Archives For Leadership

I recently posted at the For the Church site. I’m including the beginning of the post below with a link to the full article.

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notoverloooked

I was struck the other day by the uniquely odd situation of the almost-an-apostle Joseph (Barsabbas), who missed out on being one of the twelve set apart as apostles of Jesus because of a roll of the dice. We read his story in Acts 1. The resurrected Jesus has told his disciples to wait on the Spirit’s arrival. They were gathered to pray, and they decided it was time to replace the traitor Judas, who had literally spilled his guts over his betrayal. So, his position was up for grabs.

It was kind of like when someone leaves their job, and everyone wants to fight over their office because it has a window. But this was a lot more important. In Acts, the disciples set the criteria for who would be chosen, and they land on two possible candidates: Joseph and Matthias. They cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias. This, of course, had to be a downer to Joseph.

Sure, you can play the hyper-spiritual game if you want, and say something like, “It wouldn’t really have mattered to me as long as the mission of Jesus was advanced.” And of course, that would be partially true. But let’s be honest—a part of you would have been disappointed. Part of you would have wanted to argue for a “best two out of three” lot cast rather than a single cast. You might have made a case that there should be thirteen apostles instead of twelve so that you could be the deciding vote in a tie. Imagine Joseph explaining that one to his family years later when his grandkids say, “Pops, tell us again about the time you almost got to be an apostle.”

I joke, of course, but I also know that many pastors feel overlooked, especially early in ministry…

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Read the full article at http://ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/you-have-not-been-overlooked

-jdl

I recently posted at the For the Church site. I’m including the beginning of the post below with a link to the full article.

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boybandbluesPREACHING LIKE A BOY BAND TRYING TO PLAY THE BLUES

Nobody wants to hear a boy band play the blues. Whatever the polished pretty boys might know of hurt and heartbreak, they surely can’t dive deeply into the hardship of life. Even if they sang the words and notes all right, the feeling would be all wrong.

Sadly, I feel that too many preachers are like a boy band trying to play the blues. We find a nice melody, locate a catchy hook, and auto-tune our voices so that we sound pitch perfect. People nod along in pleasant agreement, enjoying themselves, and maybe even remembering a line or two for the drive home. The song (or the sermon) was entertaining but never really engaged their hearts.

It’s time to give up the boy band and start singing the blues. Blues music has a rawness and authenticity that is birthed out of real struggle. The blues are honest about hard times, but in a hopeful way that also convinces us that a time of trial is not the end of the story…

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Read the full article at http://ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/preaching-like-a-boy-band-trying-to-play-the-blues

-jdl

I recently posted at For the Church, a new site that exists to engage, encourage, and equip the Church with gospel-centered resources that are pastoral, practical, and devotional. I am a regular contributor to the site, and I will try to post links here whenever I post something there. I’m including the beginning of the post below with a link to the full article.

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planteractage

CHURCH PLANTER, ACT YOUR AGE

Given the title, you probably expect this post to scold the young, brash church planter, telling them it’s time to grow up. This post is nothing like that. (As a side note, I don’t find this stereotype of church planters to be accurate in my experience, but that’s another topic.) This post is about something entirely different—it’s less “grow up” and more “slow down.”

In our church plant, we are constantly reminding ourselves to “act our age.” We are an infant church, about one year into our existence. We are just entering the toddler season. Toddlers trying to act like adults look pretty silly. Toddlers have different needs than adults, and we recognize that young churches have different needs than established churches. So, we try to enjoy the stage we are in, trusting that the developmental progress of our church body is what it needs to be in this life-stage.

The Temptation of the Fast-Forward Button

One of the temptations church planters face is pretending the church is further along than it is…

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Read the full article at http://ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/church-planter-act-your-age

-jdl

 

 

5KeysPerseverance

“This is harder than I thought it would be.” We’ve all thought it at one time or another. Difficult tasks that require long seasons of effort can be exhausting. If we lose sight of the goal, we can face discouragement, depression or burnout. Many will veer off course before reaching the finish line. If we are going to persevere, we need to remember five keys to help us along the way.

Most great rewards demand long diligence before they can be seized. This is true in nearly every area of life. Family, work, sport, or cause: all require great patience and long toil before they yield results. In my current role, I am constantly reminding myself of these things and adjusting both my heart and my routine as needed. I hope you find these helpful as you engage in the battle to persevere.

1) PACE
As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself. 80 hour weeks don’t pay off in the long run. Get plenty of rest. For me, this means avoiding late night diversions that keep me from getting to bed on time. The Bible speaks of a time of sabbath rest, where we set everything aside for a day to recoup and refocus spiritually. When I say “set everything aside,” that likely includes cell phone, tablet and laptop. This is not easy, but God himself set this pattern of rest in order. In Genesis, after six days of creating, God rested from all the work he had done. And just in case you were wondering, God never tires. God did not need a siesta. No, this was an object lesson for our benefit. We need to incorporate this pattern into our weekly schedule. What 24 hour period per week have you marked on your calendar for sabbath rest? When I’m at my best, this rhythm of rest is a part of my routine.

2) PRIORITIZE
Ever sprinted through a week or two on a project and suddenly realized you’ve barely connected with Jesus or your spouse? Have you started calling your kids by the names of your co-workers? Not good. The busier you become, the more important it is to prioritize your schedule.

In college, I read an article called “The Tyranny of the Urgent” by Charles E. Hummel. I’ve never forgotten the simple distinction it made between the truly important things in life and the urgent tasks that clamor for our minutes, hours and days. Hummel writes:

We live in constant tension between the urgent and the important. The problem is that the impor­tant task rarely must be done today or even this week. Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit with that non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book: these projects can wait. But the urgent tasks call for instant action—endless demands pressure every hour and day.

Like the busy, distracted priest in Jesus’ story of good Samaritan, we become so busy with the urgent tasks at hand that we often miss the truly important stuff. If we are to weave perseverance into our lives, we must prioritize the important stuff so that we thrive over the long haul.

3) PRAY
Trying to live as a Christian without prayer is like trying to live without air. You aren’t going to make it very far. Martin Luther famously said, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” Prayer confesses for us our dependence on God. Prayer sustains us during difficulties. Prayer provides strength to take the next step. Prayer humbles us in success, and prayer comforts us in failure. Prayer emboldens us to take risks. Prayer offers friendship with our most loyal companion. As we travel the road of life, prayer centers us on what, or who, is most important.

4) PLAY
Have some fun. Find a hobby. Play some golf. Go to a movie (by yourself). Go fishing. Build something. Shoot something (but not someone). Go to a concert. During a season of life transition, a wise woman said to my wife, “Stop doing so much, and go read some fiction.” Pastor Tommy Nelson used to tell us to”go get some rocky road, and be sure you get two scoops.” Do whatever it is that you do when you are having fun.

A counselor friend once gave me an assignment to carve out an undisturbed three hour block each week to do something I enjoyed. This was harder than I thought it would be. In my college years, three hours of play would have been cutting back, but at this stage of life finding three free hours in a week meant saying a firm “no” to other things. For some, this may feel impossible or even selfish, but I’m learning that self-care is critical to staying power. Play promotes perseverance.

5) PLOW
This last key will require a little more explanation, but I am currently finding this to be incredibly helpful. In a letter to a younger leader, the Apostle Paul wrote:

It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Let me shoot straight with you: I’m a city boy, not a farmer. But I have been thinking lots about what Paul said, so I’m going to offer a few thoughts about it anyway. Farming itself is an act of faith. A farmer works long hours for a long period of time before he reaps any benefits from his labor. He shows up day after day and puts in a good day’s work trusting that it will all eventually produce an abundant crop. This requires a unique combination of diligence and patience.

There are two things I will point out about the farmer. First, stuff grows when it grows, and the farmer must trust his crops to appear when the timing is right. Second, there is nothing he can do to speed up the process. Working harder or faster or longer will not change the rate of growth.

What’s the point for us? When I remind myself to “plow,” it is a reminder to work hard and to trust the growth process, no matter how long and slow it seems. Show up like a farmer and do work, and then put your head on the pillow at night trusting something good will eventually grow. When I start to get overwhelmed with all that I have to get done, I find myself saying out loud “just plow the field today.” I can’t control the outcome, so I try to “do a good days work and leave the results to God.” Perseverance requires that we balance diligence with patience.

CONCLUSION

It is said that “in comedy, timing is everything.” The same is true of perseverance. Reminding yourself of these things before you are at the end of your rope makes all the difference. Otherwise, you will learn a life lesson the hard way. The athlete who becomes dehydrated during the match will find it impossible to rehydrate until after the game is over.

Personally, I am learning that the more my responsibilities expand, the more I must narrow my focus on these key areas. For me, these are not annual check-ins. They are daily and weekly reminders that help me persevere as I fight to fulfill my calling.

If you practice these five keys — pace, prioritize, pray, play, and plow, you will be more likely to persevere in the days ahead.

Which of the five keys grabs your attention? Which of the five keys do you find most difficult? Would you add anything to this list? What is your favorite quote about perseverance?

-jdl

NOTE: This is a modified, expanded post taken from an earlier piece that focused on my city. When the response to the first piece was so positive, I realized I had made a mistake in not broadening the article for a wider audience. So, I’ve tried to do that here.

iStock_000025083337LargeI heard it again. This time from a pastor who recently commented (not to me) that we don’t need any more church plants in Oklahoma City because we have lots of great churches here. This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this claim, and it won’t be the last. It’s a good reminder to me that we have to continually cast the vision for why new churches are needed in the Bible Belt.

The pastor’s statement reveals both a general lack of understanding of the church planting movement and a specific lack of awareness of the changes taking place in many cities. For years, people have referred to a certain grouping of American states, where church influence remained strong, as the Bible Belt. Some have wrongly assumed this region would not shift, but the data says that change is on the horizon. If Christ’s church is to rise and be all she’s designed to be for the next generation, we need as many churches, pastors and people engaged in the planting of new churches as possible.

I’m convinced that Manhattan pastor, Tim Keller, will go down as one of the most influential church leaders in our generation. His take on church planting? Keller writes:

“The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else–not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes–will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.”

[If you read just one article on church planting, read Why Plant Churches, by Tim Keller for more on his reasoning.]

As I continue to explain to others the heart of church planting, here are some ideas I’ve found to be helpful in those conversations.

EVERY CHURCH WAS ONCE A CHURCH PLANT
I think this is an important acknowledgement to demystify the concept of church planting. What about the church where you grew up? Yes, it was once a church plant. The church you now attend? Yep, church plant. The church led by the pastor who made the comment above was also a church plant, and I imagine that someone at the time didn’t think it was needed. Yet the years have shown how much that church was needed, and it has been a tremendous blessing to our city. We need more biblical, healthy, gospel-centered, people-loving churches, not less. Biblical mandate and practical experience both point to church planting as the primary way that Christ’s kingdom advances.

WE NEED TO ADD A MEGACHURCH PER MONTH
Bible Belt cities mirror the rapid growth trends of major cities around the globe. A recent Guardian newspaper article in Great Britain states, “According to the United Nations, almost 180,000 people move into cities across the world every day. That is nearly 5.5 million people a month, or a new San Francisco Bay Area being created every 30 days.” [1] It seems ludicrous to think that our current slate of churches are poised and ready to minister to the 180,000 people per day moving into our cities.

While the global stats are overhwhelming, the cities of America’s Bible Belt are experiencing similar shifts that are the localized versions of these global trends. These changes impact rural and mid-sized towns as well as large urban centers, and the church will have to adjust to meet the needs of each of these communities. Let me offer a couple of examples of shifts in Bible Belt cities.

A recent Oklahoman article (OKC’s rise in population ranking reflects job growth) claims the OKC metro area is growing by 1729 people per month. Yes…per month. With rapid urbanization in our world and a healthy economic outlook, projections say OKC will continue to griStock_000002169697Mediumow at a rapid clip. How will the church keep up with population growth? Numerically, we need to add nearly a new megachurch per month just to keep up with all the new people moving into the area. Add into the equation the vast numbers of people already here who do not know Jesus, and you start to get a sense of the burden we should feel for planting new churches.

I first heard this phrase, “add a megachurch a month,” from Bruce Wesley, lead pastor of Clear Creek Community Church, a church of 5,000+ which just celebrated it’s 20 year anniversary (obviously, a well established church). His region, the Houston area, is growing by about 2500 per month, so Bruce and Clear Creek Community Church are seeking to be a part of a church planting movement that continually sees new churches launched in order to meet the needs of gospel proclamation in this huge metroplex. We need more pastors of established churches with eyes to see the needs of their city and a gospel-compelled passion to launch new churches.

NEW CHURCHES ARE THE BEST WAY TO REACH UNCHURCHED PEOPLE
I said this in an earlier post, but it is worth repeating. Studies reveal that the average new church gains 60-80% of its members from unchurched people. Churches that have existed 10-15 years or more gain 80-90% from people who transfer from one congregation to another. [2]

Because I am planting in Oklahoma City, I have more info on my city than others, but I believe other Bible Belt cities would yield similar results (if you have valid stats on your city, I’d love it if you would post them in the comments below). Statistics vary, but my best estimate based on reports I’ve seen is that there are more than 800,000 people already in the OKC metro area who do not regularly attend church. I’m not happy about that. If we want to reach these people for Jesus, the evidence says church planting is the best way to do so.

I’m not against existing churches. I’ve been doing ministry for nearly twenty years, almost all of that time has been invested in existing churches that ranged from 50 people to 4500 people. I love those churches. In addition to that, let me state the obvious: our new church will become an existing church in a just few years. We will still have the same mission that we have now, but our ministry will work itself out in different ways during those years. There will be things we do better then. And there will be things we likely won’t do as well. Each church needs to enjoy and maximize the season that they are in. Our city needs both of us.

THE “BIBLE BELT” IS LOOSENING
For the first time in 200 years, Bible Belt states have seen a decline in the percentage of people attending church. This doesn’t mean we need to panic, but it does argue against the idea that we only need new churches in other parts of our country and/or world.

A friend of mine pastors a church in an area where the church has been greatly marginalized. In a recent conversation, he mentioned to me that only 11% of the people in his area go to church. He and I both agree that new churches are needed in his city. But it does not follow that towns where 22% of the people attend church do not need new churches. That’s just not a reasonable assumption. Both places need new churches. A hungry person who only had one meal in ten needs nourishment, but so does a hungry person who eats two meals out of ten. Both need to be fed.

We need a multitude of churches planting churches. One of Redemption Church’s foundational commitments is to be a multiplying church. We are committed to multiplying disciples of Jesus, multiplying discipleship groups, and multiplying churches. Our prayer is that we always remain more focused on growing Jesus’ Kingdom than growing a church.

One of my prayers for my city (and the other cities around the world) is that the Holy Spirit would create a movement of Bible preaching, Jesus exalting, self-sacrificing churches who commit to training, resourcing, and empowering new leaders to plant churches all around our city, state, region and world. We don’t just want to plant a church, we want to join a movement of churches who continually plant churches for the glory of God and for the good of our world.

What do you think? Are you surprised by any of the data or information above? Is God stirring your heart to join, financially support, or pray for a church plant? Love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

-jdl

[1] This quote was taken from an excellent book, Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church. If you want more statistics and more clarity on this topic, I’d encourage you to pick it up.

[2] Taken from Why Plant Churches, by Tim Keller

iStock_000025083337LargeI heard it again. This time from a pastor who recently commented (not to me) that we don’t need any more church plants in Oklahoma City because we have lots of great churches here. This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this claim, and it won’t be the last. It’s a good reminder to me that we have to continually cast the vision for why new churches are needed.

The pastor’s statement reveals both a general lack of understanding of the church planting movement and a specific lack of awareness of the changes taking place in Oklahoma City. If Christ’s church is to rise and be all she’s designed to be for the next generation, we need as many churches, pastors and people engaged in the planting of new churches as possible.

I’m convinced that Manhattan pastor, Tim Keller, will go down as one of the most influential church leaders in our generation. His take on church planting? Keller writes:

“The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else–not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes–will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.”

[If you read just one article on church planting, read Why Plant Churches, by Tim Keller for more on his reasoning.]

As I continue to explain to others the heart of church planting, here are some ideas I’ve found to be helpful in those conversations.

EVERY CHURCH WAS ONCE A CHURCH PLANT
I think this is an important acknowledgement to demystify the concept of church planting. What about the church where you grew up? Yes, it was once a church plant. The church you now attend? Yep, church plant. The church led by the pastor who made the comment above was also a church plant, and I imagine that someone at the time didn’t think it was needed. Yet the years have shown how much that church was needed, and it has been a tremendous blessing to our city. We need more biblical, healthy, gospel-centered, people-loving churches, not less. Biblical mandate and practical experience both point to church planting as the primary way that Christ’s kingdom advances.

WE NEED TO ADD A MEGACHURCH PER MONTH
A recent Oklahoman article (OKC’s rise in population ranking reflects job growth) claims the OKC metro area is growing by 1729 people per month. Yes…per month. With rapid urbanization in our world and a healthy economic outlook, projections say OKC will continue to griStock_000002169697Mediumow at a rapid clip. How will the church keep up with population growth? Numerically, we need to add nearly a new megachurch per month just to keep up with all the new people moving into the area. Add into the equation the vast numbers of people already here who do not know Jesus, and you start to get a sense of the burden we should feel for planting new churches.

I first heard this phrase, “add a megachurch a month,” from Bruce Wesley, lead pastor of Clear Creek Community Church, a church of 5,000+ which just celebrated it’s 20 year anniversary (obviously, a well established church). His region, the Houston area, is growing by about 2500 per month, so Bruce and Clear Creek Community Church are seeking to be a part of a church planting movement that continually sees new churches launched in order to meet the needs of gospel proclamation in this huge metroplex. We need more pastors of established churches with eyes to see the needs of their city and a gospel-compelled passion to launch new churches.

NEW CHURCHES ARE THE BEST WAY TO REACH UNCHURCHED PEOPLE
I said this in an earlier post, but it is worth repeating. Studies reveal that the average new church gains 60-80% of its members from unchurched people. Churches that have existed 10-15 years or more gain 80-90% from people who transfer from one congregation to another.*

Statistics vary, but my best estimate based on reports I’ve seen is that there are more than 800,000 people already in the OKC metro area who do not regularly attend church. I’m not happy about that. If we want to reach these people for Jesus, the evidence says church planting is the best way to do so.

I’m not against existing churches. I’ve been doing ministry for nearly twenty years, almost all of that time has been invested in existing churches that ranged from 50 people to 4500 people. I love those churches. In addition to that, let me state the obvious: our new church will become an existing church in a just few years. We will still have the same mission that we have now, but our ministry will work itself out in different ways during those years. There will be things we do better then. And there will be things we likely won’t do as well. Each church needs to enjoy and maximize the season that they are in. Our city needs both of us.

THE “BIBLE BELT” IS LOOSENING
For years, people have referred to a certain grouping of American states, where church influence remained strong, as the Bible Belt. For the first time in 200 years, those states have seen a decline in the percentage of people attending church. This doesn’t mean we need to panic, but it does argue against the idea that we only need new churches in other parts of our country and/or world.

A friend of mine pastors a church in an area where the church has been greatly marginalized. In a recent conversation, he mentioned to me that only 11% of the people in his area go to church. He and I both agree that new churches are needed in his city. But it does not follow that towns where 22% of the people attend church do not need new churches. That’s just not a reasonable assumption. Both places need new churches. A hungry person who only had one meal in ten needs nourishment, but so does a hungry person who eats two meals out of ten. Both need to be fed.

We need a multitude of churches planting churches. One of Redemption Church’s foundational commitments is to be a multiplying church. We are committed to multiplying disciples of Jesus, multiplying discipleship groups, and multiplying churches. Our prayer is that we always remain more focused on growing Jesus’ Kingdom than growing a church.

One of my prayers for Oklahoma City (and other cities) is that the Holy Spirit would create a movement of Bible preaching, Jesus exalting, self-sacrificing churches who commit to training, resourcing, and empowering new leaders to plant churches all around our city, state, region and world. We don’t just want to plant a church, we want to join a movement of churches who continually plant churches for the glory of God and for the good of our world.

What do you think? Are you surprised by any of the data or information above? Is God stirring your heart to join, financially support, or pray for a church plant? Love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

-jdl

*Taken from Why Plant Churches, by Tim Keller

plant growI wanted to post some important ideas related to the new church that we are launching in Edmond / OKC, Oklahoma. God is doing some incredibly exciting things with Redemption Church, and I can’t wait to see what God does in the years ahead. Some posts are more personal in nature, but this one is intended to give you some of our reasoning behind starting a new church. I hope it gives you some understanding of how important church planting is to the mission of God. Every church was once a church plant, and I’m convinced that every biblical church should be involved in planting new churches.

Much of the information in this post is summarized and modified from Tim Keller’s influential article, “Why Plant Churches?“, which I highly recommend. The article significantly shaped my thinking about church planting.

A Personal Passion: With about 20 years in ministry, I’ve fallen in love with the excitement, the possibility, and the challenge of starting a new church. As important as that is for me personally, it is more important that I’ve become convinced that the continual planting of new churches is the way that the kingdom of God will grow its influence in our world. The church thrives when she is a multiplying organization. Disciples making disciples and churches planting churches is not only the best way forward–it is the only way forward.

RC-Logo_VertA Biblical Mandate: We are responding to the biblical mandate to plant new churches. When Jesus sent his followers into the world to “make disciples” and “baptize” and “teach,” he was essentially calling them to evangelize, incorporate new believers into churches, and help them grow as authentic disciples of Jesus.

A Common Objection: Well, I’m sure that made sense in the church’s beginning years, but why do we need to plant a new church today in a place where lots of churches exist already?

Top Ten Reasons to Plant New Churches

  1. New churches are the best way to reach the unchurched. Study after study reveals that the average new church gains 60-80% of its members from unchurched people. Churches that have existed 10-15 years or more gain 80-90% from people who transfer from one congregation to another.
  2. New churches are the best way to reach new generations. Younger generations are disproportionately found in new churches, primarily because older congregations settle into routines that suit their existing members.
  3. New churches are the best way to reach new residents. In a new church, new residents are on equal footing with people who have been around a long time.
  4. New churches are the best way to reach new socio-cultural groups in an area. New churches are much more nimble and able to make cultural adjustments that existing churches would take years to make.
  5. New churches are the best way to reach the dechurched (those that once attended church, but no longer have any interest in church). Because they often feel “outside the box” and incorporate new styles, new churches tend to break down barriers for people who have been previously turned off by church.
  6. New churches are the best way to bring new ideas that renew the entire Body of Christ. These ideas help to breathe new life into existing churches and bring about renewal throughout the area.
  7. New churches are the best way to raise creative, strong leaders for the kingdom. New churches value pioneers, creatives, and innovation, and they create space for new leaders to emerge and bless a city.
  8. New churches remind us to build Jesus’ Kingdom and not our own kingdoms. Churches tend to institutionalize and can become focused on maintaining their own ministries. Church planting renews our heart for the lost and for the mission of building God’s Kingdom.
  9. New churches are the best way to challenge existing churches. Seeing a new church engaged in gospel mission may push an existing church to self-examination so that it changes its heart and improves its ministry.
  10. New churches breathe new life and people into existing churches. Some who start out in a new church will discover they are more comfortable in an existing congregation.

[Summarized and modified from Tim Keller, “Why Plant Churches?” at redeemer.com]

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What surprises you as you read this post? What most resonates with you? Would you be interesting in helping to plant a church? Leave a comment below.

-jdl

A DREAM OF A TEAM

October 23, 2012 — 8 Comments

As I am planting a new church, I pray a lot for our future staff. I pray for humble, high-capacity leaders. I pray for the Spirit-led culture that we want to create. I pray for God’s protection and providence. I pray for the men and women who will invest their lives to help Redemption Church honor Jesus and reach many with the gospel.

Last week, I spent four days on a staff retreat with The Village Church. Many are familiar with The Village because of Pastor Matt Chandler (cancer fighter, preacher, author). The Village is one of the partner churches in my church plant residency with Fellowship Associates. We were graciously invited to be a part of their staff retreat with the goal of learning about building a healthy staff culture.

I don’t have a lot of time to fully process this post, but I wanted to throw a few observations down while they were fresh on my mind after being with The Village staff this week. I want to give you a sense of the things we are processing in the residency, and I want to give you a glimpse of my heart for our church. It was good for my soul to see God at work in this group, and it was a good reminder that it’s worth fighting for the gospel to be lived out in authentic community.

Ten Observations on a Healthy Church Staff

  1. A Staff that Loves Jesus – On the retreat, a real love for Jesus was on display through the worship, conversations, preaching, prayers, testimonies. Forgiven sinners love Jesus.
  2. A Staff that Worships Passionately – I loved the extended times of singing and worshiping Jesus. The emphasis on extolling the person of Jesus is central and carries throughout the staff. It was great to see staff from a church of 10,000 worshipping passionately in a room with 100.
  3. A Staff that Laughs – The Village staff laughs. A lot. At jokes. At one another. At old stories from past retreats. They are committed to having fun. It shows up in the way they schedule their time, play games, share meals.
  4. A Staff that Encourages – I have seen real encouragement, both through one on one conversations and in large group settings. This is a group that wants to spur one another on through words of affirmation and encouragement, which is a practical outworking of “love one another.” The ability to speak the truth into one another’s lives is a powerful tool to edify the church. They give healthy honor to those that God leads them to honor.
  5. A Staff that Generously Gives – The fact that they are on a four day retreat says a lot, but they also play games every day at lunch and give away gift cards–with real amounts of money on them. I’ve had Christmas “bonuses” that amounted to less than the gift card I got for painfully singing “She’s Lost that Loving Feeling” with a group of guys (and it was as painful for me as for everyone that had to listen). One pattern I see over and over is that a church that is generous with their staff is generous toward others. Churches are either generous or they are not–it’s a heart thing.
  6. A Staff that is Kingdom-minded – The staff was publicly encouraged to follow God’s leading, even if it means leaving the Village to plant a church or join another work. They made a real investment in our church planting residents, both in terms of finances, wisdom, and time. It doesn’t surprise me that churches whom God seems to be blessing in terms of conversions and growth are also the most generous with their people and resources. These two are linked: a dependence on God’s work among us to save people and build his church, and a freedom with God’s blessing and resources for the sake of the kingdom.
  7. A Staff that Prays – I appreciate the time spent in praying for one another, praying for those with specific needs, praying for those with sin struggles or faith struggles, praying for families. Gospel dependence produces prayerfulness.
  8. A Staff that is Not Perfect – There is a willingness to embrace the imperfection and messiness of their lives. Not just in a theoretical way, but in real and honest ways. They let their sins be real (see Martin Luther) so that forgiveness is real. This freedom comes from sincere faith in the gospel. Leaders cannot possibly shepherd an entire church toward repentance if they are not authentically repenting themselves. The path to spiritual growth/renewal is always repent and believe.
  9. A Staff that Loves One Another – As a staff, relational connection must be fostered. They intentionally invest time together. On the retreat, every person from every department in the church was invited, including both ministers and support staff. They committed an entire work week to being together as a team apart from any “ministry” activity. They also do this for a 1/2 day each month. They work hard, but they also take time to rest and to connect. They are committed to sharing their redemption stories with one another, moving beyond life circumstances to talk about heart shaping events. They don’t hide the rough stuff, and they receive one another in love.
  10. A Staff that Remembers a Shared History – On the retreat, the staff took time to remember past retreats, recall people and events, reflect on how God had worked in the past. I believe it is important to remember this shared history and to celebrate God’s sovereign hand in the life of the church. God weaves many lives and stories together in a local church, and they make something more beautiful together than they could in isolation. Three benefits I see to remembrance: orienting new people to your culture, stepping back to see the big picture of God’s past work, building hope and expectation of God’s future work among the church.

As I mentioned before, this is not a fully developed summary. These are simply my first thoughts typed up quickly on the day after the retreat. I’ll reflect on these things in the days ahead.

I’m sure I’ll add or tweak things along the way, but if these things come to pass in the life of Redemption Church, I will have a full and grateful heart for God’s work among us.

As you reflect on your church staff, what are they doing really well that you could share with us? If you are not on staff of a church, what is one way you could bless and encourage the staff at your church? If you serve on a church staff, what is one practical thing you could do to become a healthier staff team this year?

-jdl

I was talking with a friend the other day about a leadership situation he is facing, and I was reminded that leadership presents us with unique challenges at every turn. The conversation brought to my mind this post. I thought I’d post it again in hopes that it will encourage your leadership in your families, churches, jobs, and communities.

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John Adams is pictured in this painting,
"The Declaration of Independence," by John Trumbull
(http://antiquesandthearts.com/2009-02-24__11-50-11.html&page=1)

I greatly appreciated David McCullough’s fantastic biography of John Adams for many reasons. One particular reason is its relevance to all leaders. I wanted to share one section related to John Adam’s experience as a leader. McCullough wrote:

At the start of every new venture of importance in his life, John Adams was invariably assailed by great doubts. It was a life pattern as distinct as any. The boy of fifteen, riding away from home to be examined for admission to Harvard, suffered a foreboding as bleak as the rain clouds overhead. The delegate to the first Continental Congress, preparing to depart for Philadelphia, felt “unalterable anxiety”; the envoy sailing for France wrote of “great diffidence in myself.” That he always succeeded in conquering these doubts did not seem to matter. In advance of each large, new challenge, the painful waves rolled in upon him once again.

Part of this was stage fright, part the consequence of an honest reckoning of his own inadequacies. Mainly it was the burden of an inordinate ability to perceive things as they were: he was apprehensive because he saw clearly how much there was to be apprehensive about.

Three Kinds of Fear that Leaders Face

McCullough mentions three fears with which Adams wrestled: (1) stage fright, (2) personal inadequacy, and (3) realistic assessment of his current leadership situation. All leaders face these same fears. While all three are present in our leadership worlds, each fear requires a different response. The first two, we need to discard; the third is something we carry with us.

Fear 1 – Stage Fright

When McCullough speaks of stage fright, he’s not talking about being “on stage.” He means the fear of the leadership mantle that must be worn as a leader in any setting. This fear comes from knowing that your leadership mettle is about to be put to the test by a new challenge, likely one which you have never faced before.

You see plenty of examples of stage fright in the Bible. I liken this fear to that of Moses. He first responded to God’s call by saying, “Who am I that I should go that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He clearly preferred hiding out in the comfort (wink wink) of being a shepherd to taking the stage of leadership. He was determined to dodge the frontman role.

God’s response to Moses was more or less, “Get over it.” God was gracious to him and sent Aaron to help, but which of the two had a lead role played by Charleton Heston in the movie “The Ten Commandments”? Moses. God didn’t allow Moses to skip out just because of his stage fright.

When we experience this fear, we need the same advice: get over it. God almost always gives us someone to help shoulder the weight, but a leader must repeatedly let go of fear, and move in the direction God has called him or her to go.

Fear 2 – Personal Inadequacy

The second kind of fear has more to do with “an honest reckoning of [our] own inadequacies.” Many of us are performance-based people who feel a need to succeed. We struggle against our weaknesses all the time, so we are very aware of what they are. Knowing we don’t have it all together, we spook easily.

In Jeremiah 1, we read of God’s call of the prophet Jeremiah. God makes it clear that He planned to make Jeremiah a prophet before his daddy’s sperm had a first date with mommy’s egg. Since God decided this before his DNA was set, one would think Jeremiah could be confident that God knew what He was doing. Instead, Jeremiah says, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” Do you see the list of personal inadequacies he just pulled out? I can’t speak. I’m too young. God replies something along these lines, “Stop whining, and speak loudly and clearly when I tell you to speak.”

This fear must be faced head on and discarded as an enemy. I know this fear well. When I battle feelings of inadequacy, I have developed the spiritual discipline of praying through Jeremiah 1 as a reminder that success is determined by a lot more than my performance. God calls us, and He will use us as he chooses.

Sometimes, this argument for God’s sovereign will is used as an excuse for laziness or cowardice. This may happen if a person is placed into a leadership role but lacks the gift or the heart of a leader. If that’s the case, then there are other issues that must be dealt with. Most of the time, however, this isn’t the case. I find that most natural leaders tend to strive for excellence, usually placing too much of their significance in their success. For these leaders, casting off the fear of personal inadequacy is a call to abandon self-importance and depend on God.

Fear 3 – Leadership Situations

The third fear that every leader faces is a different kind of fear. McCullough describes this as “the burden of an inordinate ability to perceive things as they [are].” Every good leader is able to look out into the days ahead and know what’s coming. He may not see everything perfectly, but he has a sense of what is coming down the road. John Adams “was apprehensive because he saw clearly how much there was to be apprehensive about.”

Seasoned leaders are not afraid because they are uncertain of the future; they are afraid because they know what will happen in the days ahead. They know how the trials will beat them up. They know the battles that must be won. They know the pain it will cause people they care about. These are not matters to dismiss. These are realistic concerns that must be dealt with honestly and diligently and prayerfully.

We should not be shocked by difficulty, since we are instructed, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). A primary task of a leader is to make an accurate appraisal of the challenges ahead. Jesus himself tells us that we should count the cost before we enter the work God has called us to:

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

You might quibble over my use of the word fear here, but the point remains: we are called to take a realistic look at the leadership situations we are entering. These may deal with an rebellious teenager, a divided group, a financial crisis, an inwardly-focused church, callousness to sin, religious pride, group injustice such as racism, or some other struggle. It is healthy to have a reasonable level of fear based on the challenges ahead. These “healthy” fears can drive us to seek God in our work as nothing else can.

When these fears show up, our response should be three-fold:

  1. Make a realistic assessment of the situation, and make your assessment known to your leadership team. You should not oversell the danger, but neither should you undercut the real challenges you will face. Seek input from key leaders, and adjust your conclusions as you learn new things.
  2. Do the difficult work of owning the issues. Where I’ve made mistakes in the past, they have typically involved my emotional withdrawal from a difficult task which led to inadequate engagement—basically, I got tired, and I didn’t complete the work. Don’t be passive. Stay engaged.
  3. Pray. A lot. “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you (Psalm 55:22).” God may not quickly remove the situation, but He will help us to bear the weight of it. He will also guide us as we navigate the road we are travelling: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).

I’d love to read your thoughts. Do you ever feel the way John Adams felt? What fears do you need to overcome? What has helped you act in faith rather than act in fear?

– jdl

As Thanksgiving nears, I was thinking about things I’m thankful for. The first thing that came to mind was the men that God has used to sharpen my life over the years. We are shaped by those around us, and I have been blessed with great relationships with great men. Scripture says, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” I have been given much, and that privilege brings a weightiness to life that is a joy to carry.

A few observations as I surveyed the list of men:

  • Many people have a role to play in our lives–some big, some small but all are significant.
  • God uses different kinds of people in different times of life.
  • Dudes need other dudes to invest in them. Positive masculine influence is essential in the development of men. Iron sharpens iron.

At the end of this post, I included several questions for you to reflect on personally.

Homer Duane Lawrence
My Dad inhabits one of the coolest names possible and likes to fancy himself a rapper named HomerDee. He taught me what it means to laugh and to love and to live. From throwing footballs to bike rides to ski trips, he made growing up fun. I know of no man more faithful in doing the right thing in the right way at the right time. He taught me how to have a backbone and do what is best, even if nobody sees. He showed me that loving people means sacrifice. I’ve never heard a bad word spoken about my father.

Kenneth Lay
Pastor Lay was the pastor that prayed with me when I first trusted Jesus. He baptized me and welcomed me into Christ’s church. I was young, but I remember a gracious man who loved God and loved people.

John Lanata
John was a leader in our youth group. Lanata was a 5’8” inch cannonball of a man who lived like he was set on fire. He would shake your hand like a meat grinder and then slap you on the back with the force of mule kick. In my memory, he weighed 220 and ran 7 miles a day. He was an F.B.I agent. You heard that right – F-B-I. When I was 16, he told me I had what it took to be FBI too. I don’t know if he was just a dad with a slew of daughters looking for ways to escape a household of estrogen or not, but he invested in me and believed in me. Some days, I still want to be an FBI guy.

Ken Surritte
Ken was a youth pastor who showed me what it was to invest relationally as a shepherd. He loved kids. At 3 A.M in the morning, he still loved kids. He let us do stupid stuff like have Nerf gun fights in the church late at night when things tend to spontaneously break. He let students learn to lead in ministry, even though it got messy (figuratively and literally). Ken let me get my first taste of using my gifts to serve Jesus in the local church.

Kim Bearden
Kim was my youth minister and the first guy to hire me for a ministry job (which he paid for out of his own pocket). Kim made hard decisions to buck tradition in order to create the best ministry for reaching and teaching students. I learned from Kim about spending time with the Lord, telling my friends about Jesus, and listening to the preaching of the Word as though it was the key to life.

Terral Bearden (For those that were wondering…yes, they are brothers)
Terral looked like Grizzly Adams, filled his own bullets with powder, and ate things like bear and elk. He didn’t shoot deer from a stand positioned 25 yards from a corn feeder either; he trekked up snow covered mountains and picked them off at great distances. We once shot 96 prairie dogs in about 90 minutes, and I’m still proud of the fact that I got three with a single bullet. He pastored a small church that paid him very little. He often installed carpet to make ends meet. I had the honor of living in his basement and serving his church as youth minister for two summers during college. I got to see how he loved his wife and his kids. My time with him marked me so much that I asked him to be the minister at my wedding.

Louie Giglio
Louie taught me how to worship. In my college years, 1000+ sudents would gather on Monday nights to experience passionate worship and great teaching. Louie repeatedly told us that if we could only make a part of the event, we should come to the worship rather than the talk. As a pre-med student studying long hours in the library, I would run from the library for the worship time and then, often before Louie preached, return to the library. Worship was the most important part of the night because Louie was not the focus, God was.

Tommy Nelson
I first got to know Tommy via cassette tape sermons that his church mailed every other week in packets of two. I listened to more than 500 sermons on tape. After college, I invested a year in Tommy’s “Young Guns” discipleship program, which met each morning at 6 AM. We started Day 1 in Genesis 1:1 and went verse-by-verse as far as we could go each day. Tommy had memorized the entire New Testament. On drives in his car, we would play “stump the preacher”: we’d read a verse, and he’d quote the verse before and after it from memory. His teaching through the Song of Solomon changed my dating and marriage. Lessons from Tommy about life, theology and ministry continue to direct my steps.

John Hannah
Dr. Hannah helped me laugh deeply and think deeply, usually at the same time. We’d sing a hymn before each class, and he’d intro the song with “here’s a horrible little ditty with awful theology, let’s sing it with all our hearts.” He would rub his hand through his unkempt hair and offer humble wisdom like: “the best of us are only right eighty percent of the time.” His willingness to keep things real in a class of uptight seminarians was a salve for my soul. He taught me that the Reformed doctrines of depravity and grace give us the freedom to laugh and the confidence to rest in God’s sovereignty. He introduced me to John Owen, Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans.

Bob Pyne
Before I ever met Dr. Pyne, a close friend told me, “If you were ever a professor, you would be like Bob Pyne.” Bob taught me how to think. He demonstrated fairness and honesty and balance in theology. I graded for Bob at the seminary, and was given the privilege of teaching for him when he was gone. We co-taught a class on Science and Theology in Kiev, Ukraine. When we were there, we filled large jugs of water and tied them to a pole so that we could lift weights in our dorm room (and on the last day or our trip discovered that the school had a legit weight room that we could have used). Bob helped me to see God’s love for the poor, the handicapped, the suffering and the overlooked of this world.

Jeff Bingham
Dr. Bingham was a tall man with a small head that rested on broad shoulders from which protruded long arms that culminiated in skinny fingers. God created Dr. Bingham to be a professor. Even though he insisted, I struggled dropping the “Dr.” from his name. I can’t do it in writing as a type this notation. I never use the word notation either, but I feel like I must when speaking of Dr. Bingham. I purposely took more classes from him in seminary than anyone else. His “Life and Worship in the Early Church” was my favorite course. Classes in Church History, History of Doctrine, Augustine, Barth, and more were foundational for me. He was first reader on my Masters Thesis, which I turned in a day late because I wanted to get it right. His passion for the the Word of God expressed theologically still lights my path.

Mike Monroe
My father-in-law, Mike, is a master of one-liner wit delivered at unexpected moments. He is steady-as-they-come no matter what happens in the course of a day. Mike has taught me a lot about relationships lived without pressure or guilt. He’s a fair-minded man, who treats people well. He’s an open-handed man, who gives freely. I’m grateful for the ways he loves his daughter and loves his grandchildren.

Neil Tomba & David Fletcher
Neil and David offered me a job at the church I was attending while in seminary. Then, they offered me more responsibility to lead on the team just a few months later. These men invested finances, time, energy and relationship in my development. They trusted me, challenged me, and encouraged me as a young pastor and friend. Under their watch, I grew as a preacher, leader and servant during our years together.

Brian McCurry
Brian is a faithful friend and partner in the gospel. McCurry is a “get ‘er done” servant-leader who loves Jesus. He was a great teammate, whose strengths often made up for my weaknesses. Brian makes disciples of Jesus and may be the best small group leader I know. He was willing to do what was right in a tough time at great personal sacrifice. That is true character.

Yancey Arrington, Jason Ganze, Craig Hasselbach, Scott James, Andy Kerckhoff, & Mitch Kramer
Six friends that began as an accountability group meeting Wednesdays at 11pm at a dock on the Brazos River near Baylor University. These guys are my “Fandango” guys, named after the movie and the time capsule we once buried and returned to dig up up ten years later. We still get together each year to share laughs and life. I won’t take time here to tell you about them individually, but I cannot imagine a group of higher quality men with whom I could walk through life. These guys have my back, no matter what. My wife has full permission to call these men if I ever stop loving Jesus, loving her, or loving our kids. Three pastors, a social entrepreneur, a junior high school teacher, and a dentist who will be pall bearers at my funeral, unless they beat me to the finish line.  [You can read more about how to develop friendships like this here.]

What men or women have influenced you? How can you express your gratitude to them this week? Who is God calling you to pour your life and influence into this year?

-jdl