Stuff I Starred

Here’s a short list of some of the stuff I favorited on Twitter, starred in Google reader or clipped into Evernote:

  • In his day, Billy Graham spent millions promoting himself and his crusades, all so people could come HEAR HIM TALK ABOUT GOD. – Donald Miller in Some Thoughts on Self Promotion
  • Jenni Catron on the difficulty of ministry and work.  
  • I am a pilgrim and a stranger on the earth, but I am not an orphan -Vance Havner
  • Barna data on what churches are seeking to improve next year.  What struck me as backwards was only 6% of churches saying they would definitely work with an organization to help increase giving” but doing so would actually help accomplish all of the other goals!
  • There are only three real job interview questions.
  • Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity. – Louis Pasteur (via @tonymccollum)
  • The average email user receives 147 email messages a day.
  • Loved this story about a church helping an atheist. We love to point out the dumb things Christians do – so it’s nice to give some love to those who get it right.
  • “When you say ‘My people won’t do that’, what you’re really saying is, “I haven’t led my people to do that’.” @kevinpenry (via @geoffsurratt)
  • Mobile purchases on smartphones and tablets are expected to grow 73% to $4.6 billion in the US this year.
  • “The Father has so much more for you than just letting you come home.” – George Moxley
  • Can you tweet your sermon’s main point? If not, keep working. – @tallywilgis

Jazz Church

A few weekends ago, I met a church planter who loved Jazz music so much that he was actually naming his church Jazz Church. When I asked about the meaning of the name, he shared a couple of interesting things with me. According to this church planter, Jazz started in one location and spread rather quickly throughout the world.

Jazz music started in one location and has since spread throughout the world. In the early 1900s, Jazz music took shape in New Orleans, and some say it truly began when the first jazz record was produced in 1917. Regardless, over a period of a few years, an entire genre was created. This church planter saw this as a metaphor for the gospel and the expansion of the early church. Jesus stepped into a specific culture, preaching a message of grace and Kingdom, and within a few years, the entire world was changed.

Secondly, jazz is both structural and improvisational. There are only so many notes one can play. There are scales and harmony – clear systems and structure. But jazz music calls for improvisation, intentionally going away from the structure in order to produce something beautiful and unexpected. Again, this is another great metaphor for the church. We know that God is a God of order and that structure and systems help the mission of the church advance. But one can’t put the Holy Spirit in a box, and we must continually create space for new ideas and a fresh move of God.

Jazz music isn’t really my thing, but the metaphors are strong.

Do the Dishes

We have three kids, which means that we’ve utilized the services of MANY babysitters over the years. But our favorite babysitter was not only loved by the kids, she was loved by us because of one very simple thing.

She did the dishes.

After the kids were asleep and she was left to her own, she took a little time to straighten up the kitchen and load the dishes into the dishwasher. We didn’t ask her to do this – we were perfectly content with the house not burned down. But our expectations were exceeded with this simple gesture. This action showed me that she wasn’t interested in doing the least amount required but that she really cared.

And this principle is true for the church world, the business world, and relationships. One of the best ways to distinguish yourself in ANY area is to exceed expectations.

Stop doing the minimum it takes to skirt by, pass or move on. Invest a little extra and show that you care.

A Simple Formula for Good Decisions

All leaders must make decisions. And while there are nuances and determining factors that can make some decisions difficult, here’s a simple formula for making good decisions most of the time.

Information + Time = Good Decisions

Good leaders crave good information.

That’s because good information often leads to good decisions. And good information plus enough time to process often leads to the best decisions.

Leaders become great leaders because they can make the right decision with little information. And great leaders can process information in a little bit of time.

But combine information with time, and good leaders will make the best decision in most circumstances.

If you work for a leader, one of the best things you can do is give him or her the best information possible with enough time to think about it.

If you are a leader, as your team to bring you the right information in plenty of time so you can let it simmer.

Money and Time Are Popular Excuses

One of my favorite question in the world is “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I’ve asked that questions to college students and 80-year-olds and the responses are always amazing. Some people have no clue – other people have specific plans. Some people can’t see past their unfulfilling day job – some people can’t seem to put any feet to their passion.

For most of us, the reason we aren’t doing what we want to be doing has little to do with paychecks or time. Over and over again, we somehow FIND the money to do the things we really want to do. This is why Americans spend twice as much on alcohol and cigarettes as we do on life insurance. And it’s why $4.5 billion was spent on St. Patricks Day. Money might sound like a good excuse, but that’s probably not it.

What about time? If you sleep 8 hours a night, and work 40 hours a week, you still have 4,000 hours a year to do what you want. 4,000 hours is a LOT of time to take online classes, get involved in a community group, volunteer, refinish furniture, learn a skill, develop a hobby, train for a marathon, or fill in the blank.

What if we stopped using money and time as the excuses for not being what we want to be?

Churches are Like Airports

The other day, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend six hours in the Atlanta airport. In between reading magazines and complaining about the wi-fi not being free, I jotted down a few thoughts about the similarities between churches and airports.

#1 – It’s takes a lot of people to run. Ticket takers, baggage handlers, pilots, flight attendants, food service people, and more. It takes a bunch of different people to run an airport, and it takes a bunch of different people to make a church. It’s always cool to me to see people volunteer at church.

#2 – Each area depends on the other. If the guys don’t get the bags to the plane on time, then the plane doesn’t leave on time. Each area of service depends on another to function properly. A church is a body, and all the parts are important. If your stomach gets sick, it’ pretty much affects your whole system. When the kids ministry is healthy, it feeds into student ministry. We depend on each other for health.

#3 – Customer service isn’t always what it should be. In my case, the ticket agent couldn’t help me, and I had to go on the internet to book for a lower fare. Not good. I wonder how many guests have bad first time experiences at churches…checking in their kids, finding the restrooms, knowing where to go for help, etc. I want our church to keep pressing ahead to become the most guest-friendly church people could attend.

#4 – We’ve both got insider language. Next time you fly, notice how many airline-only terms are used in the flight attendants safety speech. Why don’t they use regular words like “turn off your phone” instead of “place electronic devices in the off position”?  I don’t tell my kids to put their lights in the off position.  But churches have their own vocabulary too, and we just expect people to understand what we mean. I have no idea why they call the inside of the airplane a cabin, and I’m pretty sure people in the world are freaked out when we say washed in the blood.

#5 – Not very kid friendly. So many people travel with kids (and they usually sit right behind me), but so few airports are kid friendly. Where are the play areas? Where are parent-friendly waiting areas? Churches can be the same way…we spend so much money on adults and programs for adults, and often forget about kids. The church should spend more money on kids and teenagers than ANY other ministry.

#6 – All the smokers gather in one place. All you have to do is just walk by the open-door smoking lounge to smell like a bowling alley. In churches, they usually gather out back. And they are usually deacons.

#7 – People are always coming and going. In the airport, people are always going somwhere…same is true for churches. Sadly, there are so many church-shoppers and church-hoppers. People don’t settle down and sit still. You’ll have people leave when you talk about money.

#8 – Many systems make it easier for employees and not the customers. I saw a ton of things that were designed with airport employees in mind, forgetting about the travelers. In the same way, churches often do what is easier for the staff or key volunteers, and forget about the guests. As a leader, one question I used to ask myself is “does this just make it easier for our staff or for the people in the church.”

#9 – People aren’t always happy to be here. You don’t see a lot of joyful people in the airport…they are stressed and hurried. And sadly, there are a lot of people that aren’t smiling at church. We’ve made it boring, informational, and something you have to endure. You know what…it’s okay to have a good time a church!

#10 – The best ones have free wi-fi. I like airports with free wifi…with so many mobile devices, it’s probably something that’s helpful in church too.

7 Questions Every Church Leader Should Ask

Here are ten questions that would be perfect for a staff meeting, lead team off-site, or personal reflections.

  1. What kind of people want to come to our church?
  2. What ministries are doing well?
  3. What ministries would we not start it we were doing it all again?
  4. Who is NOT coming to our church and why?
  5. Who are we uniquely called and positioned to reach?
  6. What people are not being reached by any other church in are area?
  7. Who are the leaders and influencers in our church?

How to Get More Done in Less Time

I’m not a Getting Things Done guru or an organizational genius, but over the years I’ve learned three important principles about to get things done.

  1. Prioritize. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln once remarked “one war at a time.” You’re not going to be able to accomplish everything, so you must decide what can wait. Everything isn’t important.
  2. Write it down. I use Things to record all of my tasks, never keeping tasks in my email inbox. I capture every to do in my Things INBOX, move important things to the TODAY folder and capture future, unplanned stuff in the SOMEDAY folder. I’ve found that when I write things down, it has a much better change of getting done.
  3. Plan your week then plan your day. On Sunday night or Monday morning, I take a look at the whole week. I plan the week before I plan the day. Looking at the big picture helps me not get sucked into the whole picture. Sometimes, I give each week a theme. For example, this week is about “content” because I have 3 significant content projects that need to be finished.

What system do you use for getting stuff done?

Start With the End in Mind

A while ago, USA Today conducted an interview with John Grisham’s close friend Bill Ballard, who was the second person to read A Time to Kill.

He said, “[John] analyzed how best sellers were constructed, plot development, at what time readers would be engaged, at what time they would put the book down.” Bill said, “He knows the last page of the book when he starts writing the first one.”

In other words, before John Grisham even starts writing a novel, he’s got the end in mind.  He knows the plot line, the chapter-by-chapter progression, and the exact ending on the final page.

Seeing your vision become reality requires working backwards.  You’ve got to see the end in your mind, and then work in reverse until it happens.

Don’t set out on a trip until you know where you’re going.  Write the ending first.

Help for Broke Churches

Joe Sangl is one of my favorite people, and one of the few people I’d want to accompany to nine different cities or crash a Pentateuch-A-Thon.  I’ll have to tell you that story soon. But for now, I want you to know Joe and his team at InJoy are putting on a FREE event in Charlotte on April 19.  You should go.

They have assembled a great  lineup of some of the nation’s best Christian leaders who will teach from their own experience how to resource highly effective ministry. Here are some of the speakers:

  • Perry Noble who has seen the amount given per person at NewSpring Church increase by $10 or more each of the last several years.
  • Bishop Walter Thomas of New Psalmist Baptist Church whose church completed a $55 million relocation during the worst economy since the Great Depression.
  • Casey Graham, Founder of and, who has helped thousands of churches increase their weekly giving.
  • Mike Madding of The Cove Church which had over 120 people give their life to Christ during the commitment phase of their capital campaign.
  • Plus Clayton King and Joe Sangl.

Space is limited so click HERE to register your team now.



Don’t Change So Much

In the January 16, 2012 edition of Forbes Magazine, Amity Shales issues A Plea to Clergy in an article of the same name, noting that the Catholic Church has changed some of the familiar language in the English-language mass.  She laments some of the changes made in her own religious practices.

Shlaes writes that a house of worship serves as a “place one retreats for predictability,” and while religious leaders often change to attract new people, it can sometimes have a disconnecting effect on generations.  She ends her one-page article with a simple plea:  “Change less.”
Thoughts like this might challenge the mindset of modern church leaders, who tend to pursue change at a greater pace than their congregation can handle.  It’s easy to think that everybody gets tired of tradition, but there’s a reason traditions became popular in the first place – people like traditions.  Whether it’s watching the Detroit Lions lose on Thanksgiving surrounded by family or friends or a candlelight service on Christmas Eve, traditions can be powerful.  When we force the modernization of those traditions, we run the risk of losing their effectiveness.
Here is a short list of traditions that have been sometimes discarded by the modern church:
  • The indication
  • The benediction
  • The Lord’s Supper or Communion
  • Scripture Reading
  • An offertory prayer
  • The sermon
  • Reciting the Lord’s Prayer
  • Responsive Reading
  • Candlelight Services
You may read that list and think “out of date,” but perhaps we should not be so quick to discard the old traditions.  As Proverbs 22:28 warns, we should not be so quick to move the “ancient landmarks” established by our fathers.
Maybe a better alternative is to continue the traditions, but properly explain them.  There’s power in tradition properly explained.  The Lord’s Supper is a powerful way to share the Gospel – don’t throw it out, slow down and explain to people exactly what’s happening.  Don’t just throw out a scripture reading because it’s not as cool as a title package – there’s power in the simple reading of the Word of God.
Amity Shales might be on to something.  As church leaders, we need to understand the people in our congregations don’t like change as much as we do.  Or as much as we think they do.

Should Pastors Know What People Give?

If you’re like most pastors and church leaders, there’s something about looking at the giving records of people that will make you uncomfortable. On the other hand, you want to know who your committed people are. There’s a big tension there.

But that tension is a good thing.

It means that your motives are in the right place. It means that you do not want to take advantage of people and use them to fund your dreams. It means that you care about pastoring people, not just taking their money.

Keeping your motives in check is important, and it’s something you’ve got to continually address. Proverbs 4:23 says that we must guard our hearts. That’s definitely true when it comes to knowing what people give.

As a pastor, I didn’t agonize over reports or hunt people down who didn’t give at a certain level, but I did have a basic understanding of who gave what. When I looked at reports, I learned that 75% of our funding came from 10% of our givers. Knowing that allowed me to encourage those who were supporters and challenge everyone to step up.

Why Should You Know What People Give

Here are four reasons I chose to know what people gave.

1. Proverbs says that a good shepherd should know the condition of his flocks. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, your heart will follow.” This means that as a pastor, if you want to know the condition of someone’s heart, look at their giving. It’s a discipleship issue more than anything else.

2. If people gave a large gift or suddenly stopped giving, that may be a sign of something significant that happened or changed in their life that signaled a need for pastoral care. On one occasion, realizing that someone stopped giving led us to find out that there was an impending divorce. We were able to provide pastoral care through that issue.

3. I knew the people in our church who were good with construction. I knew people who were gifted to work with special needs kids. I knew the people who had the gift of encouragement. It seemed appropriate to match these people with the right opportunities for ministry. Developing the spiritual gift of generosity in people includes knowing what they give.

4. The Bible doesn’t seem to prohibit this. James does indicate that I shouldn’t care for people’s soul or eternity differently, but I don’t think the Bible precludes knowing the state of a church member’s finances or giving. Showing favoritism to rich people isn’t a finance issue, it’s a spiritual maturity issue.

I suppose this raises another important question…

How do you treat people who give large amounts of money?

You’ve really got three options.

1. Use them. There are too many pastors who only get in touch with certain donors when there is a big need. That’s taking advantage of someone’s spiritual gift! You MUST examine your heart and get to the place where you care more about people than what they can do for you or your church. People are not a funding mechanism for ministry – they are individuals created in the image of God who possess infinite worth to God. Using rich people is totally wrong.

2. Favor them. James 1:8 teaches us that we shouldn’t show favoritism in the church. We shouldn’t value people differently because of their contributions; instead, we should treat all people equally because they ARE all equally valuable in the eyes of God. Too many times, people with means are given special opportunities or positions based solely on their financial standing. Putting wealthy people on committees or giving people special benefits because of their social position is wrong.

3. Ignore them. Some people ignore people’s generosity because they are afraid that the attention will turn to favoritism. But just like we should develop people’s gifts of leadership and give people with the gift of service the opportunity to serve, we need to develop people’s gift of generosity. The Bible teaches that those who are given more are required to be faithful, and as pastors, we must pay attention to that. I don’t think it’s honorable to “brag” about not knowing what people give (as I’ve heard some pastors do).

I think the key in all of this is being sensitive to the Holy Spirit as you lead people. It’s fine to know what people give, but it’s not fine to abuse that information. It’s probably healthy to know where support is coming from, but it’s not good if that information makes you cynical. If you were to look at giving records, you might be surprised, so think through how you will respond and make sure that you respond and not react.

As leaders, you have to lead the way Jesus has called you to lived. For me, that included having the most accurate information possible – including giving records. I feel like this is one of those areas where the Bible gives freedom, and that we’re just called to lead with wisdom.

This is just one of the many issues we can help you process as a Giving Rocket member.  I believe the investment is worth it.

7 Things Pastors Should Never Say (Part 2)

Part one is here.  And here are two more things pastors should never say.

6. I don’t need to go to counseling. About a year ago, I started going to counseling. And about a year ago, I started wishing I had gone much, much sooner. As a pastor, I thought it was admitting weakness to go and talk to someone about my issues. I thought I would lose credibility if word got out I was seeking help.

In retrospect, I believe this is a lie from the devil. I wanted to deal with stuff on my own, but it didn’t work. I wanted to pray problems away, because after all, if I’ve got the Holy Spirit and the Bible, that’s all I needed. But that’s neither true nor Biblical. The book of Proverbs is full of encouragement to seek the counsel of others.

There’s a pastor reading this who needs to go to counseling…who needs to go with his wife to counseling. I can say this because I’ve been there. Listen…overcoming that fear is nothing compared to the crap you will deal with if you continue to refuse help. It’s not a sign of spiritual maturity. It’s a sign of stubbornness and pride.

I have a great counselor, and she has been a huge help to me. I’ve learned about the issues behind the issue, and not in some weird, hyper-spiritual, super-Freuidian way. It’s just a healthy feeling.

7. Can I get a pastor discount? There are many underpaid pastors in the world, including Lead Pastors, Youth Pastors,  and missionaries. I remember my first job in ministry when I asked for a raise and was told “We’ve always wanted to get you UP to the level of a public school teacher but it’s going to take many years.” I could write about this for a really long time, but that’s not my point today.

Good stewardship is a good thing, but poor-mouthing brings dishonor to the profession and calling of pastor. I know a pastor who asked for a “pastor discount” at Home Depot – apparently, new kitchen cabinets can be used for the Lord’s Work. I really do understand the financial limitations of most pastors and churches, but in my humble opinion, constantly asking for discounts seems to cheapen the importance of what pastors do.

I’m not advocating extravagant spending, either from the church or the leader, but a cheap mentality is deadly. It leads to broke thinking, which is hurting the church.

Giving and Preaching

I’m honored to play a very small part in launching two things today.  Super proud of both and wanted to let you know.

First, this new resource from Giving Rocket is something that church leaders have needed for a long time.  It’s a short, mailable booklet that THANKS givers for their donation.  It’s not a treatise on how they should give more – it’s a heart-felt appreciation for generosity.  It comes with a blank thank-you note and an envelope and is the perfect thing to send first-time givers.  Here’s a preview video.

Secondly, Preaching Rocket has officially left the launch pad.  It’s a members-only coaching community for communicators who want to develop their skill and calling.  The sermon is arguably the most important element of the weekend service – it’s certainly the most visible.  Unchurched and churched people alike say they attend church primarily for the message, yet most pastors do not have an ongoing system for improvement.  Jeff Henderson and the team at Preaching Rocket are going to change that by providing monthly coaching and usable story content. Check out the website and the benefits then sign up for a preview.

Seven Things Pastors Should Never Say (Part 1)

Here’s part one in a two-part series of posts called Seven Things Pastors Should Never Say.  In full disclosure, many of these things were learned the hard way, because I said many of these things.  So with that apology out in the open, here’s the list:

1. We’re not here to reach churched people. Yes, Jesus said he came to earth to seek and save the lost. But that was not the ONLY thing he did. He also spent significant time teaching a small group of followers, who He said would go on to do greater things. I understand he heart behind reaching the lost, and I understand tailoring certain environments to accomplish that person. But in your zeal to reach the lost, don’t discount the comprehensive mission of the church – to go into all the world and make disciples.

When you say “we’re here to reach unchurched people…there are plenty of churches for Christians” you alienate people of faith and communicate that they have no real place of ministry in your church. You insult the 65-year-old grandmother who has served Jesus and children for 40 years. Whether you mean to or not, you foster a spirit of competition among area churches over who is more evangelistic and who is more missional and who is more Bible-based.

Say, “We care about reaching the lost,” but don’t say you don’t care about church for Christians.

2. Our people are just different. Yes, there is a difference between rural people and urban city-dwellers. There is a difference between small churches and mega-churches. But don’t use this excuse. When you can’t raise money for that project, don’t say, “my people are just different…they don’t make as much money as the people in other churches.” When your leaders don’t show up for a meeting, don’t say, “Our area is just different because people are busier here.”

People have been the same since the Garden of Eden – they are broken by sin and in need of grace. There are nuances that should mark your ministry, but people are people.

Don’t let a love for your city turn into arrogant thinking. Just because you’ve spent six years ministering in downtown Chicago doesn’t mean that everyone from the south has no idea how to reach people living in cities. Just because pastor an 80-member church in rural America doesn’t mean materials created in Nashville or a mentor from Atlanta can’t teach you a thing or two about ministry.

There are parts of your ministry that are unique to you community. And there is a human nature that’s the same everywhere.

3. I don’t counsel people. This kind of statement insulates you from the congregation, and while you might think you need to do that in order to go to the next level, bragging about your refusal to engage hurting people isn’t going to do you any good. You might not to be the primary counselor, especially if you’re not trained to handle specific situations. But you should counsel someone. You should stay connected at some level, because it’s helpful, and because you’ll stay connected to a hurting group of people who look to you for advice.

If you pastor a large or rapidly growing church, you may not visit everyone in the hospital, but you should visit someone, and you should create a system that does provide personal pastoral ministry to everyone. “I don’t visit people in the hospital, so if I show up, you know it’s bad,” might sound funny from the stage, but it’s a condescending position that attempts to maximize your visible value to the church. But mostly, it makes people feel unimportant.

Refusing to engage people, even if it’s a small group of people, on a personal level isn’t good leadership – it’s ministry arrogance. I was guilty of this in the past, and I was wrong.

4. If I talk about money, people will leave. Apologetically preaching on money won’t do you good in the long run. Unchurched people aren’t stupid – they know it takes money to run a church. Don’t be held hostage by fear, either of offending the unchurched or running off a key donor. Develop a holistic approach and a systematic plan for taking about one of the most important subjects facing 21st century America.

The reality is this: when you talk about money the right way, people are helped and they grow closer to Jesus. Tearing down the idol of greed is an important part of the discipleship process, and it should not be avoided or done in secret. Christians need to understand that it’s not feeling generous but acting generous that means their generous. They need to understand the Biblical principle of stewardship. People who are not Christ-followers still feel burdened by debt and out-of-control spending, and they crave helpful advice on the subject.

So pastor, don’t apologize for talking about money. Don’t introduce a sermon or a series on money with an apology or a 5-minute disclaimer. Preach the whole counsel of God’s Word with boldness.

5. Pastoring a church is so hard and so different from every other job. I’ve written about this before, but as pastors, it’s time to stop whining about how hard you have it. Publicly discussing the holy hangover, the emotional Monday morning effect that comes from preaching multiple times on Sunday might earn you sympathy points with other pastors, but most regular church members think it’s silly. In their minds (and remember, perception feels like reality), you stood in front of people for an hour and talked – something they would love to do on a regular basis instead of working the night shift or meeting a sales quota.

Other pastors understand the spiritual battle and the emotionally draining reality of leading a church, but trying to convince your congregation of this will make you seem out of touch. And in some ways, full-time pastors who set much of their own schedules, have work meetings over Starbucks or lunch, and speak to large groups of people for a living have things much better off than the salesman who has to meet a quota or the teacher who has to create lesson plans and IEPs.

Check back tomorrow for the final two things.