August 30, 2011

The Most Amazing Thing

Being used BY God FOR His Kingdom is an amazing thing! To see the God of all creation - who created you just as He wanted you, with His own purposes in mind - take your life and use it for the sake of His glory is mind-blowing. And yesterday I wrote about the way He faithfully fills us and equips us with just the right tools to accomplish whatever it is He is calling us to say or do. But today I want to put a WARNING label on that idea and call your attention to something that we must guard our hearts against as God is working THROUGH us. There's a story in Luke that brings it all to light.

In Luke 10 there's a story of Jesus sending out 72 disciples - appointed messengers. They were sent out to preach the Gospel and announce the coming of the Kingdom of God. When they return, they are awestruck and dumbfounded. Some of them even tell Jesus, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" They were like little kids who just learned how to ride their bikes - only they could ride a wheelie the first day. "Jesus, this is AWESOME! We were healing people and telling demons to 'Go to hell'! Thanks for the powers!" Remember when Peter Parker first figures out that he can jump, swing, and fly? He goes a bit overboard. He forgets about the "responsibility" part because he is so captivated by the "power". Some of these disciples came back the same way. Knowing their hearts and sensing the potential danger, Jesus cautions them. He essentially says, "Yes, I've given you authority over the earth and even the enemy. And I've given it to you for the sake of MY NAME!" But then He goes on and says to them, "Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." Jesus wasn't trying to burst their bubble. But He wanted to make sure that they weren't losing sight of the most amazing part of it all. Jesus brought their eyes back to the big picture. He was saying, "Don't you dare miss the most amazing thing about all of this!"

Ultimately what Jesus was communicating to these messengers was this: While it's amazing to be used BY God - to see Him work THROUGH your life by the power of the Holy Spirit - this pales in comparison to the fact that your names are now written in the Book of Life. Seeing the Lord use your life for His Kingdom doesn't even touch the fact that because of what Christ has done, we are now actually part of His Kingdom. We are sons and daughters of the living God! He has called us His own! We are a treasured prize! And while we may be residents of this decaying earth, we are now citizens of Heaven! What God desires to do THROUGH your life is undoubtedly indescribable. But what He does IN our lives to take us from death to life - from sinful and depraved to sanctified and victorious - is the greatest news to ever touch our ears. (There's a reason we call it the "Good News"!)

I hope and pray that the Lord uses you (and I) for great things - to change the world around us for the sake of His Name and His Kingdom. But more than that, I pray we live daily in awe of the miracle of redemption in our lives - that Jesus has purchased us with His life, His body, and His blood. The payment was enough. It was made in full. And because of Him, I'm now a citizen of Heaven. AMAZING!

August 29, 2011

The Right Tools

For my birthday this year my wife got me an inversion table. AWESOME! And after 3 weeks of finally arrived at the house. As excited as I am about being able to use this potentially life-changing device, it was like a sucker punch to the gut when I read 2 of my least favorite words in the whole world on the box: ASSEMBLY REQUIRED. (There should be a law against having to put your birthday present together. I'll save that issue for another day.) I finally got the nerve to open the box, spread out all the parts, dive into the Instruction Manual, and give it a go. Once I had all the pieces laid out in front of me, I noticed this really obscure looking tool. It looked like a reject from the Catalog of Stupid Tools. Not that there is such a thing. But if there was, this tool would be on page 2 or 3. But I thought, "Well, it's in the box. So It must be good for something!" You would think that would be the case. But you'd be wrong. After 15 minutes of trying to use this stupid wannabe wrench, I was ready to throw it through the wall. I finally gave up in frustration and went and got a monkey wrench & a crescent wrench and tried to fake my way through it. (Just so we're clear: the inversion table is still in pieces on my bedroom floor.) So, my first point in all of this is simple: I believe the words ASSEMBLY REQUIRED will be on the wall in hell.

While my frustration with the unnamed manufacturer who failed to give me the proper tools OR instructions is still eating away at me, this little incident has reminded me of one of the incredible aspects of God's greatness and love toward us: He NEVER calls us to anything - to do or say or accomplish anything - that He doesn't also equip us to fulfill. NEVER! Now there are some things we have to be mindful of in our understanding of this. God equips us for HIS purposes, not our own. He calls us to HIS mission, not the things that we temporarily get all excited and fancy about. He gives us words when we feel like we have none. He gives us courage when we think we're ready to wet our pants and pass out. God takes armies of 10,000 and reduces them to 300 so that it's crystal clear that HE brought the victory, not us. HE is the one who equips. And He does it fully and completely and however He sees fit. He ALWAYS gives us the right tools! The thing that He asks of us: OBEDIENCE. Answer the call. Step out in faith. Say "Yes, Lord!" even when "No way!" seems like the only logical and reasonable conclusion. OBEDIENCE. And faithfulness. And don't wait. Often, He doesn't hand us or fill us with what we need until the moment we need it. He's like that sometimes. It's so there won't be any wonder or confusion in the matter about who deserves the credit and the glory. Cause we're like that sometimes. 

Is the Lord calling you to step out in faith right now?
What's He calling you to do? Where is He calling you to go?
What's stopping you?

I wish God had designed and packaged my inversion table!

August 17, 2011


As a homeowner, there is one thing you loathe to see pop up in your neighborhood: the dreaded FOR RENT sign. It's like a 50-foot tall diseased weed, attaching itself to everything in sight and spreading horror all over suburbia. (OK. Maybe I'm blowing this a bit out of proportion. Humor me.) The reason why we cringe at the sight of this beacon of temporary commitment is because more often than not, it brings with it an array of unwanted "issues". For instance, a friend of mine's dad has a rental house. Recently the tenants moved out after a couple of years of renting. When they went in to clean it up, to ready it to be put back on the market, they were floored. The house was like a war zone. The yard was unkept, the carpets and floors were disgusting, and the house was almost unlivable. And inevitably, the neighbors around this house were forced to put up with this for the duration of their stay. There is a vast chasm between a house that's FOR RENT...and a home that's FOR SALE. And going beyond the nature of our living spaces, it seeps into our spiritual mentality as well. Let me explain.

Right now, all over America, there are people who are "church shopping". This Sunday, singles, college students, families dissatisfied with their current church, and even those who are desperately seeking for authentic community who will walk out of their house, get in their car, and (essentially) go shopping - looking for the church that meets their expectations and matches their checklist. And let me be upfront: this is not necessarily a bad thing. Prayerfully and carefully discerning where it is that the Lord wants you and your family to invest and connect is of enormous importance. But where this can go awry - when it begins to become an "issue" - is when you start thinking that the church is FOR RENT. When you just keep dating the church rather than putting all your cards on the table, fully committing yourself. There comes a time when you have to pull the sign out of the yard, make a commitment and say, "This is where I'm investing, where I'm going to grow and serve, and these are the people I'm going to partner with to fight for the Gospel!" It's not an apartment - it's the Body of Christ!

FOR RENT is short for "I'm willing to make a temporary commitment". It's the road paved with "I'm IN, but I want a way OUT." And don't get me wrong - if you're only going to live in town for 9 months, burying yourself in a 30-year mortgage would be (putting it nicely), stupid. This is why they build apartments, why Hertz is in business, and why I go to Lowe's and pay $29 for a post-hole digger for the day. Most days, I don't need a post-hole digger. Seriously. There is a time and a place and a purpose for renting. But your "partnership in the Gospel" and your commitment to the church are not it. The church is NOT FOR RENT.

Are you fully committed to your church family? Do they know it?
Are you still "dating" the church? Are you "renting" a seat on Sundays? Or are you ALL in?

August 16, 2011

Conduct A Premortem

Postmortem - After death. Depressing, huh. If you watch enough crime shows you know that the postmortem exam is done to determine the cause of death. Gary Klein, in his book "Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions", says that conducting Premortems are a much better idea. In fact, they can keep you from ever having to fool with wondering about the cause of death! In his new book, "Enchantment", Guy Kawasaki (former 'Chief Evangelist' at Apple) references Klein's idea and explains that the "goal of premortems is to prevent the potential problems in order to increase the likelihood of success". I can think of no better place to put this into practice than in your small group!

If you're a group leader, and you've been following along in this series of posts [The Day the Small Group Died], what a great preemptive tool for you to use to head off those pesky small group killers. Here's how you can put this to work for you and your group:
  • As you begin to meet, talk very realistically with your group about the potential hurdles, distractions, or reasons why your group might begin to decline.
  • Go further with it: Ask each group member to prayerfully identify some things that might begin to cause them to be inconsistent or unfaithful to their commitment to the group.
  • As you identify these potential "killers", determine as a missional community to prayerfully watch for these distractors and to have the wisdom to avoid them at all costs.
  • You can also meet with other group leaders to collectively conduct premortems, giving each other encouragement and accountability to defend your group from declining, imploding, or dying!
When we learn that certain things cause cancer, you'd think that everyone would quit doing those things. But we know differently. There are still countless millions of people smoking cigarettes as we speak. But you - as a leader with conviction for your calling and love for your people - know better. We can identify the issues ahead of time, head them off at the pass, and raise the God-given potential of the community He has placed us in. Don't ever face The Day the Small Group Died! Fight for biblical community!

What are some other ways you could conduct Premortems?

August 15, 2011

Inward To Outward

This is Part 3 in the series The Day the Small Group Died.

There is a trend - a movement - right now by many pastors and churches, striving to lead their people in true and authentic biblical ways. This trend is doing away with some of our church language from the last 10-20 years. In fact, it actually somewhat kills the title from this series. (Bummer.) Many churches are doing away with small groups. Yes, you heard it right! No more small groups, life groups, cell groups (never understood that one anyways) and birthing missional communities. This is not to say that they don't HAVE or DO small groups, but that they are no longer calling them by that name. The movement of missional community and one of the core purposes and visions behind it exposes another one of the deadly "small group killers". If you want to ensure that a group will at some point dissipate, implode, or ultimately DIE, here's another way to make sure it happens: Never move the focus of the group from INWARD to OUTWARD. Let me explain.

When you examine the first "small groups" - or being more simplistic, when you look at the first church in the New Testament - there was no segmentation of worshiping, growing, or serving. In other words, you didn't have one group of people you dug into the scriptures with, another that you went out and served the community or did service projects with, and a whole separate group of people you hung out with at the temple. You did LIFE together! You LIVED ON MISSION! And the reason why many groups cease to exist today is that while they got really good at gathering collective knowledge of the scriptures, they never experienced the life-changing transformation that comes with serving each other and serving together. There is a bond created when we serve for the sake of the Kingdom that cannot be forged down any other path. I think Jesus made it clear in John 13 and Mark 10 that not even He "came to be served but to serve, and to give up His life as a ransom for many." The pathway to greatness is through serving. And the road that bonds us together like no other in Christ is that of serving others for His Name sake.

And to take OUTWARD in a bit of another direction, groups have also always got to be purposefully and intentionally taking steps to grow - to reach more people, and to send people out. Groups are called to grow groups! And this doesn't have to mean the stereotypical group "split" that horrifies so many (for just reasons!). But if our groups aren't reaching people, is this not exposing that maybe what we're considering "growth" in our life is actually something counterfeit? The deeper the Gospel is rooted IN us, the more it spreads out FROM us! This is not to say that biblical, missional, small groups will cease to grow inward - that they will stop growing personally or individually. But it does mean that if the focus never moves to being equally OUTWARD, the group is being driven by something other than the Gospel and the Great Commission. 

Is your small group moving toward missional community?
If so, would love to hear the intentional steps you're taking in that direction.
If not, what's holding you back?

August 12, 2011

Raising Up Leaders

This is Part 2 in the series The Day the Small Group Died. Make sure you read Part 1 first.

Another way to ensure that your small group will eventually bite the dust is to ignore the need - the biblical mandate & calling - to raise up another leader. I don't care how "called" or equipped you are to lead your group, there will come a day, even if it's just for a season, that you are going to need a break. A rest. And someone else will need to step in and lead. Anyone who argues this is just fooling himself. But hopefully this isn't our main motivator. The unstoppable force that should be driving us to invest in, disciple, and equip another believer is that it's what Jesus modeled, exemplified, and told us to do!

Forgive me for (feeling like I'm) beating a dead horse, but for far too long we have underestimated and devalued the importance and significance of pouring ourselves into one person. Let's face it: We're a "Kill 2 birds with 1 stone" society. Right? We're multitasking microwavable people! 1 person? Isn't that like massively underutilizing my resources? While it may feel that way here in our Western 4G Intel Processor world, the long answer is...NO!

As a pastor and as a leader of leaders - as someone who believes with every fiber of my being that I am literally called to carry out Ephesians 4:12 - not many things pains & grieves my heart more than seeing a small group dissipate and die. It's not only an indictment on the leader, it's a wake-up call for me as the leader of the leader. This is why from Square One we have to be unwavering and determined that we are raising up leaders with passionate conviction who will stand their ground, dig in, refuse to bail out, and will pour their heart, soul, and life into that of another. We can do all the Sunday Schools and small groups we want to, but if lives are not being invested in one-on-one, the fruit on the tree (if there's any there at all) will eventually begin to wither and die.

To speak practically for a moment, there a hundreds of ways to go about this. You don't need to take a person to lunch, look them deeply in the eye and drop the bomb on them: "I want to equip you to lead so that eventually I can hand the group off to you and I can sit back in my chair and take it easy." Uh, no. If you're a leader, you already probably have a great idea who it is in your group that has potential to lead. Ask them to co-lead with you. Take them to lunch once a month and simply invest in their walk and in their faith. Dig deeper into scripture with them - deeper than you do with the rest of the group. If you're going out of town, ask them to lead the discussion while you're gone. You don't need to throw them into the deep end all at once. Walk them slowly out into the ocean...and enjoy the stroll. Don't get me wrong - this will require some patience. It probably won't go as quickly as you want it to. And it could even get messy! But it will all be worth it when you watch the Lord use you to raise someone else up that He begins to use. It's powerful! And humbling. And life-changing. Their life...and yours!

Who are you investing in? Pouring your life into?
Did someone make this investment in you as a leader?

August 11, 2011

The Day the Small Group Died

Let's face it; for some reason that goes against everything we hope and desire and know to be right in this world, some small groups die. And sometimes we don't even see it coming. But if we're being honest and realistic and shooting straight with ourselves and each other, most of the time you can see it coming a mile away. In light of this, we need to start a conversation - we need to get down to the bottom of why this happens - so that we no longer have to dread the arrival of The Day the Small Group Died!

In this first post I hope to shed light on some motives of leadership that can play a significant role in the success or failure of a group. This week in our Leader Huddle we talked about 3 Motives of Leading & Serving: Guilt-driven, Needs-based, and Passionate Conviction. Many people step up (and out) to lead or to give of themselves with the greatest of intentions - their motives (as far as they know) are completely pure. And other times, while people come forward to serve, there isn't a clear understanding as to WHAT they're volunteering to do. This may be their fault for not reading between the lines. Or it may be someone else's fault, for making the fine print so small that a microscope can't find it or even detect it. Regardless, when it comes to leading a small group - leading, loving, enduring, and fostering true biblical missional community - it is essential that we know WHAT it's going to demand of us and WHY we're even signing up to begin with. With that, let's talk about these 3 Motives.

Guilt-driven leadership is fairly simple to understand: someone put you in a position or made you feel like you had to do it. We've all been driven to do something by guilt. And it's not always bad. If I do the laundry for my wife because I'll feel guilty if I don't, well, that's OK. I should have done it anyway! When you say "Yes" to that kid in your neighborhood who rings your doorbell and pleads, "Do you want to buy some flower bulbs to help me raise money for a new tetherball pole for our playground?", it's not because you actually WANT flower bulbs! (Or maybe you do. If so, no offense.) But when it comes to stepping forward to lead a small group, if you took that responsibility out of guilt, a few things are ultimately going to happen: 1) You're eventually going to burn out, get frustrated, probably wind up bitter with the person who guilted you into it, and walk away from your group. There will be more damage and wounds than there is growth and life-change. 2) And the people you've supposedly been leading will wind up hurt, feeling betrayed, and probably a whole lot less likely to open themselves up to being part of true community again. If you're currently leading out of guilt, get out NOW!

Leading or serving from a Needs-based perspective is all too common. So many of us are rescuers that we see a need and we respond. And in many cases, this can be a good thing. A GREAT thing! Maybe your church desperately needs preschool workers for the summer - a 10 week commitment - and you know that you can see this through. Awesome! Sign up today. I have a friend who is about to embark on his first coaching experience - 5 year old boys soccer. There's no one who will coach the team. So he's going to do it, if for no other reason than for his boys to be able to play. The unique aspect of these situations is that there's an end in sight. They know that this is going to be over in 10 weeks. 8 weeks. 6 months. But if you step in to leading a small group simply because you "saw a need" and thought you'd be the one to rescue everyone, fasten your seatbelt. It's eventually going to wear you out! Because leading a small community of believers in life together (as I see it in Acts) doesn't have a 9-month contract. Don't get me wrong; there's an END. It's called the return of the King! The only way for the leader and the group to survive or sustain (or much less GROW) through a temporary leader is if that leader pours their heart and soul into raising up a NEW leader who steps forward to go the distance. REMEMBER: If you really want to meet people's need, what they really need is someone who shows patient endurance and faithfulness. They need to know you're not going to bail!

Finally, the leaders that wind up being used by the Lord to significantly impact others for the Kingdom are those leading out of Passionate & Compelling Conviction & Vision - those individuals who know and believe, "Even though I'm scared to death...and don't feel equipped to do this...I know that God is calling me to step out in faith and see this happen!" Leaders who determine that "I'm in this for the long haul!" are the ones we're looking for. This doesn't mean your group won't disappoint you. It doesn't mean that you won't have to confront inconsistency and lack of commitment. It doesn't even mean that everyone in your group will show evidence of growth. In fact, you can rest assured that those things WILL happen! And that's when and where your passion and conviction and vision will keep you on your face and wholly dependent on Jesus to sustain you and strengthen you. 

I'm pretty sure that NONE of us want to wake up and face The Day the Small Group Died. So in order to avoid this happening, we all need to ask ourselves, "WHY am I doing this?" 

WHY are you currently leading or serving where you are?
WHAT will be the ultimate or eventual outcome of that decision?
Is it time for you to step up? Step out?

August 10, 2011

Turn Up The Heat!

Capsaicin is the active agent in chili peppers. It's what makes them HOT! And they've found several other ingenious uses for this spicy substance. One being, they turn it into a liquid or creme that you can rub onto sore muscles and joints. The heat goes deep my friends. And it works! [And if you ever unwisely get this liquid fire in your eye, just start screaming like a girl. We'll all understand.] The trick with using this remedy is surviving the first day. Because when you initially apply it to your skin, it will at some point in the first 3-18 hours begin to feel like someone immersed that area of your body in lava. But ironically, when you wake up the next day and it still burns and you think, "There is no way in holy Hades I'm putting anymore of that evil sauce on my body!", that's exactly what you have to do to make it stop burning: Keep applying heat! No, I don't understand it. But it works. The very thing that makes it stop burning is the same thing that made it start burning. Go figure.

Last night I met with many of our Life Group leaders. We talked about some of the tensions that come as we invest in people and disciple them and equip them to step out into leadership. And leading groups of people - being the one who takes responsibility for corralling and fostering community and pushing spiritual growth - can be a tough road. A very long, tough, rocky, frustrating road. And as a leader of leaders, our natural tendency is to want to make that road smoother - to make the pain go away or to turn down the heat. We want to make it all better. But here's the reality: We can't. 

If I'm being honest, we probably could. But we can't! It won't ultimately help. In fact, the very thing(s) causing the frustration, the burn - the things that are making the road so rocky - are the tensions that will bring growth, endurance, patience, and conviction. These are the things that God allows in our life to refine us - not just as His people, but in order to be the leader that He's calling us and shaping us to be. In his book, "Life Together", Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes the statement, "It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated." Our leaders are going to face frustrations and heartache with the people they're leading. This isn't something to be fixed - it's part of life. 

Let me put it this way:
Leaders can't just bail out when things get tough.
And leaders of leaders can't bail out their leaders when things start to get tough. We can't pity them or smother them in sympathy. We have to lead them. And we have to let them know that the heat they're feeling is OK. Sure, it might burn. But the only way through the burn is to keep walking through it.

Have you been tempted to bail?
Press on! Keep going. Don't give up.
2 Peter 1:3-9

August 5, 2011


We're all familiar with the "Do you see the glass as 1/2 full or 1/2 empty" question. It's a fancy way of decoding optimism & pessimism. Or some would argue it's more about realism and idealism. Either way, we get to face each day, each crisis, each uncertainty - every moment for that matter - with perspective. We have to decide how we're going to look at things. And one thing that drives me crazy is when I live from day-to-day like my perspective is schizophrenic - like I just can't make up my mind how I'm going to see all that's in front of me. And for me, as a Christ-follower, what it really boils down to is what (or WHO) is controlling me. WHO am I living for? Am I seeing all of this through His eyes...or my own.
Here's a sample of 2 completely different perspectives I can have on my day, my circumstances, and my life in general:

Perspective 1

  • I have a herniated disc in my lower back, a bulging disc in my neck, and scar tissue in my shoulder and if I'm being honest, it really sucks to 38 years (and 364 days) old and be stiff as a board and creak like an old rocking chair.
  • I'm seeing so much of myself in my children...and it drives me nuts!
  • Why does it have to be cloudy? I'm sick of the rain! Where's the sun?!
  • I could go on, but let's not beat a dead horse. (Stupid horse!)
Perspective 2
  • Lord, thank You that even though it feels like my body is falling apart sometimes, I can still walk, talk, sing, hear, see the beauty in front of me, wrestle with my son, dance with my daughter, and wrap my arms around my beautiful wife! Thank You that I can still exercise and take care of myself. 
  • I see so much of me in my children, and at the same time, I see so much of You, Lord. I see You growing them and shaping them into these magnificent and unique individuals - like no other person who's ever walked this earth. Give me strength to teach them, disciple them, and love them.
  • Lord, somewhere in the world someone is begging for rain. And here I stand, watching it fall from the sky. 
  • How could I possibly be any more blessed and privileged than I am right now? You provide, protect, strengthen, comfort, and choose to use me. I'll never fully understand why.
What's your perspective?
Do you need a new view of the same scenery?
Remember: The grass isn't greener; those are probably weeds!