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The Two-Sided Cliff of Numbers in the Church


The Two-Sided Cliff of Numbers in the Church

Church people love to count numbers.  And sometimes it even becomes a disturbing obsession to count everything.  The numbers game is often one of the things that drives me crazy when I attend conferences; shortly after meeting another pastor, you are quickly asked, “How big is your church?”



Creating a Culture of Mission: Interview with Jon Dansby

Culture of mission I recently got the chance to talk to Jon Dansby, one of the pastors at the Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas.  Austin Stone is a community centered on the person and mission of Jesus.  I first heard Jon speak at the Lutheran Hour Conference in Detroit and immediately wanted to hear more about what he had to say about being a missionary in our culture.

Jon is passionate about equipping people to delight in the Gospel so much that they are sent on mission for God.  In a day and age where it has become abundantly clear that we are often foreigners in our own culture, we have an important task of cultivating a missionary mindset within our own congregations.

Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher or download directly

Note: The Everyday Leadership Podcast is now in what I’d consider a beta phase.  I’m working out the kinks and trying to learn about the medium of podcasting.  My goal in this is simply trying to create the podcast I’d like to listen to.  Let me know what you think by commenting or leaving a review on iTunes.

Some quotes from the show:

“We’re asking our lost friends to be missionaries more than we are willing to be missionaries."

“We might as well start selling missional shoe-laces.” 

“The Christian community is the single most persuasive argument for the Christian faith.”

 “Missional communities are just communities that are on mission to demonstrate and declare the Gospel.” 

“We need a third place for Christians to gather that is for the sake of mission… we want them to gather for community and gather again for mission."

Show Notes: 

SENT Conference

The SENT Presentation that I reference Jon’s chart

Todd Engstrom’s blog

The Austin Stone Community Church


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Crazy Ones

Crazy ones Change often starts in the fringes with an oddball group that doesn’t quite fit with everybody else. It starts with a passion and an idealism that believes things can be better than they currently are.

The Reformation began with a theological misfit  on the fringes who believed that the Church had drifted away from the Gospel.  Martin Luther began a movement with passion and idealism that believed the Church could actually be reformed.  He was crazy enough to believe that the Gospel was not about works but about grace.  And he was crazy enough to believe that it wasn’t just the priests that did sacred work, but all believers.

We are in a day that needs these kind of crazy reformers.  We need a group of crazy ones who are crazy enough to believe that the Gospel still does its work.  We need a group of crazy ones who are crazy enough to believe that God calls everyone of us to bring the Gospel into our communities the context of our ordinary, everyday lives.

We need a movement of reformers who believe that things can be better than the way they currently are.  The crazy ones who actually believe that because of the Gospel, we are freed to love our neighbor with no strings attached.  A group that embraces vocation; an understanding that God is hidden in us doing his work in the world as we serve our neighbors in our homes, our communities, and our churches.

If we want things to be the way they currently are, we should keep doing exactly what we are currently doing.  But if we want things in our world and in the Church to be different, something must change.

Steve Jobs once said,

“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

What would happen if a group of misfits, rebels and round pegs aligned around a desire to bring us back to the pure Gospel?  What would happen if a group of reformers got together and pushed forward into this new day and culture with the message that has been handed down to us from the scriptures?

The Modern Reformation

The Crazy Ones go backwards.

The crazy ones in today’s world will be the ones that go back.

They will be the ones that go back to an ancient truth and believe that this ancient text is a message of hope for all the world.  In a world that is quick to throw out the Word, we need a recovery and love for the Word. In Churches that are quick to throw out grace for a list of dos and don'ts, we need a recovery of the Gospel that says “done.”  And in our Churches, that have ignored the doctrine of vocation, we need a recovery of the understanding that God calls all of us to our homes, neighborhoods, churches, and workplaces to serve our neighbor and share the Gospel.

The crazy ones won’t be the ones that are saying something new, but they will be the ones that are saying ancient truths in new ways.

The Crazy Ones go forward.

Not only do the reformers go back, but they go forward.

In order for the first Reformation to take place, it was largely shaped by the technology of the day.  It was shaped by the printing press.  Today, the changes (both good and bad) that take place in the Church are shaped by the new printing press - it is shaped by blogs and podcasts and social media.

The Reformation brought the ancient truth of God to the people of the cities in a language they could understand.  In our day as we recover what has often been lost in broader Christianity and in our culture, we will need to bring the message of the Gospel in the language of the people.

We will need to translate God’s word into the language of people we want to reach.  The way we sound and how it looks when we talk might change, but the message stays the same.  When Luther introduced the Reformation, people fought against it.  They feared his radical ideas like giving the Word to ordinary people or introducing music into the Mass.

But whatever Luther did, he did because he was crazy enough to believe that it actually served the message of the Gospel.

The Gospel is the message of the Reformation.  And it will be the message of the new Reformation.  Perhaps it’s crazy to believe that this ancient message is the message that our world needs today?  Maybe it’s crazy to think that the message that God can use ordinary people like us to be the mouthpiece of God in this world.

And maybe it’s crazy to think that a story about a guy who was given the death penalty for his scandalous message of grace is the hope the world needs.  Paul himself said it’s a little bit crazy in 1 Corinthians 1:18 when he wrote, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

So for my fellow crazy ones, in the words of Steve Jobs, “Stay hungry.  Stay foolish.”

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WikiConference Session 7 - Jon Acuff

Acuff [This post is a part of the WikiConference 2014 series of posts]

Jon Acuff is the New York Times Bestselling author of four books including his most recent, Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average & Do Work that Matters. In addition, he’s become a social media expert with blogs that have been read by 4 million people and more than 215k twitter followers.

We live in a changing world.  The world our kids are growing up in is far different than the world that we grew up in.  Technology and the rate of change is speeding up at an alarming rate.  Imagine having to grow up with social media around?

Change can be either overwhelming or an opportunity.

For leaders change is an opportunity to grow.  But if we want to be a part of the change that is happening around us, we have to have grit.

Bravery + Empathy + Hustle = Grit


Bravery is being stubborn in the face of fear.  Often for us we enjoy watching other people have bravery, but avoid it for ourselves.  Being afraid isn’t failure, staying afraid is.

For leaders this is difficult because we have big fears.  The bigger the story, the bigger the dragon.  The bigger the purpose, the bigger the fear. And these fears often come from an unhealthy need to compare yourself to others.

"God is not surprised or disappointed by the size of your ministry."

Because of social media, it has become so easy to compare yourself.  Don’t focus so much on what god is doing in other people’s church that you fail to focus on what he is doing in your own.

Be brave.  Be brave enough to be bad at starting something new and be brave enough to ask hard questions.


Empathy is understanding what someone needs and acting on it.  There are two parts to this equation: understanding and actually doing something.  Both are important.  You can’t have empathy if you don’t actually understand others.  And you don’t have empathy if your understanding doesn’t lead to action.

If you want to be empathetic, the way you do so is simple.

  1. Read less minds.
  2. Ask more questions.
  3. Be human.

Choosing empathy is cheap; losing empathy is expensive.


Hustle is doing the important things others don’t to enjoy the results that others won’t.  In Colossians 3:23 Paul writes, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.”  If you want to do things that no one else is doing, you are going to have to work hard when others aren’t.

But also realize in the midst of the hustle, there are seasons.

There are times when we are tempted to let our families get the rest of me and not the best of me.  Don’t sacrifice your family for your ministry.  Don’t let your church steal your family’s Christmas.

Hustle makes you step into the tension of yes and no.  Hustle harder and do the important things no matter how big or small because there’s no such thing as a small yes when you are talking about a big God.



WikiConference Session 6 - Polly Wright

Polly [This post is a part of the WikiConference 2014 series of posts]

Polly lives in Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas with her husband, twin teenage daughters and her corgi, Cowboy. She is the founder of We Are Cherished, a ministry that reaches out to women in the sex industry. Polly is passionate for women to know their true worth and value, discovering who they were created to be.

What are the first 3 words that pop into your head when you think of women and men that have been impacted by the sex industry?

The sex industry impacts people in our congregations. It impacts both men and women in our churches, including those who are in the sex industry and those who are consumers of it.   As Christians we are called to create, to walk alongside, to disciple, and to love well.

Loving well hurts.

Polly’s desire in telling her story was to passionately call us as church leaders to love others extravagantly.  There are people in our congregations who are dying inside.  They are fearful to be honest about their struggles and their stories because of what people might think.

60 percent of men in our churches struggle with pornography, including pastors.  It’s a hardcore addiction.

Polly shared her story out of the sex industry, which she also shares on her blog:

I graduated from high school and headed to college. For the first semester I was the art major who led my dorm in parent’s day activities. On the inside and in my “other life” I was a stripper. It gave me a sense that I was invincible. The men drooled over me! They wanted me and I could say “yes” or “no”. I had told myself I would be the one in control of the situation, and I definitely thought I was in control of the men. Dancing gave me a feeling of self worth in such a deceptive and destructive way I had no idea I was spiraling into a pit of hell. For two years I lived this life. Sleeping with countless men, failing out of college, and completely losing who I was and what I’d become, I hit the bottom and tried to commit suicide. I quit dancing, left college and moved out of state where I quickly learned that your problems follow you wherever you go.

By this time in my early twenties, I just wanted to be loved for who I was, not for who I was running from.

I was told about Jesus during those tumultuous years but did not listen. I hated God. What kind of God would allow these horrible things to happen to a child? So I shunned Him. After all of this Jesus Christ still wooed me. He pursued me. He loved me madly, even though the world looked at me and turned away ashamed. He was never ashamed of me. He knew me before I took my first breath. He knew the path I was going to take but still wanted me: shamed, sinful, lustful, and prideful me.

What is God’s calling for you when it comes to loving others affected by this issue?  Christ’s love is not cautious, it’s extravagant.  It’s not your job to save them, but it is your job to love them.



WikiConference Session 5 - Ian Cron

Ian [This post is a part of the WikiConference 2014 series of posts]

Ian Morgan Cron is an author, speaker, Episcopal priest, psychotherapist, and retreat guide. He began our session with chanting and silence.  Shalom means completeness, wholeness, or ultimate well-bing.  We began the session chanting “shalom” and “amen.”

Over and over again, in story upon story, what Carl made evident is the importance of everything being about Jesus.

He started a “Jesus-study” with his non-Christian neighbors but not a bible study… eventually the non-believers suggested that they read the Bible to learn about Jesus.What if Jesus actually meant it when he said, “The field is ripe for harvest”?

Jesus has a lot of power and sometimes we forget that.  We begin to think that the power resides in something else.  We think that if we change our approaches we solve our problems.  Instead we should trust in the power of Jesus.

The slightest hair off focus is not quite right.  When we are focused on Jesus, it actually raises the importance of other things like preaching, theology, and mission.

What if Jesus was the agenda we brought to the table?  How would Jesus reshape our conversations?



WikiConference Session 2 - Ed Stetzer

IMG 2815 [This post is a part of the WikiConference 2014 series of posts]

The reality is we live in a mission field.  The challenge is that while we live in the mission field, we also live in an unengaged mission force.  In this session, Ed Stetzer explored what we should be thinking about when it comes to engaging God’s people in mission.

We began in 1 Peter 4:10-11 (HCSB) which read:

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Mission is what God is doing in the world to advance his agenda.  We a joining Jesus on his mission.  It’s not our mission, it’s his.  Jesus called us to join him.  If mission is defined as what God is doing in the world, missionaries are a subset of that.  Missional churches, which is a buzz-word, are churches that desire for their churches to join God in his mission in the world.

Ed referenced a study of 7,000 protestant churches that suggested that the majority of people in the majority of churches are unengaged in meaningful ministry and mission.  A lot of people show up for the show but have no desire to serve.  And this doesn’t vary with denominational tradition.

When we compare what we read in 1 Peter 4, the state of our churches in practice compared to the scripture is startling.

1. We all have gifts. (vs. 10a)

Our churches too often become distributors of religious goods and services and not outposts for missions.  Out motive in churches is not to simply keep people happy, but to share the message of the Gospel with people.

Ed also went on a little rant by poking fun at Crosspoint’s architecture.  He suggested, “When you build churches like theaters, don’t be surprised that people act like show-goers.”  He also suggested that people, “pray, pay, and stay out of the way” so that the professionals can do their work.

It isn’t a select few that have gifts, we all have the gifts.

2. God intends all to use. (vs. 10b)

What does it mean to be a steward or manager of the grace of God?

God has gifted the parts of the Church and put them together.  While not everyone is considered a good manager, everyone is a manager.  When people don’t see themselves as stewards, we have churches full of religious people demanding customer service.

Don’t build churches of customers but of co-laborers.

“When pastors do for people what God has called the people to do, everybody gets hurt and the mission of God is hindered.”

3. For which he empowers us. (vs. 11a)

All of God’s people are sent on mission; all of God’s people are called to ministry.  The only question is “Where?”

Our churches are filled with people who are already managers of the gifts that God has given them.  Sometimes we minister in the church, sometimes through the church, and other times beyond the church.

4. To bring God glory. (vs. 11b)

We glorify God through service.   Our churches need to be multiplying the number of people serving. Ed referenced that in their studies, the comeback churches (meaning those formerly dying) are those whose people get “on mission.”  When this shift happens, the churches are transformed.

Do you want to have a united church?

Have them serving.  The people rowing the boat will care a lot more about avoiding rocking the boat when they are rowing.  Mature churches are not simply studying churches, they are both studying and serving.



WikiConference 2014 Notes

FiveTwo Logo Transparent background 1024x636 This week I’m hanging out with some awesome people at the FiveTwo WikiConference in Katy, Texas.   Last year was my first year at the conference and this year I am back and cannot wait for all that Wiki will bring.  One of my favorite things about the conference was hanging out with a bunch of like-minded people who wanted to talk and think about reaching our communities with the message of Jesus.

To help you get an idea of what the conference is, here’s a snippet from the website’s description:

WikiConference is the annual gathering for the FiveTwo Network. You’ve probably heard the term “wiki” before… wikipedia, wiki leaks, etc. A “wiki” is a website that allows collaborated editing of it’s content and structure by it’s users. In our case, it’s a conference that is coordinated and presented through collaboration between organizations and ministry experts in various ministry fields. These people are on the front lines and in the trenches. They are passionate about reaching God’s lost in their communities and they are practicing what they are preaching. WikiConference is for any church leader–staff or volunteer–who wants personal, practical ways to better reach the lost in their community.

During the conference I will be taking notes and sharing them on my blog.  If you want to follow along, this post will serve as the table of contents as they get written.

Table of Contents

Session 1 - Bill Woolsey (I actually have to miss the opening session)

Session 2 - Ed Stetzer

Session 3 - Carl Medearis

Session 4 - Joanne Solis-Walker

Session 5 - Ian Cron

Session 6 - Polly Wright

Session 7 - Jon Acuff



We Don't Need More Cool Churches

Cool churches We don’t need more cool churches.  Cool music, trendy lighting, and a charismatic preacher is not the silver bullet that will magically rescuing our dying churches.  If cool was the problem, things would be looking a lot better for the Church as a whole.

And I love cool churches, but cool doesn’t solve our problems.

The Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:

"It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society.  It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats.  Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.  When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion - its message becomes meaningless.” - God in Search of Man

Now I certainly don’t agree entirely with his statement.  There is an importance to things like creeds and disciplines.  But I think Heschel is on to something… “It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats.”

Or “[religion] became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.”

And irrelevant here isn’t about the style of church, but about our message not connecting to people’s lives.

One blogger wrote:

Why are so many young people leaving the church? I don’t think it’s all that complicated. God seems irrelevant to them. They see God as existing to meet their needs and make them happy. And sure, God can make them feel good, but so can a lot of other things. Making piles of money feels good. Climbing the corporate ladder feels good. Buying a motorcycle and spending days cruising around the country feels good … if God is simply one option on a buffet, why stick with God? - Stephen Altrogge

If we don’t need more cool churches, what kind of churches do we need?

We need churches that make disciples.

In Matthew 28, we are given the great commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Jesus gives the command that Christians are to be disciple-makers and he even gives instructions in how to do it: baptize and teach.  Christians are called to be disciple-makers.  Our churches should be making disciples who make disciples who make disciples.

What are we doing to help our people become disciple-makers?  How are we helping them become disciples of Jesus?  And how are we helping them go into their neighborhoods, homes, communities, and workplaces as disciples who are all about making more disciples?

We need churches that are committed to translation.

In a world where the word “doctrine” is unsexy, we need it now more than ever.  But doctrine and theology needs to be disconnected from the stigma that it is for pastors, theologians, and professors.  We are all theologians and as churches, we need to be committed to teaching deep, rich theology for our people.

And because “religious literacy” in our world is worse than ever, pastor-theologians have to be more intentional about their role as translators.  In many ways, preachers are simply taking what the scriptures have said and what many smart dead guys before them have said and saying it in a new way.

Our churches need to be places that preach the Word of God purely.  And also places that remove the Christianese that so often causes the message to get lost in translation.

We need churches that are committed to being a family.

Church is a family.  And family is not always cool, they often have weird traditions, and even some people you are a little bit embarrassed to be with in public.  But family is still family.  Family does life together, they support each other, and they always love each other.

If the church is going to be relevant to those who aren’t in the church, they not only go to church, but they are the church throughout the week in their homes, neighborhoods, and cities.  The family of God lives as family and welcomes others into the family.

Our churches don’t need to make sure the family is all cool and trendy; our churches just need to create a place that encourages these relationships.  What would the stats about the decline of churches look like if we had more churches that had families of believers where believers had meaningful relationships with other older believers.

There might be no better apologetic for our churches, then the experience of a family of believers adopting someone into their family.  The family has been made family by the ancient message.  And the family lives out their faith in the world as a community of believers as witnesses to “what [they] have seen and heard.”



The Marks of a Church

marks of church.jpg
marks of church.jpg

What makes a church a church?  There are all kinds of things that we can use to describe the ways that we prefer our churches to look, sound, smell, or feel, but what are the things that define the Christian Church?

Martin Luther described the church simply when he said, “A seven year-old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.”

From preaching to the band, from membership to sacraments, from worship to the parking lot, the practices that shape the life of a congregation are endless.  So what matters most?

What are the marks of a Christian Church?

Martin Luther listed seven marks that we can recognize the church by.  His list is incredibly helpful and I thought it would be helpful to re-state many of the themes that Luther suggested but to say it in different words and add some nuances that are helpful for our own conversations.  At the heart of my list is what you could find in Luther’s work “On the Councils and the Church, 1539."


There is no church without God’s word.  God works through his Word and God’s church is formed by this Word.  Our churches should be places that are shaped by the word and who love and cherish the word.  In addition to the scriptures, this also would include the “visible word” or the sacraments.  God is at work in bread, wine, and water giving the gifts he promised to give just as he does through the preaching, teaching, and reading of Scripture.

*in Luther’s list, this would include the marks of God’s Word, Baptism, and Lord’s Supper.  


God’s church is given a mission.  And that mission is to proclaim the message of the forgiveness of sins.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:22-23

The church isn’t the place for good advice (although it might have some great advice), it is a place for the Good News.  The church proclaims God’s promise of forgiveness. It does this publicly and on behalf of the congregation in the vocation of the pastor and it does it daily in the personal lives of the church members in their homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces as members are given opportunities to speak God’s word of Law (binding sins) and God’s word of Gospel (forgiveness).

*in Luther’s list, this would be the mark of the Office of the Keys


The most surprising in Luther’s list of marks of the Church is suffering.  For Luther, the Christian is formed in his suffering and the Church is defined by its understanding of suffering.  The life of a Christian as a disciple of Jesus is a life that centers on suffering.

The disciple is called to “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Perhaps that mark of suffering might even be more simply considered the mark of disciples.  After all, is there such a thing as a disciple of Jesus who doesn’t suffer?

But to be clear, this isn’t about finding a cross to bear.  Suffering is inevitable.  We don’t need to go looking for our crosses.  The disciple of Jesus will find suffering in the midst of the daily struggles of life.  This often might be found in the depths of pain, hurt, and tragedy.  And it at times will come in the midst of the smaller struggles of daily life.

It might be better stated that suffering in and of itself isn’t the mark of the church, but the way in which the Church suffers that is the mark.  The disciple of Jesus suffers with eyes fixed on the one He follows.   The sufferer focuses on the one who suffered for us.


Every church has a pastor.  The pastor is the person that God has called to the congregation to shepherd the people.

As a friend of mine said, "That’s a strange word. Sounds so archaic. Unsophisticated. Definitely not as impressive as Chief Executive Officer."

The shepherd cares for the flock.  He feeds the sheep, keeps them where they are safe, and he shoots the foxes.

My friend also described a “good” shepherd as one who knows:

what it’s like to be lost,

what it’s like to be rescued,

what it’s like to be strengthened, healed and bound up,

what it’s like to be fought for, defended, protected,

what it’s like to trust and follow,

what it’s like to listen for “the voice”.

*in Luther’s list, this would be the mark of the pastoral office


As a family of believers, we don’t just go about our individual lives as Christians but we must gather together.  A church is marked by the family gathering together around the Word.  The church should not just be individual family members worshipping privately, but the family gathering together to worship corporately.

Luther suggested:

“However, we are now speaking of prayers and songs which are intelligible and from which we can learn and by means of which we can mend our ways. The clamor or monks and nuns and priests is not prayer, nor is it praise to God; for they do not understand it, nor do they learn anything from it…”

The family gathers.  The family learns together.  The family praises together. The family prays together.  As the family gathers together, they are served by the God who promises to be present.  The family gathering in a sense is the “work of the people” in which we receive from the gifts that God has promised to give and respond to those good gifts he has given to us.

*in Luther’s list, this would be the mark of prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God



Vision-Casting: There Are No Vision-Less Churches

Vision casting Vision.  Churches, organizations, non-profits, and even sometimes families all talk about vision.   And these conversations around vision are often, although not exclusively, helpful.  As Christians, we believe that the God is at work in this world both in the work of believers and unbelievers.  Because of this, there is a lot that we can learn about the organization of a congregation and leadership from those who have no interest or appreciation for Church.

And vision is a common business practice and strategy.  And so it is helpful consider, is vision-casting Biblical?  And if so, what should it look like in our churches?

It depends.

If your pastor seems to imply that he has some direct revelation from God that has been given to him outside of Scripture, no.  It is unbiblical and I’d be a little worried about what he might say.  But if vision-casting is nothing more than looking towards the future and stating a preferred future (which is also given and guided by God through people in their vocations), it is absolutely does not contradict what the Bible teaches.

Here is how Jim Collins defines “vision” in organizations.

Yet vision is one of the least understood-and most overused-terms in the language. Vision is simply a combination of three basic elements: (1) an organization’s fundamental reason for existence beyond just making money (often called its mission or purpose), (2) its timeless unchanging core values, and (3) huge and audacious—but ultimately achievable—aspirations for its own future

As our churches are led, they should certainly be led with this kind of vision.

But this doesn’t mean that the pastor is seeking some unique word from God where God shows up in a miraculously way telling them how to build the next mega-church.  Instead, leading a congregation with vision ultimately comes from knowing the Scripture and knowing the culture you are trying to reach.

Vision is simply aligning the congregation around a shared ideal for the sake of the people you are trying to reach.

The scriptures say, “Go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching.”  If this is the mission, the vision is how a congregation does this in their context.  The vision becomes the unique ideals that shapes that congregation, not necessarily the given Biblical commands that are required of all congregations.

Non-Christian organizations do this all the time.  Starbucks, Wal-Mart, ABC, Disney, Apple.  They all cast vision for their organization.  The CEO aligns that company around a particular idea and seeks to form the strategy and philosophy of business around that vision and mission.

And while our churches shouldn’t be run strictly like a business, there are valuable lessons we can learn from businesses, and uniting around a common vision is a lesson that is important for our congregations.

There is no such thing as a vision-less congregation.

“Vision" language might not be used.  And a vision might not even be clearly expressed, but there is some kind of vision for what that place should look like and how ministry should happen.  And if that vision is not clearly communicated, it will also be controlled by somebody other than the shepherd of that congregation.  And when that happens, the vision to not have a vision gets hijacked by somebody else’s vision to make sure the church looks like their vision.



Criticism Sucks: Don't Listen to the Haters

Criticism sucks Criticism sucks.

And based on my experience, criticism tends to happen whenever something goes well.  You preach a sermon you love, you get the deal you’v been waiting for, you write a blog post that blows up… and then somebody decides to rail you for it.  Anytime you share your work with the world, you run the risk of being criticized.  As I’ve preached and written many different times and plan to keep doing so, I’ve come to expect that this will inevitably happen to me.

But even when you expect it, it still sucks.

Because even when you get 100 compliments, the 1 complaint is much louder. A while ago after receiving some criticism, I was reminded of an important truth that I often like to share with others.

You are not what you do.

Criticism stings because we take it personally.  And that really can’t be avoided.  But what makes the criticism sting so much?  Because when somebody criticizes my work, no matter how much I don’t like what is said I will still replay it over and over again in my head.  And no matter what someone else might say to counter the criticism, I often believe something about myself based on what someone says about me.

Criticism hurts because of what we believe about ourselves.

We believe that we are what we do.

When somebody criticizes my preaching, it is a statement about who I am.  When somebody doesn’t like my writing, it is a statement about who I am.  I attach my identity to the work that I do.

But what if I didn’t find my identity in what I did?

The more and more you deal with haters, the more and more you need to remind yourself of the truth of the Gospel.  Your identity is found in Christ Jesus and it has nothing to do with what other people say about you.  Your identity is not found in the words of the haters.  And, lest you get a false sense of self-worth, your identity is also not found in the words of your fans.  Your identity is found in the person and work of Jesus.  People might hate you, they might think your art is terrible, and they might even label you a heretic, but you are God’s child because of Jesus.

And believing that might change the way you hear criticism.  And in the least, it will remind you of what you need to hear when the volume of the critics begins to drown out the truth of the Gospel.



Ideas Are Cheap. Teams Take Work.

Ideas are cheap Ideas are cheap.

Anybody can come up with a great idea, but executing that idea is a different endeavor.  There was a season that I spent some time making some iPhone apps; one of the common occurrence during that season was a ridiculous number of people would tell me they had a brilliant app idea but they just needed somebody to help them with the app.

And I was not interested.

Because ideas are a dime a dozen.  Anybody can come up with ideas.  But executing that idea is hard work.

There’s something far more important than the brilliant idea that you wait up all not far.  And that something doesn’t happen randomly when you are on a walk or in the shower, but it happens by hard work with time.

So what’s more important than a great idea?

A great team.

"A mediocre team will screw up a good idea.  But if you give a mediocre idea to a great team and let them work together, they'll find a way to succeed." - Catmull from Pixar, p.149

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great suggested,

"Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: business leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they're going—by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision.

In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.”

Whether you are leading a ministry, a team of volunteers, or a large organization, this is an important understanding.  The team is more important than the idea.  If you have the right people doing the right things, they can take an idea and turn it into a product or an event.  If you have the right people in the right places on the bus, they can take a problem and figure out the best solution.

The right people are always more important than the idea.

This is why so often people with their grandiose new business plans don’t succeed.  Because they have a great idea, but they have no skills or people to execute their idea.

In ministry it is often easy to focus on the next idea.  What’s the next event?  The new program?  The retreat coming up?  Or the new sermon series that needs to be designed?  And while all of those things are certainly important, what is more important is the team that works on those things together.  The team has to learn to enjoy each other, support each other, and make each other better if they are going to execute their ideas more effectively.

Perhaps the best thing you could do for your ministry is put your ideas on hold for a season and focus on the team.  Build your trust, find your roles, and learn to work together.