I need my kids in worship with me

First he glared at me. Then he puffed, “I hate church. I don’t want to go.

When we told Paul, my 10 year old, that the regular parts of kids ministry were taking the day off and church would have family worship on Sunday, Paul protested.

Stupid. Boring. I hate this, I hate you, I hate church, I hate…

youth ministry

Unleashing a Feeding Frenzy

Photo by Iggy via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Last night, we dropped a bucket of chum in the tank and ran away.

Back in December we introduced Inductive Bible Study at our winter retreat. It wasn’t anything fancy– in fact I thought it was a little cerebral for a retreat. (This coming from a guy who did a high school retreat based on the spiritual disciplines of Richard Foster!) We broke up into groups, each team given a part of a parable, we tore into it, and came back together a little later to share what we’d learned.

Sparks flew.

In my group a key moment happened when we were studying the parable of the sower. One of the guys in my group had been a little frustrated… “Why did Jesus teach in riddles like this? Why didn’t he just tell them what he wanted them to know. This is so confusing” Another person in the group looked at another part of the parable and said, “I think it’s like rap music. Jesus was speaking to people who understood the words like he did, but people who didn’t get, he wasn’t talking to them.” (Maybe Kanye and Jesus really do have something in common?)

Kanye ain't Jesus, but Jesus taught like KanyeWhen our leadership group met a couple weeks later, the students told the adults… “We don’t want you to lecture us. Instead, teach us how to study the Bible on our own.

Collectively, our  heads tilted 10 degrees to the right. We didn’t see that coming.

Last night my task was pretty simple. Get the students thinking like investigative reports. Questions, questions, questions. Ask the text lots of questions. And get them to grasp that in Luke 1, Luke was setting out to do the same thing we were asking them to do. “Put the story in order so it makes sense.

I created an object lesson where each student received a sealed envelope, each envelope containing a fragment of a vaguely familiar story, and they had to piece it together, chronologically, in three minutes. They were frustrated, some gave up, and in the end they didn’t quite get it in the right order.

They saw that putting a vaguely familiar story together in chronological order was a nightmare unless  you took the time to carefully examine every fragment.

After we read the worst rendering of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in history I gave them the background information they’d need to understand why the Gospel of Luke was written. Theopholis, either a new believer or an investigator of Christ, had likely hired Luke, a believer and doctor, to go back and document what actually had happened. He’d find witnesses and put together the story to document an orderly account of Jesus’ life. (Luke 1:3) There were all sorts of fragments, little letters, floating around. But someone had to put all the pieces together so that the story would stand up to histories glare.

From there it got noisy as students went into their groups.

Group time was disorderly. It was messy. Loud. All over the place. Markers coloring. Pens circling. And the group leaders had to poke and prod to move things along.

But students were asking questions of the passage. Good questions.

  • Why did Gabriel pick Mary?
  • Who was this Zechariah guy? And why was it important that Gabriel made him not speak?
  • Even though Mary was scared, why did she consider it an honor to become pregnant with Jesus?
  • Why did Luke mention that Joseph was a descendent of King David?

At the end, when we shared what we learned, I think students were left with more questions about Luke 1 than answers. And that’s a very good thing.

I closed our time by asking them what this passage had to do with them. Those dots had not quite gotten connected… and that’s OK.

A process

As we cleaned up… the leaders were exhausted. I could see it on their faces. What have we gotten ourselves into? We really had to work hard to keep it together. But I was left with a few thoughts of encouragement.

  • We aren’t after quiet compliance. To change this community we need students who investigate God’s Word for themselves, ask hard questions, and put it to work.
  • It’s OK if it is messy and loud. Being quiet doesn’t mean they are engaged any more than being loud means they are disengaged. And finding the right answer isn’t as important as learning how to look for the right answer.
  • It’s OK to ask more questions than provide answers. Leaders have a desire to wrap everything up in a neat little bow. But that’s not how Jesus taught. He got the crowd thinking and then sent them home.
  • Teaching critical thinking skills takes time. In truth, today’s educational system isn’t designed to teach critical thinking skills. It teaches to regurgitate facts more than to comprehend them. Retraining the brain takes time.
  • We’re teaching a life skill that can transform our church. Imagine what would happen if our pews were filled with people who self-fed God’s Word in community? Imagine how that would change our Sunday morning worship services? The focus would step away from teaching and move towards celebration.

Messy. Exhausting. Intriguing. Fascinating. Thrilling. Scary.

These are words I’d use to describe unleashing a feeding frenzy of God’s Word on our students last night.

And I like it.

Christian Living Church Leadership

What is worship?

Photo by Bill Lollar via Flick (Creative Commons)

A youth worker in Minnesota asked me to share my definition of worship with her as part of a lesson she’s preparing for her youth group. I thought it’d be fun to post my response to her (with her permission) for a couple of reasons.

  1. I hadn’t thought about it like this before.
  2. I like it when people call me a heretic.

What is worship?

I think the English word for worship is limiting versus what God asks of us. So I break up the act of worship into a bunch different categories. (Not limited to this list)

  • We come together to worship God in community.
  • We spend time in prayer, fasting, song, reading of Scripture individually.
  • Our work is worship.
  • Our attitude is worship.
  • When I give my talents and treasure to God, that is an act of worship.
  • When I journal, that is worship.
  • When I am alone with my wife, that is worship.
  • Everything I do… I can do as worship of God.

Now, how do I define worship? Worship is any intentional human actions which bring glory and honor to God.

What do you think? Is the intention what makes an act worship? Or have I overstated what worship can be?

Church Leadership

Picky, Picky

Photo by via Flickr (creative commons)

Apparently contentment is not a Christian virtue anymore.

If you hang out with Christians for any length of time, you’d think pickiness is a requirement of the faith.

  • “I really wasn’t into the message on Sunday. I mean, 95% of it was cool… but he said something about fathers I didn’t agree with. So I tuned him out.”
  • “We haven’t found the right church, we’ve been looking around, and nothing quite fits us.”
  • “I’m definitely not called to singleness, but I just haven’t found the right guy.”
  • “I used to be into the NIV, but I had to switch because I just don’t like the gender exclusive language.”
  • “I would help with the kids ministry, but [sipping a latte from Starbucks] my Sunday mornings are just too busy already.”
  • “I could never go to a church if the staff is a bunch of white males.”
  • “My church serves little snacks-n-stuff after the service. Which is cool, but I can’t believe they serve cheap pastries and coffee that isn’t fair trade. I mean, that’s gross on a lot of levels.”

Need I go on?

We live in communities that are reached by fewer than 10% of the population and yet we worry about this crap? Seriously? It’s like your house being on fire and being more worried about saving your wedding photos than your children.

Shame on us. Shame on us for caring more about the desires of the 10% who come than the 90% who don’t. Shame on us for being so bored that we care about the things that don’t matter instead of simply obeying what Scripture teaches. Shame on us for making grey areas, black and white areas. Shame on us for blaming our inability to fulfill the Great Commission on issues.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” — Jesus

Church Leadership San Diego Living

5 Things I Love about my Church

This Easter marks roughly two years since I turned in my Pastor Adam card and went from church staff to church attendee. (I was officially done June 1st, but it was during Easter week  that the offer to come to YS came, which completely changed everything.)

In so many ways I’ve re-learned what it means to be a member of a church. God has shown me hundreds of ways in which my assumptions and desires for people in the pews were flat out wrong.

But, more importantly, the last two years has solidified a deep love and respect for the church universal as well as the church I’m a part of– Harbor Mid-City.

Here are 5 things I love about my church:

  1. They model their bridge building strategy with their staff. When I look at the make-up of their staff– I giggle. A PCA church plant with staff from a huge spectrum of Protestantism. Liberals. Progressives. Conservatives. I jokingly remind them, “In most communities this group wouldn’t even get together to pray… and you guys are on staff together!” I love that they chose to unite around Christ and major in the majors. Let me tell you, this is rare.
  2. They meet at Hoover High School. I’m a huge fan of our location and all the challenges it brings along. I love that we pay to rent part of a high school. I love that we bring 200 adults to a high school campus they would rather ignore. I love that there is a constant tension in the space we use for kids is also a teachers space. I love that part of our being Good News to the community is showing up and worshipping at a place, Hoover, that is so common.
  3. The production value of the service is awesome. Seriously, one of the things I love about Harbor is just how rough the tech side of things are. You would think that I, Mr. Super Church Tech Dude, would be annoyed that every week the microphones are jacked up, the projector is crooked, and they lovingly rock PowerPoint when Media Shout, Easy Worship, or ProPresenter are so readily available. Nope. Every time something goes array in the service I just lean over to Kristen and go, “That’s awesome. I love it.” Because I know the flip side of those blemished moments is not a persons hours of hard work. I know that no one is going to get an ugly stare back at the booth. And I know it’s not going to be an hours discussion at staff meeting. Ultimately… it’s no big deal and it’s treated as such.
  4. They love kids and show it. Most churches get this right. But I have to say that there are two places where Harbor gets this right-er than anywhere else I’ve been. Here are two things I can point to which illustrate this thought. First, early in the worship service they invite all of the kids to come to the front to join the worship band. So about 20 kids come to the front and bang on percussion instruments and dance for two worship songs before heading to kids church. Some people might think this completely ruins those songs. But I love the lesson we are teaching… these kids are a part of the congregation and we need to allow them to participate in the worship. It’s a visual way to say “children are valuable to God.” Second, I love how they handle infant baptism. (This is a theological issue I have NO IDEA where I stand on.) So, they baptize the baby and the congregation affirms their responsibility. [All very normative.] But Stephen has started this little thing which I hope he continues. He leads the parents to the center of the auditorium and invites the congregation to quietly sing “Jesus Loves Me” as a lullaby to the baby. I doubt it leaves an imprint on the baby but it certainly leaves an effect on the parents and the congregation!
  5. They value all people. I wish this were the case in all congregations but sadly it is not. Two quick ways this plays out on Sunday. First, we are an ethnically mixed congregation. We have a Spanish-speaking pastor and an English speaking pastor. Each language group is given equal value. (Not time) The only thing we separate for is the message. (Because translating that would be exhausting!) But for the majority of the service we have both groups together and it makes for a fun cornucopia. Second, we work hard to put everyone on an equal playing field socio-economically. El Cajon Blvd, where the church meets, is really a dividing line between the have-nots to the south and the have-alots to the north. There is a conscious effort to blur those lines on Sunday morning. I don’t have any idea how they pull it off… but it’s something I love about my church.

Those are some things I love about my congregation. What are things you love about yours?


Our God Reigns in Haiti

It is logical to assume that my trip to Haiti, 4 weeks after an earthquake which killed more than 200,000 people, would be marked by people mourning in the streets.

That’s what I expected.

This is what I saw. People praising Jesus in every church, in nearly every tent, and in the streets.

Today is Palm Sunday. A day we remember when Jesus entered the holy city of Jerusalem. The people proclaimed him as their king that day.

Maybe this is what it looked like?

haiti hmm... thoughts Social Action

Ephesians 5:14 and You

A young man prays in Carrefour, the epicenter of the January 12th earthquake

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

I first memorized Ephesians 5 with Kristen in 1995. We were dating and we had discovered that memorizing Scripture together was a way to channel our, um, energy for one another. It worked!

This passage of Scripture has been illuminated to me in new ways since I returned from Haiti a few days ago.

On the one hand– I need to shake the trip, to focus on the action items ahead of me, to move on with being a leader, husband, and father here in San Diego. I am needed here and there is no denying it. That much is clear.

On the other hand– everywhere I go I encounter something I cannot reconcile with what I have seen. Yesterday, I spent most of my day in a coffee shop sipping mochas and working on a freelance project for some friends. I am proud of the work I did yesterday. It turned out great. I love the opportunity it provides both for my family and the organization this work will benefit. But as I walked through my neighborhood I couldn’t help but think of the contrast to what I was doing just a week prior. Last Saturday, sounds of thousands praising Jesus and shouting prayers filled every neighborhood in Port-au-Prince and Carrefour. Even as night fell and we rested in our mission station we could hear the loud speakers in the distance… people singing and praising well into the humid darkness. Yesterday, back home in my neighborhood– nearly silence. The only sounds heard were children playing soccer in the park.

One place was awake. The other asleep.

Paul doesn’t leave me there, he continues, “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.Ephesians 5:15-17

My prayer while in Haiti were verses 15-17. I overlooked verse 14. My teammates kind of poked fun at me because I barely slept the whole week. I’d go to bed after they were asleep and they’d wake up and I’d already be up. It’s was this verse… I was doing what I could to make the most of every opportunity. I could sleep on the plane.

But it is verse 14 which stirs me now. Now I have to sort out how I can be awake to both realities.

Prayer for NYWC Atlanta Attendees


David sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said:
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;

my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—
from violent men you save me.

I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and I am saved from my enemies.

“The waves of death swirled about me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.

The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the LORD;
I called out to my God.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came to his ears.

2 Samuel 22:1-7

Church Leadership management Marketing news item

Don’t Promise, Deliver

gm-logoIf you live in the United States, you are the proud owner of the second largest pool of retirees next to the federal government. And as a bonus you also get a small and dying breed of cars formally known as General Motors. We just spent over $80 billion to bailout a company that is only worth $7.3 billion. You can walk onto a dealers lot right now and participate in the largest liquidation of assets in the history of the world.

And we still haven’t fixed the one thing that forced them into the red in the first place: 500,000 retirees.

General Motors is the classic case of over promising.

Over-promise #1: I remember talking to a GM executive about the business model as he gave me a tour of their Warren Tech Center. I asked him how often a customer was supposed to buy a new car according to the company? His answer made my jaw drop. They built their business model on the assumption that you would buy a brand new car every 3 years. No wonder their cars sucked! They only expected you to own it 36 months. No wonder they failed! No one in their right mind could afford to buy a brand new car every 3 years. They were absolutely lying to themselves. Their competitors built cars that lasted 10 years or more. Honda and Toyota owners hit 100,000 miles and knew that their cars will easily make 200,000 miles. Meanwhile, GM was building cars that were meant to be traded in at 36,000 miles.

Over-promise #2: In the mid-1980s, when Toyota and Honda made it big in the United States market, GM was stupid to continue the retirement program. There was simply no way that they could afford to continue the program… but they lied to their employees and sold them the lie that if they took care of GM, GM would take care of them for life. The smart thing to do back then would have been to convert the program to 401k and make no promises of retiree health care. Instead, they oversold a promise they couldn’t keep. Worse yet, to deal with payroll issues they started early retirement programs which meant people in their mid-50s were walking away from GM with a “guaranteed” pension and health care. There are currently tens of thousands of people in the United States who have now been retired from GM longer than they worked for GM. No company can bear that burden. Companies struggle just to pay benefits for current employees… How did they think they could insure 500,000 non-wage earning retirees?

My point isn’t really about GM, it’s about over-promising. Here are some ill-effects of over-promising.

usedcarsalesman– Advertising becomes useless. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on ads as people won’t believe you anymore.You can’t hype up a product launch or an event that you’ve oversold forever. When you don’t deliver you are just reminding customers how much you betrayed them.

– Your word becomes useless. When you break promise after promise, soon people won’t trust that your on their side. They will see that you only want their money and you don’t care about them.

– Your product becomes a joke. I was in a meeting yesterday about search engines and someone used the word Yahooeveryone laughed. Yahoo has become a dinosaur of a search engine. The only thing memorable about Yahoo is that stupid song, Yaaahhoooooo. You can’t advertise and promise a web service, you can only deliver. This is the #1 reason you can’t trust to be any good. If it was so good why are they spending $100,000,000 to advertise it?

Shifting gears: The evangelical church has become a classic example of the over-promise. Part of the church becoming more about programs and business models is that it has fallen into the trap of needing marketing and advertising like the business models they copies. The result is a lot of over-promising. “Come to the marriage retreat, it’ll fundamentally change your marriage.” or “Sign up for our next church production, it’ll be awesome.” or “Bring your friends to the revival and they will get saved.” In a world where the awesome is so readily available churches do nothing but give away trust when they advertise promises they can’t deliver. I’ve seen church events marketed like they were going to be on par with Disney or Broadway or Oprah and deliver like a trip to the town carnival, a middle school play, or a cable access show. At the end of the day the church spent more effort marketing the event, production, or program than they did making the program awesome. It is a sick cycle that is killing thousands of churches.

The better way: Wouldn’t it be refreshing if churches just delivered? Wouldn’t it be amazing if they didn’t sell themselves but just helped people? What if they invested in training their volunteers and staff so much that the church didn’t need to make promises, that their programs and ministries truly worked to change lives? You wouldn’t need to advertise a life-changing marriage retreat… because results would advertise themselves. You wouldn’t need to hold a revival because every church service, small group, and youth group meeting would see people come to know Jesus. You wouldn’t need to hire a killer band and create a worship experience because people were authentically worship Jesus. The best advertising a church could ever invest in is a changed life.

If you are a church leader I want to challenge you to think about your programs. Think about how you talk about them. Think about how you market them. And remember:

Don’t promise, deliver.

Don’t hype, deliver.

Don’t sell, deliver.

Don’t measure, deliver.

Don’t sub-contract, deliver.

Don’t advertise, deliver.

In a low trust, high expectation world the best way to succeed is to undersell and deliver.

Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

Rock that Quirky Church

dsc_0211I think some of my harsh criticisms of the evangelical church come from a love of our church. The mission of Harbor Mid-City is one that is quirky by design.

We have a hyper-qualified staff brought together despite significant theological difference who lean into that tension for the sake of the Gospel in the neighborhood. For my theologically savvy readers (aka Kristen) we have staff people from PCA, Salvation Army, Baptist, pentecostal, emergent-types, traditional evangelical and hard core liturgical backgrounds. In most communities these folks wouldn’t even get together to pray for one another… much less chose to work at the same church!

Toss on top of that theological stuff the language issues we experierience every week and you will start to see the quirks pop out. We offer the same service in both English and Spanish, meaning there are painfully long times of translation. But this is San Diego and people are used to hearing both languages on the radio and TV… so that’s no big deal. We also have a population of people who speak Korean, Vietnamese, and Swahili. Sometimes our worship music is in those languages. In fact, there tend to be as many non-English songs as English ones.

Ready for this? It gets more quirky as the design of the church allows minority cultures to have equal voice in our services. What that means is that we’re more worried about celebrating our worship service in a way that lifts up Latin American, Mexican, African American, Southeast Asian, and African cultures above the dominant white evangelical culture.

OK, one more quirk. There is a huge hodgepodge of socio-economic situations in our church as well. You have working class poor next to college kids from San Diego State. And you have immigrants next to upper-middle class folks who live just north of the church.

Is it perfect? No. Do I agree with every last bit of the theology? Absolutely not! Are there things about the church I really dislike? Yes! Am I comfortable in the service? Rarely. Are the messages challenging and encouraging to where I am at in my walk with Jesus? Not often. Do they offer all of the things I need for my family? No, children’s ministry is just getting organized. Youth ministry is in a pre-formational stage.

So why do we go? We go because we believe at the core of our being that there is tremendous strength in that diversity. I am not arrogant enough to believe that my evangelical expression of theology and worship is superior. I love to worship in a place that agrees on the essentials while allows gray areas to be interpreted through the lens of culture.

Don’t get me wrong. This place is solid theologically. In fact, I’m convinced that Harbor expresses in their worship many best practices of things believed across Christianity. This hodgepodge isn’t just the brain child of idealists. It is the brainchild of idealists who are stupid enough to think that it will work, have the training and experience to make it happen, and have a core of people at the church who are dreaming the same dream.

In these quirks I see tremendous hope for the Gospel across our country. Lives are changed as they are surrendered to Jesus. And as I think about it, much of what I rebel against here on the blog about evangelicalism is because I see Harbor doing something right while most of evangelicalism is doing it wrong.