Christian Living

Lead us to the river bank

Photo by Patrick Medved via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Can you imagine what was running through Moses’ head as he stood there on the bank of the Nile waiting for Pharoah to arrive? (Exodus 7)

  • I’m doing what God told me to do. (Kept on Repeat.)
  • Uh, why didn’t I write that down? Did God say today or was it next week?
  • Why didn’t God turn like a master blaster grenade launcher into a snake? Why this stupid stick? I feel like an idiot with a stick.
  • This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. Aaron, is this the dumbest thing I’ve ever done? Don’t answer that.
  • God didn’t say what Pharaoh and his posse might do to me. Aaron, did God say He’s got our back if they shoot arrows at us?
  • What if this doesn’t work and I’m just a moron yelling at Pharaoh on the side of the river? A burning bush told me so, yeah that will stand up in court.
  • I look like an idiot. What am I doing here?

Standing there. On the banks of the Nile. Pharaoh shows up and Moses only has plan A. If this doesn’t work he’s a dead man.

Faith Like Moses

Has there ever been a time in your life where you’ve stood on the river banks yelling and demanding something so big and so important that you were willing to stake everything for it?

These are questions I’m asking myself as I start this week…

When does my theology get in the way of my faith? Are there things I believe God can’t do? Are there problems I’ve been told are unsolveable? Am I afraid to seek the miraculous? Am I afraid what might happen if I am dumb enough to obey God’s command, wake up in the morning, take my brother and my staff and just wait on the banks of the river and say the exact words He gave me to say?

The Bible is full of stories of men and women dumb enough to believe in the impossible. Today we look at them as heroes. But they defied logic, they felt dumb, and their friends/family probably told them they were dumb. (Until they pulled it off.)

They pushed aside Plan B, C, and D and just obeyed the Lord’s commands. They stood on river banks yelling at Pharaoh. They lit soaking rocks on fire. They gave birth to children in their nineties. They looked at blind men and told them to see. They got out of the boat and walked on water.

My prayer for the week: God, lead us to your river bank. Make us a people stupid enough to obey you. Bring miracles which explode our theology. Allow us to put your commands above our plans. We are desperate for you to be God and for us to be Your people.  Amen.

Church Leadership

Churches don’t reach people…

Time For Plan B Photo by Bjørn Giesenbauer via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Churches don’t reach people… People do.

Maybe that’s a statement of the obvious for you. But if you read enough church blogs or look at enough books or listen to a bunch of pep talks you may begin to believe the lie that churches, their leaders, and their programs reach a lot of people.

They don’t.

Less than 5% of our culture is actively involved in church. That’s a lot of smoke and not much fire.

Neighbors loving neighbors reaches people. Which involves talking and getting to know people who live next door to you. Which involves you being home and not hiding in your house.

Here’s a little secret I learned from working on church staff.

It feels good to keep people busy.

It makes you think you’re being productive. It makes you think that they are keeping your ministry a priority. You look really good with lots of things going on and people running around like busy little bees.

Having a lot of people involved in your programs is a powerful temptation as a church staff member. The bottom line is that you feel like its your job to grow a program. Heck, there’s a good chance it IS your job to grow a program.

But if you step back for a minute and think about it– For every moment you are keeping a person at the church “doing ministry” you are actually preventing them from doing the one thing we know works. And the one thing every believer, including your pastor, is called to do universally.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39

A lot of church involvement is actually counter intuitive to your church actually reaching a community.

It might feel good to keep people busy. But in the end it is killing your ability to grow the church.

Reality Check

For Kristen and I it took stepping out of a busy bee church and into a situation where we could simply say no to everything but church attendance to have this truth awakened in us.

Believing in the “churches reach people” paradigm is really just an excuse for me to not reach out in love to those in my neighborhood. I might feel pretty good about keeping busy in the church. But my life ends up with a lot of smoke and not much fire.

We try to do the bear minimum and I still feel like we are over involved. We have church on Sunday. Community group on Monday night. And youth group on Tuesday night. (I’d skip church and youth group over community group, by the way. Community group is our lifeline.)

And it still feels like too much.


What if community service became the program of the church? What if you had a simple service on Sunday morning and then sent the people of the church out to apply what they’ve learned in their life?

What if the role of the staff is to go out with the people of your congregation and work alongside? Not as a program overlord, but as an encourager and equipper.

Wouldn’t that be a biblical expression of church?

Or have we bought so firmly into the current paradigm that we don’t think simple expressions of faith in action will work anymore?

Church Leadership

Build Something Endearing


Cultivate Leaders in Tough Times

A few weeks back I talked about a quick trip I made up to Irvine to do a video shoot with Dave Gibbons, pastor of Newsong Church. I was privileged that he made time for me and thought enough about YS to share some thoughts about why a youth ministry training event is still important even when times are tough financially.

Even in the best of times church decision makers wrestle with continuing education dollars. It’s so refreshing to hear senior leaders who understand the value in training and encouragement from people in your tribe. If you’ve never been to NYWC… there is a magical component when you meet hundreds of other youth workers and you have an instant bond. The community of a shared burden and experiences is so renewing!

p.s. Random sidenote. Check me out! This video is well lit, in focus, and I even did a quick sound check before we began.

Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

More than a web guy, a lesson for church staff

There are times when I realize that I’m not showing a ton of depth. Or maybe, it is that I get so pigeon-holed into being the person someone needs that I don’t get to exhibit depth.

I feel that way right now.

I’ve gotten ingrained here in San Diego as a social media geek. Within my world that may be true. But I recognize that within that skill is a tie to lifelong passion. But the passion itself is much more important than the method I’m trying to master. At work this is perfectly natural. I have no doubt that people there value me beyond my skills because I know that, in turn, I value their friendship beyond their skills or positions.

Let me restate what I’m saying. I care a lot about building community online. I care deeply about networking people and ideas. I have learned best practices, nuance, and supporting skills to make it easier to convey my passion in more effective ways. Ultimately, that’s a skill set that could be applied to a lot of genres and businesses. But my passion is for working with middle and high schoolers and encouraging/networking/sharing life with those who do the same thing.

Take the passion out of what I do and I don’t want to do it. I may be able to give some sage advice or share a few things about what works… but if you’re out there trying to network with me so I can help you build a social networking strategy, I’m probably not going to be that useful to you. I know you are just using me.

At the end of the day, I’m good at social media only because I care so much about the message I’m trying to convey.

The frustrating thing is that I think I am only interesting to some of the new people I’ve been getting to know in San Diego because of those auxiliary skills and not because of what I’m passionate about. It’s as if my only value is tied into some skills I’ve learned and that feels really, really shallow. It’s a slight that I see right through. Asking me about my kids or my hobbies to try to get me to share some tricks of the trade is lame. I don’t ever want to tie my value as a human being into the fact that I can build a website, or develop a brand, or tie that into a social media strategy. Lame. Lame. Lame!

I don’t think this is unlike people who become fake friends when you work at a church. You kind of know they are fake but you’re so desperate for friendship that a fake friend is better than no friend at all. When we worked at churches there were plenty of people who valued our friendship because of a socialogical positional thing. 24 months ago if I had written down a list of people who would be our friends if we stopped being their pastor and I would have have been 100% correct. Not to sound emo, but the shocking thing is how sincere people pretended to be all those years. You’d be surprised by how few people we hear from after nearly 10 years of full time ministry friendships. 10? 15? 20 tops.

For church staff, this is one shallow nature of relationship that makes the job so hard.

But, now that we aren’t there anymore we have no value to them and we’ll never hear from them again.

The flip side for church staff is simple. Open your lives up to those who are legitimately sincere in their friendship. Trust your gut. Just like Kristen and I have found real friendship over the years… a couple of bad apples shouldn’t catapult you into a life of keeping people at a distance.

Church Leadership

Alpha Male Pastors

I long to see this as a caveat for ministry job openings: Dominant alpha males need not apply. Dear Lord, let it come soon!

I had three different conversations with or about lead pastors Thursday. Two were horrible and one was exhilarating. All three encounters lead me to express my frustration with alpha male senior pastors. How do these people stay in ministry? Oh yeah, they are allowed to fire people…

Define term alpha male pastor please.I’d love to. Obviously, they are male. And they are the big dogs at a church. They lord their power over everyone. (Mostly behind closed doors.) One word description, dominant. They lay in bed and dream of themselves as Mufasa over their church kingdoms. They would like to think that everyone shudders at their brilliance when they hear their name. Every single one of them thinks they are brilliant and that they will one day write a book that sells more copies than Purpose Driven Life.

Situation #1 I exchanged emails yesterday with a church staff member sharing his frustration with his AMP. Well, he wasn’t really sharing frustration with me, because that sort of disloyalty isn’t allowed in Mufasa’s pride. He contacted me about a very practical problem but within a couple of short exchanges the truth came out that his AMP wouldn’t let him lead the youth group. So let me get this right, a church hires a man… calls him a pastor, grades him on his ability to lead the youth group… then is hamstrung by an insecure AMP from doing his job they called and paid him to do? Brilliant. I’m sure that the AMP will feel completely justified when that guy quits, his life devastated. I wish it weren’t true… but I think I have this same conversation with one church staff member per week.

Situation #2 I had a conversation with a church staff member sharing a complete lack of human decency by his AMP. Of course, this staff member couldn’t tell his AMP that he was being a jerk because that was ultimately questioning the virility of the AMP. Questioning an AMP about any of his habits, practices, and especially blatant sins is a challenge that is always met with snarled teeth and threats of being expelled from the pride. At the end of our conversation I was left with the impression that this staff member’s boss thinks he is a more important person than the rest of his staff. It’s as if Jesus’ words didn’t apply to him. Matthew 23 says, “Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Nope, that only applies to lowly associate level pastors and other non-AMPs who make the day-to-day stuff happen when the AMP isn’t bestowing his 30 minute message from the mountaintop. When heaven opened and Mr. AMP appeared on the scene… Jesus didn’t call that guy to servant-leadership. He’s better, bigger, more powerful than his staff members. You know, because he’s the preacher.

Situation #3 (For those skimming –> This is the good one) I had lunch with my new friend and pastor. As a parenthesis to this– I was so relieved that the lunch meeting came with no agenda. We had lunch and shared life, a novel concept that more church leaders should consider. Stephen has all the skills and background to be an AMP. And what I love about him is that he intentionally chooses not to for the sake of the Kingdom. Something that blew me away about our conversation was this, he’s perfectly fine not getting his way in a theological discussion. (Something an AMP would see as a weakness is really a strength!) The mere fact of the various staff backgrounds proves that out. They are a hodgepodge group of denominations completely sold out to the concept that personal preferences don’t really matter. I’d say he and I see eye to eye on “high 90s” of things. But those few percentage points of difference don’t matter at all.

What should AMPs do instead of dominating local churches? Fix the auto industry! Go get a job at a car dealership and bully people into a gas guzzler.

Want to know the secret to defeating an AMP? Hint, you don’t have to commit a felony even though you want to.

Church Leadership

How Should Church Staff Be Treated?

One of the fascinating aspects of senior church leaders blogging is that you get an opportunity to see inside their minds a little. Sometimes it is encouraging and sometimes it is not. Recently, I’ve been disappointed by some comments and principles that would be considered unethical or illegal in the professional world in relation to their non-executive staff.

It got me thinking about how churches treat their staff. Wouldn’t it be logical to think that a place which represent Jesus, the King of Justice and Mercy, would be generous to their staff? One would hope so yet we see over and over again that churches abuse the provisions of their charity status to avoid labor laws.

Instead what I see is that non-executive staff are seen as expendable commodities. They are asked to have absolute dedication. They are asked to do their jobs plus “other duties as assigned.” They are asked to work long hours for less than market value. They are told that if they aren’t 10,000% sold out, they should quit. Worse yet, they are hired at low levels and told that higher education is a waste of time and money, thus locking them into that role until the leader tires of them. If they question leadership they are fired. If they try to move up in the world they are fired. If they do anything except what the leaders say, they are fired.

Here’s why I am repulsed by this concept. This represents the very worst of business culture exemplified by the church as a best practice. This is aimed at short term gain instead of what studies consistently say… long term relationships matter in ministry. This leadership style says, “We have the right to hire and fire you at will, but you… as a low level employee… have no power to chose what you want.” This leadership style is confusing and hurtful to staff members and I can provide examples of hundreds of people who have been threatened, mistreated, fired, and manipulated into following a pastor’s will above God’s will.

I promise you this. Mark my words.

– The churches who will endure and endear this generation will be great places to work.

– The churches who prevail into the next generation will invest in staff members through thick and thin.

– They will pay for them to get higher education.

– They will create opportunities for advancement.

– They will constantly remind staff that the most important people are not the up-front speakers and performers but the front line servants.

– They will give staff members time to find freedom from the grind and encourage staff members to love their families above all else.

– They will work less that 50 hours consistently.

– They will reward for things other than numeric growth.

– They will facilitate innovation outside of the executive leaders.

– They will be known in their communities as great employers.

– They will pay a living wage and encourage staff to live within walking distance of the church.

What do you think? Where do you see injustices as a staff member? What do you think churches of the future will do with the staff that they have? Will they even need staff?