Church Leadership


I know what you’re thinking. You saw the title “Transitions” and you instantly thought… “Holy crap, Adam is transitioning?

Nope. And I didn’t buy those transitions lenses for my glasses that adjust to the sunlight either.

In the past year or so I’ve really started to think of the youth ministry tribe as a people of transition who minister to people in transition.

Why? Because at least once per week I hear from someone who is changing jobs for a wide variety of reasons. And unlike a lot of other tribes… when you change jobs in youth ministry that almost always means a change in everything… where you live, what your role is, sometimes what denomination you’re affiliated with, where your kids go to school, on and on. Transitions are big and dramatic in youth ministry.

But they aren’t really talked about much outside of the people actually transitioning.

When Transition Comes About

10-15 years ago you heard about train wrecks of ministry transitions. We’ve all heard horror stories:

  • 10 years of ministry at a church and you get a letter on your desk from the board… not even a face-to-face conversation.
  • Churches who fire people quickly, not allowing for closure.
  • People asked to sign contracts for final paychecks… being “forced to resign.”

Each person in youth ministry could share a stories of people they know that stuff like this has happened to.

I share that not to expose anything but to point out that it seems that there are fewer of these horror stories happening, at least in the circles I run in. Instead, I’m seeing the same amount of transition as before… just less hostile.

Sure, when people get fired they are always surprised by it. They are always (initially) convinced they’ve been wronged. And they very rarely have the ability to see what contributed to it. They just know they have a massive problem (they need a job) and they feel a sense of relief. (A sign they knew deep down it wasn’t  going well.)

Here’s a few categories of transition that I see most often:

Transitions for Fit

Perhaps the most healthy transition I hear about is simply fit. Sometimes an organization intentionally hires a square peg for a round hole. But, as a professional square peg, being that odd-man-out wears on you. It might be appreciated in a high-level kind of way. The kind of way that will push an organization to think differently or see things they don’t want to see. But these are rarely long-term… it’s just exhausting for everyone. (Presbyterians hiring Southern Baptists or bringing in a relational youth worker at a highly programmatic church.)

I think it takes a certain level of maturity in the individual to recognize that their ministry isn’t a good fit for their giftedness, theology, etc. It’s brave to step away for this reason if that’s the real reason. (“Fit” has also become a blanket term, right?)

Transitions for Stage of Life / Stage of Family Life

It’s really hard to stay in a ministry through various stages of life. A lot of people start off in youth ministry as a single young adult. But it gets harder as you move into different stages of life. You get married and you don’t want to spend 24/7 focusing on your job. You have a kid and you realize that your ministry isn’t just your job. Your kids get a little older and you start think… “Do I want to raise PKs?” Then you think, “Do I want to have my kids in my youth group?” Then you think “How the heck am I going to pay for college on this salary?” Then you think “My kids are starting families… can I still do this?

At each of these waypoints and a lot more should be a true reality check for you. The simple fact is that there are very, very few ministry positions that’ll work out for all stages of your career. That doesn’t mean those are bad places to work, it just means that there’s no shame in looking at how you’ve changed or how your circumstances have changed and embracing the reality that sometimes you transition because of a stage of life.

Transitions to Deal with Failure or Conflict

Failure and conflict are two of the biggies in why people transition. There’s an unfortunate irony that the hardest jobs in ministry usually go to the least experienced and least trained. Church plants, walking into small and older congregations, etc. But the simple reality is that both failure and conflict (usually inter-related) happen at every type of ministry.

A lot of transitions happen because you didn’t deal with failure or failed so badly that they had little choice.  (Could be a moral thing, but could also just be a failure to execute your job.)

It takes some time and maturity to admit when you did a bad job. Just remember that failing at a job doesn’t make you a failure. Failing to learn from failure and repeating it over and over again? That’s what failure looks like.

The other side of this is transition because of conflict. Mismatched expectations or personality conflicts or any number of other factors can produce conflict that you can’t manage to resolve. And so the sad reality is that people who preach reconciliation cannot reconcile and someone has to go. (You!)


I like hearing people use the phrase “transition” to describe job change because the word itself is about patience and implies a certain level of discernment.

If I were to offer advice to people considering a transition… or maybe a transition has been considered for you… it’s this:

  • Be as patient about it as you need to make a decision.
  • When you decide, act swiftly. It’s not good for anyone to drag things out.
  • Make space for healing. Even the most healthy job changes require a period of healing. Leaving a job one week and starting the next in a few days isn’t doing anyone a favor.
  • Leave well. Even when you get hurt, leave well. Take the high road, be the bigger person, be professional… whatever phrase you need to latch onto, do it.
  • Involve outsiders. Sometimes you’re too close to the situation to be able to see clearly. I’ve seen people leave great jobs that are perfect fits for them because they just hit a hard period and gave up. You’ve got to see the big picture sometimes and you can’t do that alone.
  • Laugh a lot. It’s just a job.
Church Leadership

Cool Church

“You can’t make yourself cool. You can’t buy cool. You’re either cool or you aren’t. The harder you try to be cool, the more you look like a dork.”

I don’t know if someone told me that in 9th grade or if it’s from an episode of Saved by the Bell or maybe it was from Family Ties?

Either way, it’s a good starting point for my point: Please stop trying to make church cool.

I know how it gets started…  you go somewhere… say an amusement park or concert or conference or even watch a TV show… and something cool happens. In the moment you are overcome by the cool factor and you make a mental note.

Then, let’s say in a planning meeting or a staff meeting, an idea pops in your head… “Hey, that cool thing happened on stage, our church has a stage, we could do that cool thing in church!

When you do that you break Rule #1 of Being Cool: The harder you try to look cool, the more you look like a dork.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to do something cool in your role at church. But I am saying that it’s pretty tough when you start from a place of copying something cool.

Rob Bell? Dang, in his prime that was one cool cat. He was doing things in a pulpit no one had seen before. He was a Charles Finney level game changer. He was cool.

But the next hundred people who wanted to try to be like Rob Bell? Not cool.

You go to a conference and see $100,000 in lighting effects and think, that’s cool. So you go home and try to do the same effect with $500 in lights. Not cool.

You go on a date with your spouse to see see a comic. This professional comedian tells a bunch of jokes and takes the audience somewhere to talk about something really deep and you think, that’s cool. You go home and add jokes into your next message– you get 3 jokes in and you realize– not cool.

You Are Not an Entertainer

At the core of this [somewhat natural] desire to be cool is a misunderstanding of the role of a minister in the life of the individual and congregation.

Whether you are a youth pastor, senior pastor, worship pastor, kids pastor, executive pastor, small groups pastor, church planter, missionary, whatever: You are a minister of the Gospel and not an entertainer. 

Comparing your work to that of an entertainer is not going to lead you to a healthy place. Instead, it’ll lead you to confusion, and frustration. You didn’t go into ministry to be an entertainer, did you?

The word “pastor” relates to a rather humble and straight-forward role of a shepherd. Like with sheep or goats– more cowboy than anything. Even in an age where everything is back-to-the-farm, most real-life shepherds aren’t cool.

I’ve never seen a title: “The Most Entertaining Shepherd in the World.

That’s why it’s so weird to see pastors trying to be entertainers. It’s a misunderstanding of your role in a person’s life.

People come to your church looking for (and needing) a shepherd.

See, my family has enough entertainment. What we don’t have enough of is shepherds. We don’t go to church for a laugh or have our face melted off by a band. We go to church to worship in community, to gather together with fellow believers.

We need ministers to minister to us.

Really, the last thing we need is more entertainment.

Your Message is Important

Scariest of all? With the American churches desperation to be seen as cool we’ve become infatuated with what’s hot instead of what’s important.

I think that many churches, particularly non-denominational evangelical congregations, have gotten unmoored from millennia old traditions and are just floating out there in a sea of felt need.

Instead of being informed by a liturgical calendar they are informed around their needs and what they perceive to be the needs of people in the congregation or community. I don’t think there’s any ill-will or intention to do anything other than serve the community. But I do think that felt needs get old.

The course is actually easy to correct. Just stop trying to be cool and be a regular, old-fashioned, weird church.

And, what’s hilarious in all of this? The more we give up trying to be cool and go back to the “old, uncool way” the cooler we’ll likely become.

Because just like the end of every after school special taught us: The coolest person you can be is your real, authentic self.

Church Leadership Friday is For Friends

A Weakness with Formal Ministry Preparation

Driving across rural Kansas in December I couldn’t help but be reminded of this fact:

  • In the New Testament, nearly all of the illustrations Jesus used were agrarian.
  • In modern times, nearly all modern formal education happens in the city.

It’s a conflict that most people training for vocational ministry either completely ignore or they think they can read a commentary which will explain what Jesus was referring to. (Most of these commentaries aren’t written by people who don’t know anything about that stuff either… they are written by people who live in the city but did research from other books about what to put in the commentary.)

And the implication is that most ministry models emulate a business structure and worship is built around a lecture when Jesus’ illustrations for believers were that ministry should run like a farm.

But I think most Americans are so removed from agrarian life that they miss what life in ministry could really be.

And so I’m left to wonder:

  • How can people learn to shepherd a church flock if they don’t know anything about actual sheep?
  • How can you “fish for men” if you don’t know how to fish?
  • How can you “reap a harvest” if you’ve never planted a crop?

And let’s state the obvious… I’m not aware of any ministry preparation that places wanna-be pastors on farms or commercial fishing boats or herding sheep.

Instead, we send wanna-be pastors to the city where ministry preparation looks like any other course of study.

And we wonder why our churches look like businesses, why church workers are comfortable in offices, why they are white collar workers completely missing the blue collar majority of our population?

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep.

John 21:17

But most of us couldn’t pick a sheep out of a line-up.

Photo credit: Deputation by Peter Eskersley via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Church Leadership

Looking for Help in the Wrong Direction

Pastors have an infatuation with the business world.

I’m not exactly sure where it comes from but it is unhealthy. Perhaps it’s because church hierarchies tend to favor business people on boards and committees and eventually they give in to the way business people think? Or perhaps it’s kind of an Oedipus or Freudian thing with pastors looking longingly towards the business world, pinning for the type of money and success they think they deserve?

The irony is that successful businesses create community and benefit their employees in a way churches only wish they could. So, in a lot of people’s lives… they go to church and see a poorly run business but go to work and experience the church.

Business Books are Taking Us the Wrong Direction

When I hang out with a pastor I’m always intrigued by what they are reading or who is influencing the way they pastor. And frankly, there’s a lot of influence tracing back to two particular books: Jim Collins Good to Great and Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing. (With Godin, many pastors are impacted by derivative works of Godin. Most of his new books simply flow from or expand on the lessons taught in his first major book though.)

Both are pretty old. 2001 and 1999 respectively. And they were pretty good books with some impact on the business community. But within churches? Their influence is huge. They are getting booked to speak at church leadership events but not with very many business leadership conferences anymore. See, when I hang out with start-up leaders and business folks… Collins and Godin are in the rear view mirror, artifacts. In an age of big data do you really think “Permission Marketing” is influential? If you are trying to get acqui-hired do you really give two craps about building a great company structure?

Where are the books on farming?

So here’s my point.

Do you really think people are coming to your church to experience a business? Have we devalued the churches sacramental, innately desired place in people’s lives to leftover department store management mantras and outdated marketing techniques? Is that all that’s left of the Good News? 

There’s bunches… MULTITUDES… of “church leadership” books which are built on business and marketing principles that were popular 15 years ago. But there is very little written about or learning experiences created for pastors to learn from the metaphors Jesus actually used relative to leading a church.

  • Shepherding a flock
  • Managing a field, pruning a vineyard
  • Casting nets to catch fish

These aren’t things you learn in the city. These aren’t things you learn in a classroom. You learn these things by getting dirty, long hours doing menial tasks, being patient, and learning skills from a master shepherd/farmer/fisher who learned from another master.

But formal ministry preparation looks almost exclusively to the city and never to the farm. The very act of getting ministry preparation usually means coming to the city and learning from city people.

Yet when I read the Gospels I see Jesus rolling his eyes and walking away from the rabbis and formally trained religious people in the city to go and invest in the regular people who understand some things only regular people can understand.

Friends, the Gospel isn’t elite. It’s not about sales and marketing. It isn’t reserved for those with the resources.

The Gospel is about bringing Good News to those who are hungry for it, the regular Joes.

Get your nose out of business books and start planting a garden, raising chickens, cast a line, going on a hunt…

Jesus said, “The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One who sent me, finishing the work he started. As you look around right now, wouldn’t you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time!

John 4:34-35, The Message

Church Leadership

A Leg to Stand On

Our high school small groups have a confidentiality rule. So I can’t get into the specifics of what happened last night, but I want to share something that happened last night in general terms.

Brian, our high school pastor, kicked it off by asking one of our college-aged volunteers to come up and share a conversation they’d had. The gist was that Brian was celebrating that she had come to him with her questions… questions spurred on by her taking the initiative to read the Bible and write down her questions.

His point was to encourage students to keep reading this year’s framing content from the Simple Truth Bible. But when we got into our small group time the guys said something like, “Is that what we’re doing tonight? Asking questions?

My co-leader and I did the exact same thing when they said that… folded up the nice little paper we were given as the nights lesson and put it away. “Yup, if you have questions… let’s go.”

A Leg to Stand On

Over the next hour or so a room full of high school sophomores asked us really, really hard questions. As I’ve said over and over again lately… we can’t forget that high school students are reading Shakespeare, Plato, Twain, Hemingway, and other classic literature. (Um, when was the last time you read the classics?) They are being challenged to think deeply, to unleash their intellectual minds, and to ask hard questions of the text.

But at church, [church at large, not Journey] we have a movement underway that assumes the audience knows nothing and regularly dumb things down to an irreducible minimum level of intellectual understanding. In short… we take things which really aren’t that simple and try to make them simple, for a head nod and an amen and a box checked.

Last night was a reminder that students, if given the space, have really good, important, and honest questions. I was asked questions last night about things that I’d never even thought of!

But I’ll tell you what: As these guys were asking and going from rabbit hole to rabbit hole of theological and biblical questions I was happy to have a leg to stand on

See, I’ve done plenty of personal and group Bible study. I’ve taught the Bible for years. I’ve read way too many theology books. And I’ve heard approximately 2.5 million sermons.

But in that moment, when the questions were flying, I was relying on formal education and training.

I’m convinced that youth workers, paid and volunteer, need the rigors of formal education and training.

It’ll stretch you and deepen your own faith. And it’ll prepare you for the random (but very important) questions of students in your ministry.

  • That means churches need to invest in formal education.
  • That means they have to pay people right when they’ve been properly trained.
  • That means they need to encourage (and expect) formal education for lay leaders.
  • That means they need to stop dumbing down the Gospel or theology or Bible teaching to an irreducible “felt need.”
  • That means they need to posture themselves as a place of exploration and discovery.

Can I Ask That Student SQUAREI didn’t write this post with this in mind, but it came to mind as I was writing. If you’re looking to get students asking questions and exploring deeper stuff… I highly recommend checking out Can I Ask That? from our friends at Fuller Youth Institute. We are selling a ton of it on our website.


Church Leadership

A Problem of Polity

Controversial Seattle megachurch founder Mark Driscoll will step down for at least six weeks while church leaders review formal charges lodged by a group of pastors that he abused his power. source

Most people seem aware of the situation with Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill. However you feel about the situation we can all agree on one thing: It’s a mess.

There’s little doubt that this has cast a shadow over a ministry that’s bigger than it’s leader. I can’t imagine trying to recruit people to check out a small group. “Yes, we’re a small group of Mars Hill. No, we’re not a cult. It’s just that… Yes, I understand. OK, thanks for listening. Goodbye.” I’ve heard from staff people who’ve lost their jobs. And I know other people who once went there and are hurting.

But this post isn’t about Mars Hill, really.

Turning Towards the Mess

If you’ve read about the Mars Hill mess and others like it, you’ll see that there’s a point in the growth of a church that people point back to as a turning point into the mess.

And that point is when the churches by-laws are changed.

Up until about 15 years ago most of these non-denominational, conservative evangelical churches had a church polity of congregational rule. Autonomous congregational rule is something of a baptist distinctive. Part of being baptist, or baptistic, as non-denominational churches like to set themselves apart by saying, is:

  1. autonomous – they don’t want anyone beyond the local church to have outside power, such as a denomination. But they’ve also been very shy about outside influence, as well.
  2. congregational rule – 15-20 years ago it was normal that a major part of membership at a baptistic church was voting rights. You’d go to congregational meetings, there would be presentations, things would be opened up to the floor for discussion, and if there needed to be, a vote would be taken.

Sometimes this autonomous congregational rule was very healthy. And other times it was really problematic for the pastors. They had a hard time getting people onto boards, getting people hired, or keeping people from getting fired. In unhealthy situations, a small group of people could call a meeting, they could make a case, and force a vote to ouster the pastor or change the direction of the church altogether.

But, as church polities go, the traditional baptist church polity did a fairly good job of providing checks and balances for the pastor and staff. They were largely able to do their work under the authority of the deacons or elders, but were always mindful that they could get questioned in a congregational meeting. It was a double-edged sword, but it was still a sword… the congregation had power.

There have always been hot shot, arrogant staff members. Heck, I’ve been one and a bunch of my friends have been that person, too. But the checks and balances of the church polity always managed to balance things out. A person got too brash or sloppy or whatever: The congregation fired them. Want to continue in ministry? You learn real quick.

The Making of a Mess

But, about 15 years ago, autonomous congregational rule started to fall out of style. 

I don’t remember where it really got going or who originated it. But I remember that by about 2005, our staff fell in love with a series of podcasts/books by Andy Stanley, and the point of emphasis for their entire case was built around moving away from autonomous congregational rule and moving your congregation to an elder rule, staff lead polity.

“If you want to get stuff done and your church to grow, you’ll first need to get the congregation out of the way.” Not the exact words, but definitely the message conveyed.

What does “elder rule, staff lead polity” mean? That means that, in most instances, the bylaws of the church are changed so that the congregation loses voting rights over the activities of the church. Instead, if they are asked to vote at all, they get to vote on elders. But ideally– the goal, in a true elder lead polity, is that the congregation doesn’t have any voting rights and essentially the pastor and elders of the church completely control the church.

Why would a hot shot pastor want that? Practically speaking, this means that a relatively small group of hand selected people act as general oversight but the staff make 100% of the daily decisions for the church. In some megachurches, these elders aren’t even people who go to the church at all, they are essentially board members and friends of the pastor/church. So why would I want that type of polity? Because if I want to be the captain of my ship… it’s a whole lot easier to dominate 8 of my friends than it is 2,000 voters. 

When making the change, the argument that’s made is a simple, yet powerful one. They reason that the average person in the pews can’t possibly understand the rigors of vocational, professional ministry. “So why let them make decisions?”

And, if you believe in the priesthood of the staff, that’s a perfectly acceptable position. (Whereas, another baptist distinctive is doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.) And if you’re a hot shot pastor what’s a little Scripture-twisting to get what you want? People are eating up my messages; I can say whatever I want!

See, here’s where the mess happens. It’s relatively easy to convince non-professional, non-vocational church attendees that the staff is best prepared to make all the day-to-day decisions of the congregation without any non-professional help. It’s particularly easy to convince 51% of the congregation that they aren’t highly trained, vocational church staff.

And so they vote away their voting rights and the staff takes over. 

Is It Always a Mess?

Of course not.

Thousands of congregations have made the move from congregational rule to elder rule and not had problems. For many of them, a self-governed staff has lead to brand new and powerful seasons of ministry. They are thriving under this new polity. So I want to be cautious and make sure I’m not painting a picture that the new fashion-forward-look of elder lead polity is necessarily bad.

But, at the same time, I want to bring up two points of caution:

  1. Putting all of the political power of a large, religious organization into the hands of a very small group of people is risky. As an outsider it might not seem like a lot of power, but to a vocational staff person, it is. It can be glorious and it can be a disaster. Either way it is risky.
  2. I think fostering a congregation whose only voice is whether or not to show up or whether or not to give financially is a short-term strategy. The most concerning thing you hear, as a congregant, in how people talk about this on the inside is a staff attitude of “if you don’t like it, find another church.” That gets to the heart of the matter: Pride.

Also worth pointing out? This style of elder lead, staff ruled polity has taken off at the same time as the church planting movement. Thousands of church planters look towards these folks as their heroes and have set-up their church polity exactly as their heroes have told them, meaning the conditions for a mess to develop could be incubating right now in lots of congregations around the country and you’ll never hear about them.

Avoiding the Mess

I don’t know how you can read 1 Corinthians and come to the conclusion that 1% of people can make 100% of the decisions for a congregation. Call me old school, but even as a staff member I really liked the traditional congregational rule. (I like the way Presbyterians handle polity, too.)

But if you’re going to operate this way, here are some suggestions.

  1. Require the congregation to get financially audited by a group like the ECFA every year.
  2. Term limits. For elders, specifically. But I’d be open to exploring the impact of term limits for pastoral staff. That’d certainly cut down on the pride issue.
  3. Create and foster a specific place the congregation can be heard. The Holy Spirit isn’t limited to speak just to the staff, give the people of your congregation a real voice… not a microphone in a room of 1,000 people. Maybe this is a non-staff lead committee?
  4. Create and empower a staff relations committee. The stuff I hear about the hiring, firing, and staffing conditions of people who work in churches is often times appalling. I can’t believe that if a congregation really knew what was going on that they’d stand for it. I’m not saying a larger church shouldn’t have an HR person, but I am absolutely saying that the HR practices should not be a staff-only thing. They need outside help to prevent abuses.

In short, if you are going to govern with an elder lead, staff-driven concept: Don’t set yourself up to fail. (Morally, legally, functionally)

You have the power to create  transparency, fairness, and internal controls… so don’t abuse the power given to you.

Obviously, this is all just my opinion. It’s not well-formed or anything that I’d call “an official position on church polity.” But it is environment I see that’s fostered some of the abuses in the publics eye right now.

Church Leadership

Muzzled Leaders

In 2010 Andrew Marin got himself in trouble for calling out a room full of Christian leaders. It was the best kind of trouble… black balled for saying what needed to be said.

Here’s what he said:

I stand silent to give dignity to a moment many Christians take for granted.

There are only a few sacred moments in one’s life—one of them is when you know in your heart that you’ve been set apart to dare to be remarkable by doing nothing other than believing in a just and powerful God.

The last great Roman satirical poet, Juvenal, commented about power by saying:

“But who is to guard the guards themselves?”

I am standing in a room with 600 gatekeepers to our faith. 600 influencers. 600 people that stand amongst and above the rest.

Maybe you don’t feel as such in your own mind.

But the Christian hierarchy proves different.

Jesus said that: “wisdom will be proven right by her actions.”

Well, our actions have only proven that ‘wisdom’ must be an elite group of predominantly white upper class individuals who care about their “Christian brands.”

I don’t care about your Christian brand, and neither does the Lord.

God says to Isaiah:

“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.

Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder.

The wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”

You all are the best; you are all the brightest that our faith has. And yet where are your hearts with the gay community?

How have your tangible actions proven the Lord’s wisdom right?

Is the culture war it too political? Too divisive? Too scary? Too unknown to stop us from changing our medium of engagement with gays and lesbians.

In his famous speech apologizing to America after his sex scandal, Bill Clinton said:

“This has gone on too long, cost too much and hurt too many innocent people.”

Friends, I plead with you today that you stop being a gatekeeper and start acting like Jesus.


Every day I’m astounded at the silence of Christians who are in leadership positions. In the face of abuses, they are silent. In the face of corruption, they are silent. In the face of social injustices, they are silent.

Many define themselves by what they say on the platform. But I think their public silence defines them.

It’s easy to say “I’m minding my business” or “I don’t want to risk hurting my organization.

But the silence gives permission for atrocities to continue.

The silence implies approval.

The silence proves to those you are called to lead that you aren’t a leader taking them bravely where they need to go.

The silence says you value your position more than you value your calling to serve something bigger than a job.

You think being silent sustains your ministry because you don’t want to make enemies with powerful people when, in fact, it kills it.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

You have a platform, not a brand.

Speak up.

Your community needs you.

Speak up. Speak out.


You don’t have a brand.

You only have Jesus.


Photo credit: Microphone by Evan Forester via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Church Leadership

You Had Vision for Me

Last month I turned 38. What? Thirty-eight. XXXVIII.


If you know me well you know I’m not much of a personal birthday celebrator. One of the most fun things I’ve done in the past five years was learn how to hide my birth date from Facebook so I didn’t have 200 people wishing me happy birthday. Fact is, I just don’t care about my birthday much. I celebrated this year with an appointment at the Passport Office.

Yeah, I’m 38. Big deal. Go to work.

Get on with it.

The Only Thing That Works For Me…

Adult life began for me around 20 years ago. A couple of weeks before my eighteenth birthday, Mid-May 1994, I moved out of my dad’s house in Mishawaka, Indiana and into a college dorm at Moody in Chicago with two strangers. High school graduation was three weeks away. I’d never missed school for more than a day or two in 13 years of school, but I had an opportunity to get a full-time job painting dorm rooms that’d help me pay for college so I took it. My teachers were awesome about it. I didn’t attend class the last three weeks of school and no one reported me absent. I didn’t take finals but got straight A’s.

After my first day of work I walked over to Cosmopolitan Bank & Trust on Clark Street and opened a checking account. If college were going to happen, I was going to make it happen. I opened my account with $50. On August 15th I had to write Moody a big check and the only one who was going to make that happen was me.

Two weeks later, when I got my first paycheck I saw that after taxes 40 hours per week of painting at $4.80 just wasn’t going to be enough to pay for college… so I walked around the Gold Coast for a few hours looking for another job. That afternoon I walked into a small ice cream shop on Oak Street, met the owner, and agreed that I’d start working 4 PM to close 6 days per week.

8 hours x $4.80 = $38.40 or $192 per week before taxes.

8 hours x $6.50 = $52 or $312 per week before taxes.

After taxes and $10 per week for food that meant I put away about $400 per week from June until mid-August when classes started, then I cut back from two full-time jobs to just one because of classes so I could pay my Winter school bill.

In those 12 weeks I learned some things:

  • I can make my way.
  • The only money I appreciate is money I’ve earned.
  • God may be my provider, but make no bones about it, that provision wasn’t a gift… it’s earned.
  • 80 hours of work per week isn’t bad. 96 is way better because of the overtime.

Looking back, the biggest thing I learned in that first summer as an adult was this: The only thing that works for me is hard work. 

There’s No Shame in Confidence

Twenty years later I can look back at that period with fondness. I don’t have rose-colored lenses about it. I remember how hard it was because it’s not like today is a whole lot easier. The Summer of 1994 was just the first round, a foreshadowing of what was to come. (2001-2002 was far more difficult.)

In that moment— it was exhilarating. There’s no finer feeling than walking up to a window and writing a check to pay for your education.

I remember the day I went to pay for my first semester. I woke up early, showered, and shaved. I put on a nice shirt. I was nervous. I waited in line, took my turn at the window, handed the lady my bill and my check, and I forced myself to hold it together.

She stamped my bill “paid” and handed it back to me. I put it into my checkbook, cool. Then I calmly walked over to the elevator bank, hit the button, and waited.

When the door closed on that elevator I celebrated.

I don’t mean a fist pump and a head nod. Or a tear of gratitude or a quiet prayer of thanksgiving.

I’m talking spike the football, full Richard Sherman mode

  • Don’t doubt me.
  • Don’t tell me what I can’t do.
  • Don’t tell me I don’t have what it takes.

Yes… without a doubt… I was laughing in the face of doubters. I heard the murmurs. I saw the looks. And so walking into that office and writing that check and seeing that word “paid” on my bill was proof to me. The only thing that works for me is hard work. 

In that moment I didn’t just prove people wrong, I proved something to myself. 

And I wanted to do it again. I had to. And I did… I’ve paid my own bills and earned my way since that day.

Over the years I’ve been told some people think I’m arrogant. Or a little too confident for a Christian leader. I’ve been told I can be cocky.

Well, conversely, over the years I’ve met a lot of people who are soft. The simple fact is I don’t have as much respect for someone who had stuff handed to them that I do for people who earned it. Why? Because that’s where I’ve come from. That’s my reality. Mommy and daddy didn’t write checks for me… I had to write checks for myself. I think that’s why friends like Andy Marin and I get along so well. Yup, we’ve accomplished some things. But no one gave us anything. We made it happen. Team Hustle, baby.  And when the rewards come they are just that much sweeter.

To some people titles, responsibilities, and leadership roles are given. I tip my cap to them. I know that’s the way the world works. Some people get stuff handed to them because of who their parents are or who they know. That’s just not my world. Everything that has come to me as come because of hard work. No one gave me a title or responsibility or a leadership role.

So you can look at me and say I’m arrogant or whatever. Truthfully, I’ve been called worse and probably deserved it.

I just think that people who judge me without knowing me misread confidence for arrogance. 

The Next Thirty-Eight Years

I don’t think I’ve arrived. Pfft… what does “arrive” even mean for a blue collar kid? There’s no retirement party coming or 30 years of golf in my future. Eavesdrop on a walk with Kristen and I one evening and you’ll hear how aggressive I am about what we’re doing at the Cartel. We’ve hustled to get here. And we’re going to hustle to get where we’re going.

The fact is that the first twenty years is only setting up the next 38.

The challenge for the first twenty years has been… “How do we get from here… NOTHING… onto the pathway of the vision God laid on my heart as a broke, punk seventeen year old who figured out a way to get into Bible college?

The challenge for the next season is getting other people on board. No coronations, no hand outs, no freebies… together we get there by hard work, the only thing that truly works for me.

I’m thankful for the vision God had for me.

All of the crap I went through, every hard day from there to here, makes sense.

God’s vision for my life has been so much harder, more fun, and more rewarding than I could have ever figured out on my own.

Photo Credit: Joe Dyndale via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Church Leadership

Literal Pastor Titles

The other day I got the giggles thinking about the absurdity of the titles people get at multi-staff churches. Sure, these titles describe a role. But it also says something about what the other pastors don’t have to do because that person is on staff.

Literal Pastor Titles: What They Really Mean…

Church Leadership

Do you own that? Ethical considerations for church workers

“Make sure you know who owns what.” 

I remember Bob MacRae, my undergrad advisor, telling that to a class full of youth ministry majors about the stuff that you acquire and produce as part of your job.

This brought up ethical questions like: