facebook or Twitter. I use to live for this drug. But, I truly believe that heaven will hold the greatest reward for those dads and moms who emphasize the importance of their home ahead of their church calling. In fact, the Bible on three occassions specifically references the need for fathers to take care of their families before entertaining the thought of shepherding the flock. I can only thank Jesus that he did not allow me to shipwreck my family in the process of fixing my broken compass. Eigth year.

On a lighter note - you have to check out this great little video clip. It goes so well with my final point.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Practical Atheism

Have you ever met an atheist?

An atheist believes that there is no God. Do you know what God’s response to that is?

“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1).

While no Christian would ever be guilty of being an atheist, many Christians are guilty of being practical atheists. Practical atheism does not believe there is no God… practical atheism lives as if there is no God. Could you be a practical atheist?

The Practical Atheism Test

Notice the convicting similarities between atheism and practical atheism:

1. An atheist does not pray. So many Christians do not really pray. They may mumble something with a bowed head before dinner or before bed, but there is no real time to seek God in prayer. The Lord says in the Book of James, “You do not have because you do not ask” (Jas. 4:2).

2. An atheist does not read the Bible. So many Christians do not read the Bible. The average Christian is very susceptible to the devil’s lies because he/she does not take time to read and study God’s Word.

3. An atheist walks by sight, not faith. So many Christians do the same thing. They fail to evaluate their situation in light of God’s miraculous power… so they worry and fear and fail to simply trust God. How quickly we forget, “Without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God” (Heb. 11:6).

4. An atheist does not give to the Lord’s work. So many Christians do not either. Many Christians spend more money on their pets than they do the Kingdom of God. A recent statistic revealed that if all the members in an average-sized church were on welfare… and each one tithed… the giving to that church would double. WOW!

5. An atheist lives only for this life. So many Christians are guilty of the same. They store up their treasure on earth… they live and plan as if this life were the only one that mattered… and they make decisions with only earth in mind, not heaven. The Bible says, “The eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth” (Prov. 17:24).

Change Me, Lord

If some of those similarities are too close for comfort, don’t sink down in guilt and shame… DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Confess it as sin, and ask God to change your heart. Tell Him that you do not want to live another day as if He were not alive and able to work miracles.

The story is told of Martin Luther, the great Christian reformer of the 1500’s. There was a time in his Christian life when he was very depressed for days on end. His wife, Kate, came into his study all dressed in black as if she were in mourning. Luther asked her what exactly she was mourning.

“Have you not heard? God is dead,” she stated.
Luther responded, “Woman! That is absurd! God is not dead!”
“Well,” she replied, “if God is not dead, then stop living like He is!”

Friday, December 5, 2008

One thousand Hits - But I'm Okay

I awoke this morning to find that my Blog Site just reached 1000 hits. Can you imagine being hit 1000 times? I'm not sure what this means or what's even next. My primary goal in this life of blogging was to simply be real and vulenerable with anyone who stumbled upon the site. As some of my closest friends know, I have always enjoyed privately jotting down my thoughts on paper. It produced some remarkable therapy for a warped mind. Well, I took a big step this past year and accepted the challenge of a close friend to try blogging instead. At first, it was an uncomfortable process for me. So, I looked at what other bloggers were doing and I tried to follow their steps closely. Eventually, I decided to just be real with the content of my life and let the chips land where they land. In many ways, my blog serves more as a place of confession for me than insightful ideas on life. You might say, I'm stumbling through life like the next guy. I guess I just want to record these stumbles in hopes it will build a greater awareness of this amazing God who loves us unconditionally, and with passion.

I would encourage you to read about the confession of a church planter (me) and my first four years/blonders in leading a church. Talk about vulnerability. Ouch.

1000 hits - But I'm okay.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Eight things I Learned in Eight Years as a Church Planter

What are the eight things that I have learned in my eight years as a church planter that I wish I would have known (you guessed it) - eight years ago? Here they are:


Year One: Too much of me was not enough for me.

The late comedian Richard Prior once said, "I like me too much to stop liking me." How true. Right out of the gate I learned something about myself that I am not very proud of - even to this day: I came into planting eight years ago with way too much pride. Maybe I'll be the next Bill Hybels or Rick Warren. Why not? I've read their books and found some things that even I could approve upon. I was so full of myself that I couldn't get enough of myself. I would later discovered that much of the under current of this pride could be summarized with just one word - I was "insecure." Even today, this continues to be a constant battle for me - and I've learned that I'm not alone. Many of my church planting partners have shared privately with me how this has been one of the many demons in their life as well. Although we all desire to have a successful church from the very beginning, we are extremely fearful of failure. And if truth be known about myself, if the church did thrive, I wanted to make sure my "name" was attached to it. Similar to James and John (really their mother) fighting for "that" special position in heaven (to be next to Jesus), so too, I desired more of me and less of Jesus. The first year.

Year Two: Motive is behind 101% of all decisions.

Check your motives. Why are you writing that book? Why are you lecturing or teaching? Why are you attending the conference? Why are you traveling so much? Why are you gone all the time? I discovered early on that for every decision that I made as a leader of our new church, I had a motive behind it. In fact, all decisions that we make do come with some form of motive. Some of the motives are pure, while others, well - not quite. For example, in just our second year of existence as a new church, we were able to plant another church. This made the "highlight" reel among our conference. Hence, a quick interview with - you guess it - "me." (Remember my year one lesson above? Oh ya). An article about me and our church appeared in a Leadership magazine and you could say that my motives for church planting took an awkward turn. I couldn't wait to share my "expertise" with my fellow friends. I was speaking everywhere - not even aware that during this entire trip down "smart lane," my marriage was eroding along with my parenting. Year two.

Year Three: If you want to turn people off, enforce your authority.

Now that our church was clipping along, most of my time was spent clipping the wings off my volunteers and leaders. In year three, I now sat in the big boy seat, asking for opinions but welcoming few. It seemed like each time there was a problem in our church I was fast to throw out my answer and enforce it. We had our occassional ministry team meetings (creative meetings)during the year to take us to the next level, but I soon noticed that our leaders, while sharing their big ideas to the group, would often glance my way for my reaction to their suggestions. At the time, I viewed this as a good thing. Hey. Why not? I'm the leader. However, I soon discovered that my leaders were sharing fewer and fewer ideas with me. Why? I had muffled their dreams. Hence, much of the time during our third year as a church was, me, keeping the wheels on the bus. I felt that my authority was enough to steer us forward and save the day. You might say, a big adjustment was on the horizon. Year three.

Year Four: When you plateau, find a foe.

When I first planted Willowbrook I would read about these churches that would plateau in their attendance. My thought: "That's too bad. They should have been more creative." But in no way did I ever think it would happen to us. But it did. We could not climb over the 500 mark. Like the little engine that could...we couldn't. Instead of going about it the right way, I jumped to the conclusion that we must have enemies in the church that didn't want to see us grow. And of course, I implemented "operation scarlet letter," finding people in our church who did not like to see our church growing larger - and I tossed them out. This is true. I wish I could say I'm lying - but I'm not. In my fourth year I was so focused on our "problems" that I couldn't even attempt to find a solution. Most of my meetings with our leaders were concentrated on finding enemies, the people who love causing issues in our church. Obviously, every church must deal with this to some extent, but God wired (I call it a gift) me with a "compulsive" disorder and I needed a chill pill - but couldn't find one. The church consumed every minute of my waking time. My cell phone was attached to me but my family wasn't. The fourth year.

(The remainig four lessons will be posted next week)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Great Guy's Christmas Gift

If you're having trouble, ladies, picking out that perfect gift for your man, then look no further. I gave my wife a huge hint last year and she came through. It's the best gift I've ever received.

Take a look...