Sunday, March 29, 2009


My dad was a roofing contractor. Growing up he use to say, "A hammer fixes everything." And in his profession he was more often right than wrong. In the environment of laptops, blackberries, iPods and other such tools...a hammer is not as useful, that is if you think of hammer in the traditional sense.

What I have come to realize is that every generation has its hammer. With computers it is "ctrl-alt-delete." Or if it gets really frustrating you pull out the sledgehammer of our age...unplug, yank the battery and reboot. This almost always "fixes everything."

The same 'hammer' concept seems to work in the making of movies. I viewed Knowing this week-end. It was an excellent movie. Kept me on the edge of my seat. But then came the ending. It was a movie that had one of the weakest endings I have ever seen. It seemed that they weren't sure what to do, so they pulled out the "hammer." I don' want to give the movie away, but suffice it to say when you don't know how to end a movie it seems you throw in a UFO or catastrophic event...or both! If I would have had a hammer I would have thrown it at the screen.

Friday, March 27, 2009


The past two days I have been in Bartlesville, Oklahoma at Oklahoma Wesleyan University (OWU). I was asked to participate on a Presidential Advisory Board. It was a privilege. We all learned a great deal about the campus, student body and key educational and philosophical initiatives. But more than any of this we caught the heart of the President...Everett Piper.

Everett is passionate about Christ. He is passionate about academia. And he is highly desirous of producing committed Christ followers who have a biblical worldview. I was reminded once again how leadership at the top makes all the difference throughout an organization.

Larry Orr participated in this as well. Larry is Lead Pastor of a Wesleyan congregation in Moreno Valley, CA. This is located in Riverside County. He spoke in chapel. He concluded his sermon with these three declarations:
  • Jesus is the Christ...He is my God
  • Jesus is the Light...I will walk in his Truth
  • Jesus is Lord...I do life his way

These three simple declarative statements are valuable. They affirm our faith. They confirm our belief. The encourage our commitment.

Friday, March 20, 2009


The panel discussion was on Meet the Press. They were offering opinions on the economic plan being lead by President Obama. A key element of their conversation revolved around many who seem to distrust the plan’s reliability and long term effectiveness. The underlying question was, “How can a President be so popular, yet have such a challenging time getting larger buy-in on his economic plan?”

One of the panelists, Mort Zuckerman the current Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News and World Report, made the following statement: “He [President Obama] has popularity without credibility” (NBC Meet the Press, 4.8.09). I was intrigued by this statement. The interest was not in how it may or may not apply to the President, but how it might apply to leadership in general.

It seems that pursuing popularity is a common temptation of all leaders. Leaders want to be liked. And there is an element of popularity demanded by all leadership situations. After all, those who are followed must be liked on some level by those who choose to follow. Yet, when the rubber meets the road, popularity can carry a leader only so far. Sooner or later they have to show themselves credible.

Credibility is a result of both trustworthiness and expertise. A leader who earns trust through their reliability and develops a level of expertise through effectiveness will see their credibility increase. It would seem that a credible leader can overcome a run of unpopularity, but a popular leader may not weather a storm of non-credibility.

The challenge is that many leaders tend to defer to popularity. They prefer the applause of people at the expense of making difficult leadership choices. They refuse to pursue credibility in order to appease those who could make their lives miserable. They want calm instead of confrontation, they want appreciation at the expense of ability and they want that pat on the back instead of providing hard solutions.

The two are not mutually exclusive. But if one must be chosen, choose credibility! A credible leader will gain popularity over time, but a popular leader who does not display credibility will soon lose any popularity gained. When both are in play the result is greater effectiveness.

It must also be noted that credibility is not a popularity contest. Credibility is earned through proven effectiveness not polling. A credible leader has shown their mettle in difficult situations. They have made more correct decisions than wrong. They have shown insight, intuition and innovation. They have credibility due to their competencies. And competency is not always greeted by thunderous applause.

Popularity – Credibility = Shallow leadership
Credibility – Popularity = Slowed progress
Credibility + Popularity = Increased effectiveness

What leadership pursuit do you choose: Popularity or credibility? The choice you make will determine the character you reveal.

Friday, March 13, 2009


About one month ago the Pittsburg Steelers won one of the best played Super Bowls in its forty-three year history. Mike Tomlin, the head coach of the winning Steelers, is an outstanding leader. And, at thirty-six, he is the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. Coach Tomlin, with his approach to the game and the players he leads, has much to teach us as we lead our churches and organizations. The following observations are garnered from the article: Tomlin stresses renewal rather than repeat (USA Today 2.3.09).

Focus on renewal not repeating. One of the first post-game questions a winning Super Bowl Coach typically will hear concerns repeating the feat. Tomlin refuses to go there. “…we are not attempting to repeat…nothing stays the same in this game.” Repeating is simply doing the same thing, again. In the changing climate of the NFL if a team focuses on just `doing it again’ they will not evaluate or adjust. A franchise targeting a repeat will place their emphasis on holding what they have, while other teams change. Churches tend to slip into this. They spend too much time repeating what they have done and what once worked. What we need to do is focus on renewing ourselves. Renewal brings life, refreshment and revitalization. We must resist holding onto what we have gained and move toward what we can do.

Function in the new reality. In the past NFL teams were able to build continuity. But free agency and salary caps have changed all of this. In reviewing Steelers’ history Tomlin observes, “…look at the championship teams of the `70s, it’s the same pictures and the same positions….That’s not the reality of today’s NFL.” The Steelers Coach may prefer those days, but this is not his reality. A key role of leadership is to define reality. The reality of church ministry has changed. People are not naturally drawn to church. North America is diverse religiously, secular in perspective and multi-cultural. Church leaders who refuse to function in this new reality will miss the tremendous opportunities available to them.

Allow for taking corporate breathes. Leaders like to push. They want to get things moving. We tend to forget that people need recovery time. “Players need recuperative time,” Tomlin says. NFL Coaches understand the fruitlessness of getting back at it right after the Super Bowl game. When I was in local church ministry I misunderstood the importance of pacing. I always wanted our church body to go to the next thing. When we daughtered a church I was ready to move on to the next daughtering opportunity. It wasn’t until my District Superintendent, Steve Babby, said “Phil, your people are tired. Let them rest.” It was then I learned the significance of allowing time for the body to take a ‘corporate breathe.’ Physically we know how good it feels to fully inhale. Corporately we need to allow for the same. Leaders that understand this, and incorporate it will be better leveraged to have long lasting effectiveness.

Be optimistic. “I’m an unrealistic dreamer sometimes,” Tomlin observes about himself. We need to be the same. There is enough pessimism, enough negative input, enough doom-saying; we need to swim upstream with optimism and encouragement. When we dream big and dare to believe we model opportunistic faith. This is in needed to restore hope, strength and perseverance into our people.

Tap into your journey. “Mike appreciates his heritage. “I’ve been around some great people—coaches, players, owners—and I’m a product of that.” We, too, are products of our experiences, mentors, and environments. We should take stock of such and leverage them in our present. The journey we have traveled has brought us to this point for a reason. Appreciate it! Apply it!

Invest in people. Leadership is foremost about people. “I probably get more enjoyment out of watching people grow than I do preparing and winning football games.” It is interesting to note that the more people grow, the more games are won. However, we need to help people grow regardless of the outcome of games. Who are we really investing? And to what end?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Just returned from spending four days with my grandson Brody (oh, yeah, his parents were there too). He is going on five weeks old and I am discovering he is very mature for his age. He smiles a little bit, moves his head with great strength and agility. His fingers are long. They are perfect for palming a basketball or swatting down opposing quarterback pass attempts. Training on these two skills will begin in the next month or two.

We, along with his mom (Megan, my daughter) and grandma (Joni, my wife), visited Old Sacramento. This is primarily a tourist place, but nice to stroll around. I got to push him in the stroller and carrying him in a contraption that hangs off my chest. Kind of like a reverse back pack. There is a neat name for it, I just have forgotten. He sits in it facing forward so he can view all the sites. He loves being outside! I know he will thoroughly enjoy it when I push him in his first 5K. I have found one that we can do when I am on vacation out his way in August.
It will be close to three weeks before I see him again, in person. I will get lots of pictures, but nothing compares to personal eye to eye contact. I actually will arrive on his two month birthday. He will get to pick where we go to celebrate. I hope I like his taste.

He has gained two lbs since his arrival. He is beefing up. At this rate he will be growing a beard when I return.

His cousin, Eli, is due on the scene the first of May. They will be fun to watch together. I got to see a 3-D color picture of Eli on this trip. Incredible! He is good looking. His leg was up on his shoulder. So he will either be a gymnast, contortionist, or very sore from all those weird positions. I can hardly wait to meet him.

Monday, March 9, 2009


I am a huge fan of the TV show Lost. I am not sure those of us who follow Lost are as rabid about our show as those who religious view “24” (those show watchers are nuts), but we do love our twists and turns.

In a somewhat recent episode two of the primary characters (Ben & Jack) are in a church. They are looking at a painting of “doubting” Thomas reaching to touch the spear wound of the risen Christ. The two had a conversation that went something like this:

Ben: “Thomas was the one who said to his fellow-disciples, let us go with him (Jesus)
they we might die with him. But he was not known for that. Instead he was
known for doubting the resurrection of Christ unless he could see his wounds.”

Jack: “Was he convinced?”

Ben: “Yes, Jack. Sooner or later we are all convinced.”

It was a great scene! And I was taken by that phrase, “sooner or later we are all convinced.” I thought of it in terms of all kinds of situations, but the one I wish to apply it for the purpose of churches starting new churches. I choose to think that sooner or later every local church leader will be convinced of helping start new churches.

I was meeting with some Pastors regarding church planting. One of them asked, “What if I don’t have a passion to plant churches? Do I help plant a church just to be a team player?” (Great question by the way).

I responded, “It is not about having a passion for church planting, but a passion for seeing people come to Christ. Church planting is one of the most effective methods of evangelism. This being the case, and we are an evangelistic folk, why would we not add planting to our toolbox for connecting people to Christ?”

The number one reason to plant a new church is for evangelism. An existing church with an evangelistic fervor ought to consider the starting of a new church. Is your interested peaked?

So what does a church planting (multiplying) church value? Ed Stetzer in his article, Church Squared (Outreach Magazine, Jan. 2007), discovered six:

Reaching un-churched people: They view themselves as missionaries to their community, state and world.

Staff and membership involvement: Everyone buys in via actions and attitude.

Kingdom-growth focus: The dream of becoming a larger church is less important that the dream to multiply Gospel influence to a larger and more diverse audience.

Ongoing relationships: The churches started are connected through the relationships of those in leadership.

Selfless giving: Sacrifice and money does not intimidate a multiplying church. They do this with open-eyes and an open-heart.

No stalling: Lack of size or staff, or poor timing are not acceptable excuses for delay. They get it done.

Are you convinced? Maybe not, but sooner or later you will be. There will come a time when God will use someone or something to convince you that the Kingdom is best expanded through the multiplication of more missional outposts. Until then, keep working to engage the culture for Christ.

Friday, March 6, 2009


I heard that Barbie...the turning fifty years of age. On a CNN broadcast I caught that some group is up in arms about Barbie and her maker (Mattel, not God). It seems that they see her as putting beauty over brains. They think Mattel should stop marketing her as she says all the wrong things to young girls. Barbie communicates that young women have to pursue beauty. And it is only the beautiful girls that get noticed.

First, let me say, she is a DOLL!! Now that I have this off my mind I have a few more comments.

It seems to me the Barbie critics have it all wrong. Can't a woman be both attractive and smart? I know lots of women who have both outer beauty and a highly developed intellect. They are not mutually exclusive. Would they not be the ones belittling women?

How do you make an intelligent looking doll? Do you have them wearing glasses? Then might you be stating that only smart people wear glasses (which I personally agree with, as I wear glasses). Or do you dress them conservatively? So people with a developed intellect are not suppose to be casual in dress or demeanor? Or would an unattractive doll be a better indicator of insightful people? I don't even want to go there.

I did not catch what group this was who is dismayed a Barbie. Whoever they are I am sure they will find another doll to criticize. I suggest Betsy Wetsy...can't believe we would tolerate a doll that lacks bladder control. What is that commuicating to the youth of America on discipline.

Why don't we just assume Barbie is both attractive and smart. After all she has survived fifty years. Got to know something to do that and look as good as she does.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


A friend asked me last week, “Did you give up anything for lent?” I told them I had not. In fact I have only done this once in my life. I didn’t even know when lent was. It began last week, the day my friend asked the question.

When it comes to this kind of thing I always feel a bit irreligious…kind of like I am a secular believer. I was not raised with this kind of spiritual emphasis. The churches I attended as a kid did not place a priority on this…okay they might have and I just didn’t pay attention. Then, again, in those days anything that smacked of High Church or Catholicism was dismissed. The churches I Pastored I did not provide this kind of thing. I seldom provide for Ash Wednesday, Mandy-Thursday, Good Friday Services, or…well it just didn’t happen often.

There was one year at Arcade Wesleyan Church where a staff member asked to conduct an Ash Wednesday service. I let him. It was then I learned that typically the ashes used for this were the burnt remains of the palm branches from the preceding year’s Palm Sunday Service. I think we had used plastic and even if we had used the real thing, I am pretty sure they ended up in the dumpster located at the back of the property.

We did have ashes. Not sure where they came from; possibly Jim Slutzi’s pipe? We did the cross on the forehead and everything. I didn’t like it. I had no desire to have an ash cross on my forehead. Fortunately, the ashes did not adhere well. It was mostly gone by the time I arrived home that night. I am sure hanging my head out the car window driving home had little to do with it.

I have never been one for public displays of religiosity. Religious bummer stickers, Christian fish, WWJD wrist bands, Christian-oriented jewelry (actually any jewelry beyond a wedding ring), and cross ash embossed foreheads hold little appeal for me. I always thought it was my rebellion against outward displays of surface spirituality. But could it be I am not bold in my faith? I like to think it is the former, but there might be an argument made for the latter.

In any case, in this Lenten season, I am deeply grateful to Jesus. He loved me enough to go to the cross for my sins. He loved me enough to accept me where I was. He loved me enough not to leave me where he found me. He loved me enough to wrap his life intimately around mine. He loves me enough to accept me with all of my warts…and there are plenty.

I like to believe that how I conduct my life and relate to others is a visible display of this. I like to believe the things I value, what I think on, and my “try my best” responsiveness to his Spirit reflects this. I like to believe THAT I believe indicates my loyalty pledge.

Frankly, I am not sure that an ash cross, washing feet or a contrite spirit is a valid display of anything. I guess that is where grace enters in. Whatever we may do, however we may choose to display our faith we are desperately dependent on God’s grace. Therein lays the message of the cross and the validation of the resurrection. Even broken people can live in wholeness. And as, one broken person to another, I am deeply grateful for this reality of Easter.