Archive for December, 2010

On Disappointment

Posted: December 28, 2010 in Bible, books, C.S. Lewis, change, leadership, life

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being disappointed with God. Whenever I am faced with an issue–either personal or pastoral–I often come back to the writer who is the source of so much contemporary theology, C.S. Lewis. Cherish these words from ‘The Screwtape Letters,’ (an older demon instructor mentoring a younger).

“Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anti-climax which is certainly coming to the patient during the first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavor. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His “free” lovers and servants–“sons” is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals. Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to “do it on their own.” And there lies our opportunity. But also, remember, there lies our danger. If only they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much less harder to tempt.”

It occurs to me that the “initial dryness” doesn’t go away after we’ve been disciples for a while, but re-occurs at every intersection in which we attempt to step out with Jesus into something new.

We are never safe because Jesus makes all things new.

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Timothy Keller, “Generous Justice.”

Dan & Chip Heath, “Switch”

TNIV Reference Bible

Larry Osbourne, “Sticky Church”

Rodney Stark, “What Americans Really Believe”

Chick-Fil-A Leadercast

Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit

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Gabe Lyons, “The Next Christians”

Behance Action Journal

Barnes & Noble Nook

2011 Preaching Plan

Posted: December 21, 2010 in Bible, church, homiletics, leadership, preaching

This is the time of year when I solidify the preaching/teaching calendar for next year. I’m excited about the terrain we’ll be covering at Redwood Church this spring. I’m so excited that I wanted to tell you now so you can make your plans to visit — plus, I needed to throw-up a post today.

First off, is a short ( 2 sermons) series, I’m calling “Win1”. The long and short of it is that we want to encourage people to “invest” in people and “invite” people to one of our environments, preferably Sunday worship or one of our small groups.

Then we’ll launch into a 4-week series on work, entitled, “The Office.” Four topics include (1) a theology of work, (2) how to fire your boss, (3) are you really “workin’ for the weekend, and (4) too much for 24: how to be ok with not getting it all done. I’m using one of my former professor’s books, “Responsive Labor” as a backdrop. This series can change the way you approach and feel about your work. If you’re happy with your job and family, you need this. If you’re not happy, you need this.

The weight of the spring teaching will center on The Fruit of the Spirit. The series is called, “There’s An App For That.” The Fruit of the Spirit are both gradual and inevitable. They serve as down-payment of the fullness of God’s Spirit. You want your life to get better, the Fruit of the Spirit is the ticket coupled with a heavy-dose of spiritual disciplines (call them “practices” if you’re a wimp).

Easter services we’re simply calling, “The Event”

After Easter, I’ll be preaching a congregation-driven series. It’s called, “I Have a Friend Who….” I’ll invite the congregation – especially young adults and teenagers – to submit the burning questions of their friends regarding faith, religion and Christianity. I think I can pretty much pick the questions that’ll be asked, but what the heck, I’ll let them decide.

If you’re around the Bay Area, come check it out.

I’m sick of it!

And if you’re a pastor/preacher/minister, you’re likely sick of it too. You’ve seen all the tweets and articles in magazines that act as if the pastor is a singular human in their organization, capable of creating and sustaining wonderful health and growth all by his or her own lonesome.

Here are some of the doozies I’ve heard lately:

  • As the pastor, you should be the happiest person in your church.
  • Pastor, what’s your staff culture? Remember, you set the culture for your staff.
  • If you don’t have 5 evangelistic relationships going on, how can you expect your congregants to have any?

On and on the lists go. It all adds up to this: As the leader of your organization you’re expected to have a great family, exercise daily, be studied in theology, history, culture, music, Bible and the local and national news. You’re also solely responsible for the culture and spiritual growth of your staff and congregation, as well as their intellectual and emotional health and growth. By the way, how up-to-speed are you on fund-raising and systems thinking and implementation? What about addiction, co-dependency, visitation, guest-services, and community activities. Oh, before I forget, don’t you have a sermon to preach this weekend?

The problem with these little maxims is that they are partly true. As a pastor and leader, you do carry some level of responsibility for all these things. Yet there are so many things to be responsible for that no human can do them all well. I don’t mean to be snippy toward our mega-church leaders who hand down their tools of the trade. Rather, I would like them to consider some real-world limitations that many leaders have to deal with and sometimes can’t be overcome. While these considerations run the risk of being labeled excuses, for many people they are the water they swim in. They are real. In nearly 20 years of working near, around and in churches, I know these considerations to be depressingly true.

  1. Many pastors have no say over their staff. Who they are? How well trained? How committed? They can neither reduce salary for underperformance or increase it for a job well done. They do not hire and fire, and can’t even make recommendations to do so. What’s more, for many people, the staff is inherited. Thus, the staff culture is inherited. While a good leader can change the culture, it takes time. Sometimes a long time.
  2. Some church systems are anti-leadership.  The pastor is NOT the leader and no one wants them to be. Decisions are largely made by committee. Believe it or not, some folks think that’s the Biblical way to do it, even if it’s not efficient. Plus, it’s not as easy as you think for people who’ve gone through the process of education and the processes of becoming ordained, just to pick-up and leave their church or denomination. This becomes more difficult when children and family are involved.Many were reared in these churches, went to camp in these denominations and are deeply rooted relationally. To leave isn’t merely a job change, it’s a life change!
  3. Many pastors are flying solo. While some have no say over their staff others have no staff at all, save volunteers. Surprising as it may sound to you, sermon preparation takes just as long in a 20-member church as it does a 200-, 2,000-, or 20,000-member one. And the clergy-person in the 20-member church has to oversee building concerns, adult ed, children’s ed, the youth group, processes for spiritual formation, pastoral care and nearly everything else. While some jobs in the church do scale with the size of the organization, some do not, and when you’re doing it all by yourself, you’re doing it all by yourself.
  4. Most ministers aren’t starting from scratch. I’m a big-believer in church-planting, but that’s not what most clergy are doing. Most are working within existing cultures and systems. If you asked them, they could name 50 things they’d change tomorrow if they could. Why don’t they? They have chosen being pastoral over being a CEO-type leader. Pastoring means walking with people, guiding them along — often at a slow pace. I’m struck with a little referred to story of Jacob meeting Esau. As they leave for Sukkoth, Jacob – who was traveling with his wives and children – ask Esau to go ahead of him so that he can care for his children and flock. Jacob tells his brother he needs to slow his pace to the speed of the children. This, my friends, is ministry too — slowing down for the ones who cannot move more quickly. Some ministers choose to do so in order that we all arrive to worship God together.

These are just the beginnings of ministry in the real world. Again, I’m not saying that much of the counsel offered by church leadership gurus isn’t valid. It’s shaped who I am and how I lead. I am saying that I’ve not always been in the kind of context I am now, and I remember what it was like to work within other kinds of systems.

So, I  question whether much of what is flippantly stated in church-leadership conversations is realistic. More so, I question if it’s dismissive of the context the majority of ministers work in. If so, our gurus are speaking to a very small audience. It doesn’t mean that these men and women won’t show up at your conferences and buy your books, it just means that the beautiful meal you’re serving is going uneaten.

Perhaps it may be time for many of us to recalibrate our leadership message from, “what works for me” to “what can work for you.” Maybe we need an orientation that sees ministry in live-action and on-the-ground, rather than from the preaching Pentagon.

2010 in Review

Posted: December 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

This is how our friends down the street at Google saw 2010. When I see this video, my heart says, “Maranatha!”

Seriously! Who are you talking to?

In our hectic, dog-eat-dog, workaday world, where so much rest on productivity, meeting deadlines and getting things done, you cannot forget that the people you deal with everyday are people. I can’t tell you how many times in a week someone comes into my office, or I see them at my daughter’s school, and even as people walk onto our campus for worship or Bible study and they act as if the people around them are means to an end.

No, “Hi.” No, “Good Morning.” Nothing. They just launch into the business they want to cover – usually something they want someone to do.

The obvious sentiment is this: I don’t care about you, I only care about my agenda. Incidentally, these are the same people who can’t sit down with you over lunch or coffee without checking their phone 50 times. If you’re one these people,  I’ve got a newsflash for all of you: You’re RUDE!

Before you all start thinking I’m just ranting, all this rudeness is actually hurting you professionally and relationally. Each day you are given a gift: People! Your relationships with them and what you can accomplish together is the arena of your success. People know when you’re using them or when you’re speaking to them to advantage yourself and your agenda and no one likes it. People are willing to deal with it for a little while, but not forever.  Each of us has to push against the tide of a culture that objectifies people. Here’s how:

1. Ask, “How are you?” when you greet people. Of course, 99% of people will say, ” I’m fine” in response. That’s okay. But in simply asking, you’ve affirmed a basic truth of our creation; we are made in God’s image. That means that people have inherent worth. Would it be so bad if all of us went to bed at night and knew at least one person inquired about our lives? You don’t have to be interested in the details of other people’s lives, but other people’s lives have details that matter to God. And if you’re a Christian, this simple question (in a world where it’s increasingly not asked anymore) may be the slight opening you and God need to do some powerful ministry.

2. Put Away Your Phone. For centuries families, businesses and nations were productive and healthy without cell phones. Your e-mail, twitter feed, or facebook page can wait. If you’re not concerned about your spouse going into labor, it can wait! It really, really can. We all have cell phones now, whiping yours out and checking your e-mail doesn’t make you look important, it makes you look pompous!

3. Take Off Your Sunglasses. Good grief, we’re not standing at the North Pole. The sunlight isn’t going to burn your retinas. You’re not Paris Hilton, for Heaven’s sake! What are you hiding from? When you’re talking to someone, look them in the eyes. When we look people in the eyes you tell them that they matter, that what they’re saying is important and are worth your time. Hiding behind sunglasses makes people wonder what you’re looking at and what, other than me, is occupying your attention right now.

4. Touch Someone. You’d be amazed at how many people live day-to-day without anyone touching them – no handshakes, no hugs, no pats on the shoulder or back. This is unacceptable. Years ago I had a professor show me a video of Mother Theresa. He said, “Don’t listen to the audio, just watch what she does with her hands.” That video changed my life. One of the things that amazed people about Jesus was that He physically touched people — even untouchable people. Obvious, this should be done appropriately.

I have a simple rule: Every person needs a look, a touch, and a word. If you did this you would soon become one of the more popular and respected people in all the environments where you engage.

Read A Book (a rant)

Posted: December 8, 2010 in books, leadership, life, reading, words

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about the importance – indeed, the necessity – of reading. Most blog readers are readers in general, but interestingly, I keep running into people who envisage reading and readers with skepticism and sometimes even disdain. Certainly, not everyone enjoys reading on the same level or can read with the same speed and comprehension as others, but in the last year I’ve heard some really distressing news regarding readership in America.

The news can be summed up by saying this: Most people don’t read! One thing I can tell you about “most people” is that the ones who truly don’t read are not producing in work and life at the level they should. They are not leaders or influencers in their fields, not great followers and are making big mistakes that others have already made in every area of their lives. To my horror, I’ve heard the following recently, (1) after attaining their final level of education, most people never read another non-fiction book; (2) “I just don’t see the point” (of reading), and (3) “I just don’t have the time.”

These are troubling statement if for no other reason than it has been proven throughout the centuries that it is through reading that cultures advance, that technologies emerge, that discovery is made, and that better ideas evolve. To not read is dangerous, not just for the person, but for society as a whole.

As a matter of fact, people who choose not to read (and reading is volitional) are saying at least these four things:

1. I Can’t Handle Complex Ideas. Complex ideas (and the most important issues in life are complex; religion, politics, life and death, meaning, etc…) cannot be handled in an hour on TV or in sound-bytes. Complex ideas have to be unpacked, there are foundational philosophies that have to be explained and advocated and books are the best and fullest way to do this. A friend of mine has said of theology, “Never believe anything that can be reduced to a bumper-sticker.” Yet that is what people frequently do. We reduce complex ideas to nuggets. In church contexts, when we do this, we shouldn’t be surprised when thinking people pose questions to us that we don’t respond well to. In response to legitimate questions, we come up with something pithy but vacant. Or worse, we believe things that are popular, but wrong.

2. I Know Everything Already. If I’m right and the most important and complex ideas need unpacking and we do so by engaging ideas in reading, then to not do so means we think we know everything we need to know already. At the very least you may be saying, “I may not know everything already, but I know all I want/ need to know.” This is deliberate ignorance. Newsflash: You didn’t learn everything you need to know in kindergarten! By not reading, the world is passing you by. New information, new perspectives on old information, news, analysis and insight are passing you by and eventually, without reading, you will become obsolete.

3. I Don’t Like to Be Intellectually Challenged. The very nature of good reading places the reader – somewhat – under the influence of the writer. Many folks don’t like this. I’ve known and know some people who cannot stand being intellectually challenged. For some, being challenged is tantamount to saying everything they’ve ever known is wrong. But you can see the obvious weakness of this position. Everything any of us have ever learned we learned only because we didn’t know it already.

4. Spiritual Life is Unimportant to Me. The world is made of words. Genesis’ account of creation tells us God “spoke,” and John tells us that Jesus is “the WORD made flesh.” Yet these are spiritual commitments and interpretations that some may not share, so I’ll go one step further. Research has repeatedly demonstrated the 2nd strongest factor for teenagers adopting the Christian faith is reading. Simply put: The more one reads the more likely they will develop faith. Faith and reading are sojourners. You cannot do one well without doing the other.

Let me put it simply: If you’re not reading you’re failing and falling behind. Don’t do this to yourself