Friday, May 29, 2009


I was aboard a plane waiting to depart to the West Coast. All passengers were on, but the boarding door had yet to be closed. The flight attendant came over the inter-plane sound system and said, “Would the lady with the wheelchair please come to the front?”

My first thought was, `can the lady really make it to the front of the plane?’ After all walking to the front of the plane and being with a wheelchair would not appear to be doable. And if it was, it would get my full attention. Shortly after the request a very able bodied woman made her way up the aisle.

It was then the distinction flashed into my recognition sphere (fancy way of saying I got it). Being WITH a wheelchair and being IN a wheelchair is, necessarily, not the same thing. This lady was with the wheelchair, but not in it herself. She was, obviously, accompanying a person who was in the wheelchair. She was alongside the person, connecting with her and being of what help she could be.

This got me thinking (and I trust I am not making too big a leap), there is a difference of a person being with Christ as opposed to being a person in Christ? Often we think of them simultaneously. The assumption is that if a person is with Christ they are also in Christ. But I think, I think, this is not the correct assumption.

In the Bible we see many people who were with Christ. They hung with him. They enjoyed his presence. They benefited from his miracles. They were able to catch a bit of the overflow from his early popularity. The crowd was with him, but I am not sure they were all in him.

The challenge of being with and not in is the ease in which one might disassociate from who you are with. Lots of those who were with him, were not so “with” when he was arrested. Many of those who were with him, were not so “with” when he was crucified. Quite a few who were with him, were not so “with” when he was taken off the cross. With can support us for a season, but seldom sustain us in the stress times.

It is Paul who tells us that those who are IN Christ are new creations. “In” does make a difference. “In” is fully immersed. “In” is engulfed by. “In” is full throttle. “In” seldom looks back, rarely regrets, minimally wishes to go back and wades through doubt.

“In” is the variable between giving up and going on. “In” is the constant in commitment. “In” is the handle to grasp when afraid, the reminder our choice was correct and the wall to steady ourselves in shaky times.

So what is it for us? When we plant our churches, lead our people, attempt to transform our churches, motivate our movements, connect to our communities, challenge our complacency, repurpose our ministries, fuel our passions and pursue our calls? Are we doing these things with Christ or in Christ? It really does make all the difference.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Dan Webster, way former youth Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, was a speaker at the youth camp we conducted for Skyline Youth Ministries. He shared an insightful comment I have yet to forget. He told us, “The natural flow of life is down.”

This is so true. Muscles left to themselves atrophy. Gardens do not naturally stay tended. Lawns do not remain cut, trimmed, lush green and dandelion free. Car oil gets grimier not cleaner. People do not stay fit. Churches do not easily keep externally focused, evangelistically passionate, nor spiritual fit. Why? The natural flow of life is down!

We resist this reality. We want to get ourselves, our homes, our churches to a point and trust they will remain there. Seldom does this happen. Each may maintain for a time, but the end result will be down. We compensate for this by defining effectiveness as a `slower downward spiral.’ Or as Zig Ziglar wrote, “Even a dead fish can swim downstream.” We can get so discouraged in our ministry that we will take any kind of movement, even if it’s down. But not all movements are helpful, many are hurtful.

Earthquakes are often the result of a shift (movement) of land plates. This is movement, but not the most beneficial. What are some movements that might hurt?

Moving from being consumed by Christ to a consumer of Chris: We help lead a person into a consuming relationship with Christ. They grow in their understanding of Christ and the life changing faith needed to mature…then it happens, what our community of faith provides is not enough. They are not being fed. They need something for their kids, or parents. So they make the trek to a more “full-service” body. They have moved from being consumed by Christ to being a consumer of Christ.

Moving from insight to insecurity: We begin desiring to learn all we can about effective ministry. We ask questions. We connect with key leaders. We read all we can. We listen. We apply. But often as our effectiveness increases we get insecure. We are concerned that what we have gained may be lost. We get proprietary. We lose the edge for fear of falling off it.

Moving from Team to Me: It was John Maxwell I heard say, “It takes teamwork to make the dream work.” We tend to believe this; at least we want to believe it. This is one of those beliefs that doesn’t often find an expression in our behavior. We talk team, but act me. We try to build team, but tend to bask in me.

Moving from Kingdom to kingdom: Ministry can get competitive. We get about building our local ministry (kingdom) at the expense of what God may want to do more expansively (Kingdom). Existing churches easily get territorial when a new church arrives in their community. They see this as an affront on their kingdom, not an assault for the Kingdom. We are all for Kingdom ministry just as long as it does not emerge in our kingdom.

Moving from striving to arriving: Many leaders view life as an array of achievements, so we strive to accomplish. We complete our education. We complete our building. We plant our church. We disciple our leadership. We connect to our community. And once any of these, or others, are achieved we stop. We stop looking for what God has for us next. We stop adjusting what we do. We stop acting in faith. We arrive!

We must go beyond being content with movement and make sure the direction we are headed is correct. Where are you moving? What are you moving toward?

Friday, May 22, 2009


Timing is critical. Never has this been more clear to me than now. There is a decison that needs to be made, well really it has been made...the question now is simply when do I act? Timing will be crucial in this. The action impacts many. It impacts me! I want to act, but not too soon, nor too late. What will determine the time? I guess if I knew this I would know exactly when to act.

Could it be that acting not genuinely confident of the timing is when faith is needed? Faith journeys are always interesting. Often you know when they begin, but seldom where they will end, or how.

Good news! My faith does not have to be in my wisdom, nor my choice of timing, but in God who has ultimate say.

Something tells me the deep end of the pool awaits. Now where are those floaties? What? No floaties! And the deep end still awaits? How about a nose plug? No nose plug! What about? Okay, I am going.

Is alright if I go slow? I think I might be too old for a quick plunge. The plunge may be it you say. Will you be standing close to the side in case I need a little help? Whats that? Oh, you are going in with me. Gotta love a God like that.

Monday, May 18, 2009


When I was a kid the launching of a capsule into space was a huge deal. Being on the West Coast the television coverage began very early. I vividly remember being wakened by my dad about thirty minutes prior to liftoff. I would sit along with the rest of the family excited by the countdown. It was thrilling seeing that small capsule encasing human beings being thrust into outer space. We would watch as it became nothing more than a dot in the sky and then gone.

The liftoff was exciting, but it was not the end. The launch was the beginning of the mission. The same is true for church planting. There is much enthusiasm and excitement that surrounds the launch day of a new church. People come to support. Much work is put into it being effective. There is a tendency to sense that once the launch has happened the mission is complete.

This got me thinking: What can be done after launch to insure an effective mission (church)?

Monitoring systems. Everything is monitored. This extends from the external and internal integrity of the shuttle to the health of the astronauts. What monitoring systems need to be in place for church plants? What is being done to insure that the organizational structure is sound? Is there a way to monitor the spiritual and physical health of the planter?

Constant communication. The ground is constantly in communication with those on the mission. They want to know what is happening and they are desirous of making sure the people are doing well. Sadly this is often not the case once a plant launches. We forget about the plant, neglect the planter and her or his leaders. We need to do a better job staying connected. Text, e-mails, phone calls and even the ancient method of face to face interaction can all help keep communication lines open.

Available to resource. The ground team is there to provide all they can, as they can, from where they can what the mission needs. They provide encouragement. They give instruction. They make suggestions as to how emergencies are to be handled. Those on the mission know they have a team of people who want them to succeed as badly as they desire to succeed. But resourcing goes two ways. Those on the mission must recognize those not with them have something to offer. Those who say they are available to resource must be ready when called upon.

Future planning. The mission has been thought through to its end. Every scenario of ineffectiveness has been considered. Solutions to potential problems have been developed. Little is left to chance. Planters can easily get caught up in “We will figure it out when we need to.” This may appear cutting edge and faith filled, but it often is the cover given for, “I just don’t want to plan.” A friend who works with Neo360 (an organization committed to starting all kinds of churches) said, “One of the most difficult challenges we have is convincing planters they need to figure out how to assimilate new people.” This is post-launch stuff and not very ‘wow,” but without it the mission of reaching and connecting people will be ineffective.

Adjust as needed. They do all they can to plan for everything, but everything cannot be planned for; so adjustments will be made. The adjustments are not to the mission, but to the method. Church planters can get just as enamored with their method as others. Just because a method is different does not mean it is effective.

Move beyond the launch to effective mission. Don’t merely blast off, but build off your beginning to achieve mission fulfillment.

Monday, May 11, 2009


I saw a Post Shredded Wheat TV ad where the tag line was: We put the "no" in InNOvation. I loved it! I thought of how many churches could say something like that? Taking pride in staying the same and not innovating. What might you be putting the "NO" in?

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Eli is my second grandson. He is still biding his time getting into the world, but should be here later today. I am very much looking forward to meeting him. I am excited to see how he and Brody (our three month old grandson) will connect and get along. I have visions of them hanging out. Getting into all kinds of "interesting" situations.

As they get older, I want to have Pappy days with them. The is where just me and the two little men hang out. We can do all kinds of stuff. After all, they can plead they were too young to know better and I can say I am too old to remember. Either way we ought to have lots of wonderful adventures.

I plan to enjoy them at every stage of their growth. I won't change diapers, however; did this for their parents, so no need to revisit that aspect of child rearing (literally). I want to spend enough time with them now so when they are teenage boys they will still want to hang with Pappy.

I have had a blessed life (and I trust it will continue). Great kids, wonderful grand kids and an incredible amount of opportunities in my ministry. As much energy as I have, as much as I still want to achieve in ministry, as much as I have a tremendous amount of things I want to write about, as much as I would like to invest in future ministry leaders through teaching; I am realizing there can be no finer investment of my time than in the lives of my adult kids and grand kids. I look forward to this.

When the day comes and I am called to Heaven (which I am anticipating being many years away) I do hope for tears due to my passing. But more than that I trust my remembrance will bring smiles to my families faces and they will often find themselves asking, "what would dad/pappy do?" Now that would be a life of significance.

Friday, May 8, 2009


Recently I was on a regional jet from Minneapolis to Indianapolis. I did plane side check in. This meant that I would need to pick my bag at a designated location after departing the plane. In Indianapolis’ new airport they have luggage elevators to accommodate this. These small elevators are often located at the top of the jet way. The luggage handlers load the bags at ground level. The bags are then lifted to our level where an airline worker opens the door allowing passengers access to their bags. The airline employee left informing us he would be back to open the door once the bags had been loaded and lifted.

There was a crowd of us waiting for our bags. We sensed, by the commotion behind the metal door, the bags had been brought to our level. There was a panel of lights that confirmed the sound, but no airline employee. One button was clearly marked “open door.” It was even green to give it that air of permission giving. I thought to myself, `I ought to press that button so we could get on with this;’ instead I waited. We all waited. I would guess about three minutes went by. I kept eyeing that “open” button contemplating the easy push it would take to release us all to whatever it was we all needed to go next. Another minute passed.

A young man standing behind me stepped forward toward the inviting panel. “Do you think we’d get in trouble if we push this button?” He asked rhetorically as he connected his finger with the correct button. The doors opened exposing our long awaited bags.

This young man led. He pushed the button! I thought about pushing the button, but he pushed the button. It made me think: What is the difference between a button pushing leader and one who thinks about pushing the button?

Button pushing leaders take action, while one who thinks of pushing the button might be aware, but hesitates to act. I was aware of the button that would give us access to our bags. The young man, obviously, noted the same thing. Yet he acted on his awareness. Awareness separated from action often results in missed opportunities.

Button pushing leaders ask why not, while one who thinks of pushing the button tends to think what if? I caught myself pulling back as I asked: What if the bags really are not there? What if pushing the button causes a disruption of the process and we have to wait longer? What if the pushed button results in the baggage handler losing a limb with an unexpected mechanical movement (I didn’t say it was logical)? The young man’s comment as he pushed the button seemed to indicate he had the why not attitude. Why not give it a go? Why not risk a reprimand? There is significant difference between a why and a what.

Button pushing leaders are willing to, while one who thinks of pushing the button idles at want to. I wanted to push the button, but the young man was willing to push the button. Wanting to do is conceptual, inactive and philosophical. Willing to do is concrete, enacting and powerful. Moving from wanting, to willing is the difference maker.
In reality, if the young man had not pushed the button we would have eventually gotten our bags. The end result would have been the same. However, his willingness to act moved the future eventuality into present reality. And is this not something leaders do? Help create a present future!

This unassuming young man with his low key willingness to act taught me a great lesson. I want to be more of a button pushing leader…how about you? What buttons do we need to push?

Monday, May 4, 2009


In a January 2009 lecture given at Talbot Seminary, Charles Van Engen observed that of the 168 hours (24x7) in any given week active church members will give five of those hours to the church. That low number shocked me. In the 1980’s I had heard that active members would invest up to twenty hours a week. Prior to Van Engen’s remark I had understood it had slipped to ten. Regardless of the number it appears that the time those most committed are willing to invest in the local church is eroding.

My question: What are we encouraging them to do with the other 163? I understand a segment of those hours will be for food and sleep, but there is a huge chunk of hours we need to leverage. How these hours are leveraged would appear to be built on two potential philosophical foundations:

Retrieval: This is getting those hours back for the church. We pull, prod and plead to have them show up for, serve at and support church ministry.

Retrain: This is giving them tools to serve Christ and the community of faith within the realty of their everyday life. It is helping them see their daily living IS ministry.

When a church places their emphasis on retrieval they may get an additional five plus hours, but that still leaves the larger segment of congregational participants with more time outside, then inside, the church. And this is as it should be for Christ has SENT us.

We need to retrain our people for more missional effectiveness. We need to provide tools that will equip them as ambassadors. We must take a sledgehammer to the wall that divides the sacred from the secular, church from society and personal faith from public values. Our people are indigenous in their environment. We must give them missionary eyes. Here are few suggestions:

Put an emphasis on members as missionaries. Believers will never be effectively mobilized apart from a deep sense of service. Salvation is both personal (we have been saved from our sin), but it is also communal (we have been saved to engage in purposeful service in society). The church is to equip its people for this saving purpose.

Teach on missional living. Missionaries are not sent ill-equipped. A new approach must be taken to teaching those in our communities of faith. Believers must be encouraged and taught to look at their neighborhoods, workplaces and communities with the eyes of a missionary.

Release people to engage their culture. When we release our people with limited time resources to choose community involvement over church only participation we are moving toward a missional mindset.

Downplay involvement in “church only” activities. A church that keeps their people so busy with “church activities” will effectively remove them from the culture they are to engage. If you have so many church activities that it leaves your people little time or energy to be with their neighbors, you may have too many activities.

Place a high value on church planting. New churches are in desperate need of launch team members to help establish a base for effective ministry. Existing churches are populated with potential launch members. “Without regard to locations, missional churches are actively releasing members to new ministries and new churches. Their passion is to see the churches grasp the principles of multiplication” (Rick Rusaw).

Determine to be a transformational community. Transformation can only happen up close and personal. Yeast transforms dough when it is intermingled with it, not simply set beside it. A church will only be able to transform communities when they intermingle themselves in those communities.

What are you encouraging your people to do with the other 163 hours? Do you need to change or adjust your approach?

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Last night over pizza with my family the conversation regarding Kirstie Alley's appearance on Oprah came up. It seems Ms Alley has backslidden in her weight loss. After losing seventy-five pounds and being a spokesperson for Jenny Craig she is now back to her pre-Jenny weight.

If I understood the story correctly she entered the National confessional (Oprah Show) and gave public penance for her lapse. She confessed she had returned to her old eating patterns and stopped exercising. She even turned her exercise room into a dinning room and began hosting dinner parties. It seems these dinner parties did not include Jenny meals. She went on to declare that she is going to re-commit herself to lose the weight once again.

Her inspiration for this re-commitment is Valerie Bartinelli. Kirstie saw Val's bikini-clad picture on the cover of Shape Magazine. This visual has motivated her to reintroduce herself to Jenny and, I assume, move the dinning table over and make room for exercise equipment.

I applaud Kirstie for getting back at it, but this does remind me it is always easier to start something than continue it. Inspiration can motivate us to begin, but it will never sustain us for the long haul. If we never move beyond inspiration into internal motivation we will soon lapse in our willingness to continue.

People start stuff all the time. We start marriages, exercise routines, diets, relationships with God, families and well the list is long. The challenge is to continue them for the long haul. To do this we will have to move beyond external motivation into internal momentum. We have to be willing to continue with our commitments even when those around us do not.

I trust Kirstie will not rely too much on Valerie, or Jenny. She needs to rely on herself. Make this her commitment. Valerie can inspire her, but that is only the beginning.