The Lies We Buy Into

Laying in the grass in our front yard last night, Paul and I were chatting about his 9th birthday. His birthday turned out great. Since his party is this weekend we just did the family thing on his actual birthday. After dinner, he blew out the candles on his birthday cake and opened his presents. He was surprised and smiling and happy.

At some point in the conversation I asked Kristen if she remembered what she got for her 9th birthday, 27 years ago. She didn’t remember.

Then I thought about that question for myself.

June 2nd, 1985

It dawned on me. On June 2nd, 1985, I got baseball cards for my 9th birthday.

I was into baseball cards as a kid. I saved all of my money to buy great big boxes of them at the comic book store in downtown Mishawaka, Indiana. I would open each pack in the box and categorize each card by team before cataloging them in a great, big box. I’d take the best cards and put them into a folder. Sometimes I traded them but mostly I just held onto them.

And on my birthday for a couple of years I got a full set of Topps baseball cards. I had full sets from 1984 – 1988.

And I still have all of them. I still have full sets from 1984 – 1988. I still have my precious binder from when I was a kid. And I still have that box of carefully categorized cards, complete with my 9 year old handwriting of each teams name.

Why do I still have them? Because I still believe a lie about baseball cards.

I believe that one day they will have value again. And that belief has lead me to hold onto them for 27 years.

They moved to Germany and back with me in 1992. They went to college with me in 1994. They’ve moved with Kristen and I several times in my married life. Three times I have paid to put them in a a moving truck and shipped them across the country just so they could sit in my garage again.

And all of it goes back to a single conversation I had with my dad when I was a kid. He said his mom had sold his baseball cards at a garage sale and he wished he still had them, they were worth some money.

My dad didn’t lie to me. He was telling the truth. But it was me that convinced myself that I could never depart with these things.

Trust me, Don Mattingly’s rookie card will never have the same value as Mickey Mantle’s. In fact, of the thousands of cards I have I’m positive that none of them are worth more than $5 individually.

So why do I keep them? Why don’t I just toss them out or put them on Craigslist? Why don’t I just give them to Paul & Jackson to play with?

Because I believe a lie that one day I’ll need them. I believe that one day, if I don’t have them, they will be worth a lot of money and I’ll be sad that I didn’t listen to my dad.

That lie defies logic because I believe it.

More than baseball cards…

I’m a smart guy. I make good decisions. And I still fall into the trap of believing some lies in my life. I can look at all of the evidence, I can know that the belief is silly, stupid even, but I just can’t kick it.

When someone lies to you, it hurts. But when you lie to yourself? It’s a trap.

Church Leadership

The Goal of the Staffless Church


Which came first? The staff who ran the programs or the programs which required the hiring of staff?

No offense to my friends who work at churches– but I wonder if their goal is to secure a job for life or to work themselves out of a job as quickly as possible?

When I read church growth strategy books and articles I’m always amazed that they only talk about getting larger budgets, larger buildings, and larger staffs. Never mind that it’s a horrible strategy. Most think tanks only think about one strategy… how to get bigger. The idea of getting more efficient is ludicrous.

When I read about the church of the first 100 years after Jesus I see a church growth strategy of “get in, train people up, and get out as fast as possible.

Here’s a centuries old tried and tested church growth strategy we have rejected: With no staff your church will grow.

The “if you build it they will come model” of the last 50 or so years has lead to utter devastation of the church. Numbers are down big time. Sure, you can point examples of big churches. And no doubt people will leave comments saying how awesome their programs are. But the percentage of Americans regularly involved in the local church has declined sharply in the current multi-staff model.

The fact remains that a church with less staff will be forced to be the church more than a church with programs where people show up and everything is done for them. This “worked” for thousands of years. What we are doing now isn’t working and we all know it.

At some point someone decided that everyone needed to be on staff at the church. So we hired a music pastor. A worship pastor. A youth pastor. A children’s pastor. An associate pastor. An administrative pastor. A senior ministry pastor. And all of that staff required administrative support. Oh- and they’ll need offices and space– so we’ll need a bigger building.

If I put my businessman’s glasses on I examine this trend and say: You’ve added a lot of overhead. Your business multiplied by 25 times, right?

Wrong. The strategy didn’t work. But now we have an entire industry of church workers in an environment where they are reaching fewer and fewer people with bigger, more expensive programs. Now we’ve created an entitlement that simply isn’t sustainable nor is it leading to the growth long ago predicted.

It’s almost too easy for me to point to examples of this in other countries. (We certainly saw this in Haiti.) But it’s also true among the exploding Latino and African-American churches in the United States. With almost no infrastructure they reach thousands. In your own community it is likely that there is a church kicking butt with nearly no overhead of staff or a building.

I’m well aware of the biblical justifications that church staff deserve to make an income. Yes, I’ve used that myself. I’m not arguing that you have a right to claim that to be true. I’m merely questioning the strategy and inviting you to recognize that this strategy has seemingly paralyzed the church.

Even those who bring up the Pauline argument for getting paid in ministry often neglect to mention that Paul also didn’t implement this strategy in all the places he ministered. Nor did he ever buy a house and start a family.

Some questions to get you thinking

  • Where does the offering at your church go?
  • Where did the funds in Acts go?
  • How much has your church grown in the last 10-30-50 years using the current staff-heavy strategy?
  • What would it look like if say… 90% of that offering were given away in your community to feed the poor, care for the sick, take in orphans, protect widows, on and on?
  • Don’t you think that would be good news to the neighborhood?

What I’m not saying

  • The church is wrong to have staff
  • The church should fire staff
  • All of my friends who do associate level ministry are bad/dumb/hurting the ministry of the church in their community
  • My own church is bad, filled with money hungry punks who make fat salaries. (Um, they all raise their own support!)

What I am saying

  • A church as effective as the Book of Acts is possible today.
  • Churches should ask hard questions about meeting the needs of their community.
  • A lot of church growth strategies are really “church growth industry” growth strategies.
  • Church leaders should challenge their assumptions of what they know vs. what they know to be true in Scripture.
  • It is possible for the local church to reach 90%+ people in your community.
  • We should not be satisfied to “pay the bills” and reach 5-10% of our community.

Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.
Ephesians 5:14

Church Leadership

2 Lies of Church Employment


Each week I encounter a new story of a church worker that angers me. These are stories from youth workers who have been wronged by the people they trusted with their lives… their church employer. Churches who fire them because they didn’t reach the right kids. Churches who fire a staff member because their spouse got pregnant. Churches who fire because a senior leader wants to hire a younger youth worker.

If not for a deep love of God and His bride I don’t think these people could go on. Know right now that I have a deep love for the church. This is not an attack. This post acknowledges that there are churches who are good employers and bad employers. (There’s my first disclaimer)

It sickens me that things routinely happen in the church, a place that represents Christ the king of Justice, that would be illegal in a business. It sickens me that I routinely encounter people who are wronged, been discriminated against, treated unfairly, not paid according to their contracts… and all of these people have a deep love for the church that just takes it.

I want to share with you two lies of church employment. These are lies that are so commonly believe that it will shock you when I address them.

1. The church is exempt from all employment laws. I’ve heard this lie so many times that I was SHOCKED to discover it is not true. A church is an employer in the United States. All employment is governed by the Department of Labor. There are very few places where the church is allowed to be exempt, your church better talk to a lawyer. But, in total, the church is not exempt from the basic provisions the government outlines. The biggest violations I see over and over involve the minimum wage laws. Unless you are a “professional” (e.g. ordained and/or certified somehow as a professional by an organization) your work is covered by the minimum wage law. So a church cannot tell you, “we’ll pay you the first 30 hours per week, but you are required to work 10 more as ministry hours.” If it is required, and you are hourly, they must pay you for that work time as well as overtime. Nor can a church have unpaid interns. Churches do this so often that you think its OK, it’s not. You can have all the volunteers you want. But if you call someone an intern and they have set work hours, you have to pay them. (Cash payment can be offset by living expenses, but its taxable income too!) This stuff goes on and on. The church, outside of “professionals” is not exempt from discrimination laws. (Age, sex, religious background, ethnicity, you know the routine) Nor can a church make your spouse and/or childrens attendance required as a term of your employment. Nor can they fire you because you are too old. Nor can they pass you over because of your gender or ethnicity. In short, the church is not exempt from federal employment laws in all areas! There is an assumption that the church can do whatever they want… they can’t.

2. You can’t take legal action against a church when you are wronged. This is a cultural stigma, isn’t it?  In the last 5 years I’ve repeatedly encouraged those wronged [I term this “left for dead”] to hire an attorney and pursue legal action. I don’t know of a single case where a person did that. Why? The stigma of suing a church is so strong. People always toss out a Bible verse and say, “it’s wrong to sue Christians.” I would agree with you if that’s what the Bible actually said! If you think its wrong to ever sue a church or an individual, please go read 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 right now. Paul is not saying you can’t ever sue. He’s saying people within the church shouldn’t sue one another over trivial things.

A family bankrupted and left for dead by their employer is hardly trivial! What about the pastor fired because the board wants someone younger? Not trivial. What about the salaried staff member who has wages garnished because he left 30 minutes early on a Sunday after putting in 60+ hours the rest of the week? Not trivial. What about the church worker who has a church completely violate his privacy and discloses medical information to the congregation? Not trivial! What about the church worker who has his contract changed whimsically by the board… he’s the youth pastor one day, the childrens pastor the next, and maybe not employed the third day. Trivial? These things are happening RIGHT NOW, like this week. Shouldn’t those people do something about it?

Simply by working at a church these people have not given up their rights to be treated fairly. Our legal system provides avenues of correction for both employee and employer. We all know 99% of these cases would never make it to a trial, but church workers need to feel the freedom to protect themselves. And churches need to know that they can’t mistreat workers.

When I hear these stories I know that most churches do what they do to their staff because they feel like they are exempt from employment laws and that no one will ever sue them. The sad reality is that nothing will change until we educate ourselves about our rights and make it known that church staff will take legal action against villanous churches who wrong workers.

I smell a guest post from an employment lawyer coming. If you want exact information about a situation, please consult an attorney. Just so everyone realizes this… I’m not giving legal advice! (There’s my second disclaimer)

Church Leadership

What to Say When the Youth Pastor Leaves


It’s June. Professional youth ministries most dangerous month. I’ve served in three churches and all the hiring, firing, quitting, and retiring with the youth ministry seems to happen in June. It’s a wicked combination of the end of the school year and for a lot of churches, the end of the budget year. I could offer some theories as to why so many churches hire and fire in June… but that’s not the point of this post.

“What do we say when the youth pastor leaves?”

Church leaders: Tell the truth. If the person quit, just say they quit. You don’t have to spin it. Just tell it like it is.

But if you are firing them, I can’t tell you how many people I have talked to who were fired and then asked to enter into an agreement (never in writing) that for a sum of money they will say that they have decided to quit. Hundreds. If you are man or woman enough to fire a person than be man or woman enough to tell the congregation. You don’t pay severence to someone you are firing to cover up the fact that you are firing them. You pay them severance because they are self-employed and ineligible to claim unemployment benefits. It only makes matters worse when you fire a person and then put on a charade that you are sad to see them go. You throw a party, you say all sorts of glowing things in public when you know full well that you sat in a board room and decided this person needed to be fired. If you lie, your lie will be found out. Your sin will be exposed and the embarrassment you were trying to avoid will come back to haunt you for years. If you made a brave decision as the leadership of the church then it is a sign of your strength as leaders. When you try to wuss out, it shows what kind of leaders you are.

The truth always wins.

Church staff: Tell the truth. If the leaders of your church dismissed a person don’t ever lie about it. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “The leaders decided to go another direction.” You don’t have to go into the specifics of why the person was fired. But don’t participate in the leaders lie if they are trying to spin the truth. That makes you party to the lie! Your corroborating the leaders story and remember, the truth will come out eventually. And remember, this is exactly how you will be treated if they let you go later.

The truth always wins.

Youth Pastor: Tell the truth. I have been in your shoes. I know what it’s like to have that meeting where the leaders tell you that you aren’t the person they want pastoring their kids anymore. I have felt my world crash around me in that moment. I’ve looked across that table when they told me what to say. They are going to wave a big check in front of your eyes and you are going to think, “How else can I feed my family? How will I pay my rent? How will I have enough money to get the heck out of here?Just don’t get bought by Satan. Think about it… would Jesus ask you to lie in His name? Not telling the truth is telling a lie! Church leaders who ask you to lie for a little bit of money are doing the work of your sworn enemy. Walk out of that meeting with integrity. Do not cave to their pressure and promise of financial security to further their lie. They will end up offering you the same severance check anyway… because it is the right thing to do and the congregation will demand it. Moreover, your telling a lie to the congregation will only make matters worse. They are trying to get you to take the fall because they know you are leaving the church.

Candidates for youth ministry positions: Find the truth. Your well-being and the well-being of your family and future ministry depend on you discovering the truth! If you are interviewing at a church you need to talk to the former youth worker. During the interview process ask the search committee about the previous person. Then ask for their email address or phone number so you may contact them. This is 2009, you can find them in 10 minutes on the internet. Be a detective and get to the truth as to why that person left. If there is a lie… don’t take the job. This is precisely how you will be treated. If the previous youth worker was fired and the pastor and the elders participated in that lie, confront them! No matter how good they make that job sound, that entire relationship will be based on lies unless they come clean. Confront their sin and then don’t take the job. Show them what a leader looks like.

Some may read this and think, “Boy, Adam McLane has a chip on his shoulder about this. You would be correct. I am sick of seeing my friends in ministry asked to lie for a few thousand bucks. I am sick of churches hiding the fact that have fired a person. I am tired of the Bride of Christ doing things that are worse– even illegal— than what happens in the business world. I know that a healthy ministry can only be built on the truth. And it is time to speak up and get some truth out there.

hmm... thoughts

Lies of Youth Ministry, part 2

The second lie of youth ministry is that it is all about discipleship. This is a lie which starts with bad hermeneutics, continues with training built around selective theology, and is encouraged by inward looking church leaders.

Here’s how this lie plays out. Most youth ministers are wholly focused on building the size of their program. If they work for a church, having a large and busy youth program means that they can justify their salary and spend their time thinking about ways to add more programs to make their programs bigger and busier. If they work for a parachurch it’s even simpler as givers like to see numbers… as in the United States big numbers mean you are significant so “hundreds” sounds so much more significant  than “tens.”

The thinking of both is backwards because we think that if we disciple a lot of people, we will grow. And, if you are in a church context the busier you keep the church kids the more “discipleship” you are seen as doing from the bosses and parents perspective.

In fact, as I was trained, discipleship predicates evangelism. To state the lie more clearly, most youth ministries training programs teach that in order to reach more people we have to focus on training those you have. And some of the training I’ve received suggest 2-3 years of discipleship before you try to reach a single person.

Two quick theological points for this lie.

#1 Check out the parable of the lost sheep. When you do ministry in a community with “lost sheep” (meaning students who haven’t heard the gospel) do you think you should focus your attention on “the 99?” I think youth ministry should be focused primarily on evangelism and reaching the lost and secondarily mentoring the found. A lot of my fellow youth workers like to mention that Jesus only had a small discipleship group of 12. But let’s not forget that he had 12 disciples while reaching, feeding, and performing miracles to the multitudes.

#2 In a single sitting, read Acts 2-4. Go ahead. I’ll wait. So what did you see? I saw that the leaders didn’t wait for 2-3 years while new believers were being discipled. They were compelled by the urgency of the gospel! In fact, they discipled while reaching multitudes. The more institutional the church gets the less people they reach. So while many youth workers build programs, they miss thousands of opportunities to be on the front lines at their schools reaching lost kids day-by-day.

You see, if youth ministry is all about discipleship, it never would have gotten started in the first place! The reason parachurch youth ministry got rolling in the 40s-60s was because the “church” thought Jesus’s salvation was for the church kids.

Youth workers (paid, volunteer, expert, rookies) don’t get caught in the lie of reaching the found and being satisfied with the lost finding you. Coddling the apathetic, baysitting the saved, and entertaining the church’s youth is not why we do youth ministry. We do youth ministry to reach the lost!

And we disciple our church kids best by being Christ-like in our walk with Jesus. Read Acts 2-4 again... it’s a two-fold plan for discipleship, isn’t it?

Church leaders: Wanna see your church grow? Try reaching people without a program. Get out of the office and start serving IN your community instead of serving OUTSIDE of your community.

Part one: The 10% Rule

Part two: It’s about discipleship

Part three: You have to have a youth pastor

Church Leadership Marketing

Lies of Youth Ministry, Part One

Boys and girls in youth ministry we’ve got some problems. We in youth ministry, as a tribe, believe some lies about who we are, what we’re about, and how we should be reaching students. Let’s address these and move forward to fix them, OK?

#1 Your ministry is “successful” if you have 10% of Sunday morning attendance. My entire youth ministry career has been wrapped up in the local church so I can state this from experience. But let’s bear in mind historical perspective to understand this lie before we can look at a solution. The current version of Youth Ministry is really a reaction to the success of early parachurch ministries. Back in the late 1940s modern youth ministry was born when Youth for Christ hired Billy Graham to lead crusades to reach teenagers… and boy did that work! YFC’s crusades scratched a cultural itch since teens had been left out of the local church with the emergence of adolescence. (Adolescence is only about 120 years old!) As a strong middle class was born out of post-WWII days adolescent teen culture blossomed and the church was seen as irrelevant to teens. Gradually, in the early 1960s the American church responded in a big way to numerical victories of parachurch ministries. Churches were tired of seeing all of the students go to YoungLife and Youth for Christ… so they started hiring those organization’s staff to run programs in local churches.

It was a great concept, but from the very beginning youth ministry was seen by church leadership as a way to hold onto church kids and maybe, just maybe, reach new families. This fixed a problem parachurches had without truly addressing the church issue that created the parachurch need in the first place… no place for non-believers to be ministered to.

The truth is that local churches royally ruined what the parachurches were doing. To even call what most churches do “youth ministry” is demeaning to its evangelistic heritage. Instead of youth pastors being hired to reach a high school they were hired to grow/maintain a local church. (In fact, I’ve talked to countless youth pastors who were fired for trying to reach lost students!) The lie is that a good youth ministry is about growing a church. In most cases, a youth pastor’s job is so limited and focused on the church that it’s really not about reaching lost kids at all. (Appropriate lip service is always about evangelism!) I’ve actually sat in youth ministry networks and listened to youth pastors sound satisfied that they are reaching 50-60 students with their ministry. The target isn’t a percentage of butts in seats on Sunday morning! Reaching 50 students while 1950 have never heard the gospel is a gross failure.

True success comes when you reach and disciple brand new people for Jesus Christ! The first lie points to the fact that church-based youth ministry largely lies to itself and calls itself a success when it reaches less than 1% of students in a community. Is it the individual youth pastor’s fault? Absolutely not. It’s a design flaw worth addressing. The truly successful youth ministries in this country focus on the lost in their schools and could care less what percentage of saved church kids come to their programs.

Questions for youth workers: Do you agree with my use of the term “lie?” If so, what are some ideas for fixing this in your context? If you don’t agree, I still love you. But I’d like to hear your push back.

Lie #2 It’s about discipleship

Lie #3 You have to have a youth pastor

Church Leadership management Marketing

3 Lies of Church Growth Experts

Right now there are a lot of people making a lot of money telling churches how they can grow. Along the same lines, there are a lot of church boards and pastors wasting a lot of time discussing church growth strategy.

An observation. Have you noticed that churches that want to grow (100 to 1000 people) flock to churches that grew 10, 20, or 30 years ago but have since plateaued? It’s like asking Bill Gates, “How do you start a software company?” Bill wouldn’t have a clue! When he wants to start a software company he buys one! In the same way, asking a church of 10,000 how to grow is a waste of time because they knew how to do it in their town 10, 20, or 30 years ago but haven’t a clue how to do it today in your town!

So let me save your church some time and money. Here are 3 guaranteed ways NOT to grow a church. There must be 20 conferences, 50 books, and 100 consultants based on these three lies. 

#1 You have to have a great ____ ministry. This lie has been out there forever. A church with a great van ministry that’s really reaching people will one day go, “Hey… let’s start teaching people how to start a van ministry so they can copy us!” Same thing with student ministry, kids ministry, music ministry, puppet ministry, after school ministry, seniors ministry, etc. None of these programs will grow your church! It’s just a marketing lie to think that you can grow a church by having a great program. Having great programs is vitally important to the mission of any church (reaching and discipling people) but there isn’t a program out there that will grow a church from 300 to 1000 people! If you see a conference, book, or consultant who tells you “If you just have ____ you’ll see the growth you are looking for” just know that you’re being sold an idea that worked in one location and won’t work in yours. The best consultants will look deeply into your organization before recommending anything!

#2 If You Build it They Will Come Building stuff and remodeling stuff is highly addictive. But buildings and environments don’t grow churches. I’ve been to some real dumps that were exploding in growth. And I’ve been to some beautiful buildings that were empty. Have you ever been to Europe? There you can visit some of the best looking church buildings in the world, they are mostly empty on Sunday mornings. As a 16 year old I toured the Cathedral in Strasbourg France. Completed in 1439 the cathedral is amazing in its beauty. It was the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874. Talk about a city on a hill! Want to know how many people go there now? None.

A ministry will endure when it focuses on its task at hand way more than its location. Location means squat. (Just ask the Chinese!)

If someone is telling you that a new building or a new _____ will grow your church, they are either deceived or trying to sell you something. Take a tour of some of the fastest growing churches in the United States and you won’t be overly impressed with architecture, ornate decoration, or interior design. What’s on fire in those places is not the building!

#3 “You have to be more focused on reaching people than keeping people.” This is just ignorant marketing! It’s even worse pastoring.

The best thing you can do to grow a church is to lead, grow, and love the people in your church. If they are growing, being lead  to deeper expressions of their faith, and feeling loved by the people of the church, they will tell their friends. That makes sense along every front a church looking to grow. Marketing, strategy, leadership. 

The only church growth advice that I’ve ever heard that is truly a guarantee is “All healthy organisms grow.” That is dead on. If only the folks looking to grow their churches would focus on getting the church they have today healthy, it would grow. But to take an unhealthy church and try to grow it with a new building or a new program or a new focus is just silly. 

Q for Church leaders: What do you think? Do you think I’ve captured 3 lies in church growth? Or do you think those experts out there really have something that can help you grow your church?