A really good question.

I was driving through the beautiful countryside of central VA this afternoon with my wife behind the wheel and our college student daughter in the back seat. We were on a familiar road, as we were again delivering our daughter back to where she’s currently residing while in school. Classes start on Monday and she’s been anxious to get back. She lovingly calls where she’s living “home” which I must admit…stings a little bit.

small church building 2My wife had driven the same road a few days ago when she went to pick up our daughter and apparently had found a couple of buildings she wanted to point out to me: the first was an empty, aged, faded-paint building that was screaming to be revived into an adorable shop of some type. And down the road, within eyeshot of that building was a small–and I mean small–church building. Both as picturesque as could be in this rinky-dink, blink-it-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of town. She shared her daydream that she could run that small shop and I could pastor that small church. Nice thought, huh?

I didn’t honestly stay with that daydream of hers for very long. After all, it was HER daydream and I was happy to leave it that way. Instead, I began to think thoughts triggered by that adorable, pocket-sized church building.

You see, I’m a pastor on staff at a rather non-pocket-sized church. With attendance ranging from 1200 to 1400 on average, its quite the situation. I love ministering there, I love the people, I’m grateful for the support of countless parents, and I absolutely am crazy about each and every student that calls Southside home. I’ve been there for 11 years serving as Student Discipleship Pastor and I’m fairly certain I’d be fine with 11 more.

But when I passed that country church building today, I began to think thoughts I haven’t explored nearly deeply enough. Today in 2015, there is a resurgence of the “house church” movement in America. House churches are precisely what they sound like: groups of Christians and those at least interested in Christ gathering together in homes for activities we could commonly connect with “church”. Worship, fellowship, teaching, and even eating. One of the reasons I think the house church movement is growing is because of the perceived misdirection of many established, brick-and-mortar churches.

The word “church” is the biblical Greek word “ekklesia” and it is not now nor ever meant to be attached to a geographic location. The word refers instead to the “called out ones” as the definition states. However, over time we have morphed this word “church” to be precisely that: a location (“Let’s go to church.”) or an event (“Please come to our church service.”).

 

gigantic church serviceSo, a great clarifying question for those in ministry (and those not) to ask is this: How would we do this without a location, schedule, resources, or a program? In other words, let’s say that the “church” you attend (as in the meeting place/building) burned to the ground. What then? The purists might knee-jerk respond with “we’d just meet in an open field.” and to that I’d say, “Good for you.” but if our American church culture is any indication, it wouldn’t be too long before that got old and rumblings of a “building campaign” began to ripple through the crowd.

 

Now let’s get something straight. I’m not against buildings. I live in one. I worship in one. I work in one. I like them. Buildings are good. But has the church mistakenly equated ministry with a location, a schedule, resources, or a program? What if we erased those 4 words from our ministry vocabulary and didn’t have any of them? How then would we “make disciples” as is the Commission given to us by our King? Are we leaning far too heavily on what we have and far too lightly on who and what we are?

I challenged our students last year with this thought: What if more of our church’s ministry happened outside the walls than inside? What if we were known more by who we are than where we meet?

Some might say for a church to have any building at all is a sinful waste. To them I’d respectfully say read your Bible. Having a building, land, or resources isn’t wrong, or bad, or sinful. But putting our hope and trust and faith in those things rather than being the Called Out Ones (who love everyone everywhere with the lavish love of Jesus) is. If you are a part of a church that has a building to meet in, by all means be grateful and leverage all resources for the Kingdom work. To do any less would be wasteful.

What do you think about this? Have we turned “church” into a place and schedule rather than a people and a passion? When you hear the word “church”, what comes to your mind? What is YOUR opinion of “church” in America? What would it take for the negative connotations to be turned around?

The Reality of Non-Existent Time

Clouds, wings, harps, flying, escalators, cotton candy, halos, dogs, bare feet. These are just a few of the things I’ve heard are somehow connected to heaven. We have lots of ideas. Google even brought me this one:

motorcycle heaven

This past December 14th, a young man I know named Tim Vaughan finished his 4 year battle with brain cancer and stepped into eternity. He left behind a beautiful wife and 2 young children. At 33 years old, no one would have thought it’d be his time to go.

Three years to the day earlier my wife’s sister, Markelle Dumm finished her battle with cancer. She fought for 8 years. 8 years of chemo treatments, medications that required a dry erase board in her room to keep track of, and post-treatment exhaustion unexplainable to those who don’t live it.

These two amazing people stepped from temporary life on earth into eternal reality of heaven on the same day, 3 years apart. As I thought about this, I began to wonder some things. In my imagination I could see Tim walking up to Markelle and the conversation going something like,

“Hi. I’m Markelle. When did you get here?”

“Just a couple minutes ago actually.”

“Oh really? That’s crazy. Today is my 3 year anniversary of coming home.”

“Well, you’ve been here 3 years, and I’ve been here for 3 minutes.”

“It’s really great to meet you. As you can see, you’re gonna like it here.”

But then I began to think things that contradicted the tidy, cute little scene described above. And those thoughts were even better.

But first, let’s remind ourselves of a few things. You and I (the ones looking at these words) are right now existing in time and space. Time and space are the conjoined twins that together make up what we call history. We exist in a reality of moments, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, & millennia. The only reason for that is because the Earth orbits the Sun. And that was set in motion by a Creator. More on Him later. (Don’t believe in a Creator? That’s your prerogative.) (Right Ted?)

Here’s the thing: the realm of eternity is completely free and unfettered by time and space. No orbiting, no Sun, no calendar, no clock. Just for 60 seconds, stop here and try and grab that thought and pin it down. Good luck with that. The reason its difficult is because all we see and are surrounded by screams minutes, hours, seasons, and finite reality. Therefore, putting your mind into the infinite is next to impossible.

Today I’ll be attending another Life Celebration service at Southside Church where I’m on staff. This time for a sweet princess named Virginia Rose. You may have seen Virginia Rose and her parents, Jonathan and Jennifer Vandermark on The Today Show, Good Morning America and other national spotlights. They’ve been the face of the fight for childhood cancer since Easter of 2015, when Virginia Rose was diagnosed. Nine months later, here we are laying her tiny body to rest. Virginia Rose finished her fight with cancer this past Tuesday morning, Dec. 29th just after 9 a.m. At that same moment, Virginia Rose stepped into eternity where Markelle and Tim are.

Markelle, 3+ years in eternity. Tim, 2+ weeks in eternity. Virginia Rose, less than a week in eternity. Except it very well may be that none of that is true…not to them anyway.

The amazement of eternity is the non-existence of time. Markelle would never say she’s been there 3 years. Tim wouldn’t say he’s been there less than 3 weeks. And Virginia Rose probably isn’t thinking she’s been in this mind-blowingly beautiful place for 3 days.

What I love most about eternity and spending it in this place called heaven is that I can’t really understand it. This doesn’t make it some fairytale place that might not exist at all; quite the contrary: The fact that we can’t comprehend heaven means its more real than you and I are.

Now, if you want to chalk up my eternity/heaven/Creator mumbo-jumbo to my inability to deal with reality as it is, that’s your call. But what if the bones, veins, organs, muscles, and skin we walk around in isn’t really us at all? What if the temporary really does give way to the eternal? What if horrific diseases like cancer, while devastating to watch, are propulsions toward the wonder of eternity? In the very moment that Markelle, Tim, and Virginia Rose exhaled their last breath on earth, they inhaled their very next breath of the unspeakable glory of heaven. And they bid farewell to time and space forever.

So its such a confounding thing then when I see people living their lives focused on the temporary comforts of here instead of the eternal joys of there. And while I freely confess that I can’t say for sure just what all the activities of heaven are, or if there is any concept of time there, I can say that an eternal heaven exists and that Jesus told us clearly that a love relationship with Him is the only Way there.  (John 14:6)

What is your view of eternity? Based on what you’ve heard, assume, been told, been taught, believe from scripture, what do you believe we can expect heaven to be like? I haven’t written this post to make a statement as much as to open a dialogue that might turn our attention to a reality greater than our own present condition. And that we are changed for the better because of it. And that as many people as possible would embrace the person of Jesus Christ: the Son of God who gave Himself freely for our forgiveness and salvation for the sole purpose of having us with Him forever in eternity.

If you’d like to read some Bible verses on heaven/eternity…

  • John 14:2
  • 1 Corinthians 2:9
  • Matthew 6:19-21
  • Hebrews 11:16
  • Ezekiel 1:25-28
  • Psalm 16:11
  • Revelation 21

 

Marriage

FILE - Figurines of a bride and a groom sit atop a wedding cake in Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday May 8, 2012. A study of more than 3.5 million Americans finds that married people are less likely than singles, divorced or widowed folks to suffer any type of heart or blood vessel problem. The results were released Friday, March 28, 2014. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Robert Willett)

This past June, my bride and I celebrated 20 years of marriage. This past weekend, that same bride and I got the heck outta town (and outta state) to a secluded mountain cabin in the woods. Sitting here in my office, if I close my eyes I can still smell the fireplace. What. A. Weekend.

I’m writing today because I’m tired of watching marriages lapse into milk-toast mediocrity. I won’t go into the mounds of evidence I could lay out, but I suspect I might be the most happily married man you’d ever meet. I also get it that mounds of men might say the same. But then again, another mound of men would roll their eyes at me. Whichever mound you’re in, hear me out.

I’m no marriage expert. Heck, I’m no marriage anything. But I do think I have something to share in regards to this most sacred of unions. So take it, leave it, dismiss it, or refute it. Just read it.

To the men reading, I give this first piece of advice: Love your wife. I mean REALLY love your wife. Not the kind of love that’s like, “I let her heat up my Hungry Man every night–what more does she want?!?” I’m talking about the kind of love that makes her say, “What has gotten into you?!?” Believe me, I know we all have different versions of love and we all have our own “love languages” but I wonder how many husbands think they’re speaking their love loud and clear when in fact that love is getting lost in translation? So guys, think about this: How can you RIGHT NOW identify how you are CLEARLY communicating love to your wife in no uncertain terms? What are/can you do IMMEDIATELY that erases every doubt in her mind that she is the sole object of your affection? And don’t think I think love is anything but a decision and declaration we make every day. Sure there are emotions, but if you’re sitting there not loving your wife right now, let me give you some pretty simple, clear instructions which come right out of scripture: Love your wife. (Does she really know you’d lay down your life for her?)

Now let me say that I completely understand that not every day of your marriage is meant to look like the cover of a Fabio romance novel. Come to think of it, none of them should. Ew. But what I am saying is that if romance is going to be kindled, its going to take a deliberate plan (maybe one of the most seemingly unromantic words in the human language) to make it happen. So, what’s your next romantic move?

Next I want you to focus on listening. I’m talking especially to the men in the room. Guys, its no surprise that women generally use more words in a given day than men, and some have even argued that they need to. Its something hardwired into their DNA or something. I don’t know. What I DO know is that when my wife is talking, anything other than full attention isn’t going to cut it. As you listen, be sure to actually listen. I mean as in listening. Like hearing sounds, but more than that. You know, listening. Now here’s the trick. Have a response but don’t practice your response in your head while she’s talking and you’re….listening. Phone down, screen off, noise muted, the whole works–all of your attention on her gorgeous lips. And just to be fair to the men, ladies remember that your man might be a man of few words, but those few words deserve to be heard and received by you.

Now to sex. Sex isn’t just a thermometer for your relationship, telling you if things are hot or cold. Its also a thermostat. You may be blushing right now (I’m sure my mom is) but I believe sex in a marriage is a powerful salve that often gets overlooked. I’m not saying we should completely overlook our amorous moods (or lack thereof), but I am saying that sexual intimacy has an entirely powerful ability to draw two people close; as close as two humans can be. So if you’re feeling far from your spouse right now, let me give you this advice: Call or text them right now, tell them you love them desperately, and then remove every obstacle that’s between you, your spouse, and your bedroom.

Like I said, I’m not an expert. I’m just a happily married man with a wife that seems equally as happy. I hope you can take something from this and put it into practice right away.

Head in my hands

I really don’t know what our problem is. We live life under such strain of anxiety, stress, and worry.

People ask me why I don’t worry. The answer? I don’t not worry. I just don’t worry often enough or hard enough for it to register on the “he’s obviously worried” scale. So, don’t think I’m some superhuman who’s above the capacity to fret. Oh, I fret.

But here’s the thing.  Of all the problem-solving strategies out there, worry is the absolute least effective.  Its a strategy that has never worked. Nor will it ever. And yet we employ it. We’re a crazy bunch, aren’t we?

People who don’t believe in a God are fascinating to me. And more times than not (fair or unfair) they come off as arrogant. And a wee bit angry. And also pessimistic. Me? Not only do I believe in A god, I believe whole-heartedly in THE God. See that capital G? Yep. That one.

I haven’t know this God my whole life but it seems like for most of my life I’ve known something of Him. I heard stories. I heard people talking. Word got around that there was this God that actually did stuff. Important stuff like loved, helped, rescued, and healed. To me, the evidence for the existence of THAT God is overwhelming. Nowadays (as always) there are people going around shooting and beheading people like me who claim to know and love that God. And when one of those gun or machete toting hooligans comes my way and asks me what I believe?  Well….let’s just say I’ll catch you on the flip side. Why? Because I can’t deny what I’ve seen, learned, experienced, and been convinced of. I can’t.  Take your atheism all the way to Timbuktu for all I care. Me? I’m sticking with God.

So that brings me to the point of all this. This God I claim is unbelievable (despite my aforementioned belief in Him). What I mean is this God not only has already secured for me eternal victory over this life and its ills, but everyday I get to march up to the enemy that would seek to destroy me and spit (proverbially of course) directly into his ugly mug. *pa-too*

Take a look at David the kid who’d later become David the king. His brothers were all in the Israelite army and were camping across from the Philistine army.  Maybe you’ve heard this story. Stick with me. Little Davey comes out to deliver some cheese curds and whey protein to the soldiers when he sees them at a scared-frozen impasse because of this big dude named Goliath who was the “champion” of the Philistine army.

Long story short, when no one of the Israelite army would go out and face the giant, David looked around, shook his head at their fear, swallowed any bit of his own fear, and “ran to the battle line”. Did you hear what I just said?  David the pip-squeak kid RAN to the battle line to face Goliath the behemoth warrior. As in RAN.  As in “Who does this overgrown punk think he is, speaking against my brothers and against my God?!?”

Once David reaches the battle line, he shouts a message to Goliath (who was pretty much simultaneously laughing at this gnat of a boy who came to fight him) and says, “Hey ugly, I see you got that javelin and spear and that’s a nice looking sword you got there too. You’re coming against me with that stuff, but guess what chump? I’m coming against YOU in the name of the God of Israel, the God who you’ve been talking against! So get ready to meet him, you limp-wristed little nancy pants!”  (That’s the JIV translation.)

David_GoliathAnd then David pulls out his shepherd’s slingshot and nails the giant in the head. The stone SINKS IN to the skull of Goliath and drops him to the ground. Then David does something so street, so gangster, it just can’t be overlooked. You remember that sweet sword the giant had? David pulls it from Goliath’s hand and hacks the giant’s head off. I love it. He could’ve just walked away, back to the army of Israel and said, “Okay boys, I did the heavy lifting. You finish it up.” But when you’ve got the God of Israel, the God of the universe, the God of infinite design, the God of all-power at your back…well….you don’t shrink away from anything.

That’s the God I love. That’s the God I serve. That’s the God who’s making a way for me right now. That’s the God who’s at my back. And my side. And going ahead of me working things out for my good and His glory.

So today, if you’ll excuse my slight swagger, I’m walking with a giant’s head tucked under my arm. Because I’m walking with the King.

Religion is a broken ladder

busted ladderI’ve had countless conversations with people from a wide variety of worldviews. Through those conversations covering a myriad of topics including God, spirituality, Christians, the Bible, etc. I’ve come to realize that there is (in the minds of most non-Christians I talk to) an inseparability between the concepts of “God” and “religion”.

Big problem. Here’s why.

Most people are open to the idea of God or at least a God. But most people hate and I mean hate religion, religiosity, and religious-acting people. And remember, “God” and “religion” are inextricably intertwined for most “non-religious” people. In other words and to use that age-old adage: If the idea of God is the baby, its being thrown out with the proverbial bath water. Why? Because religious people have come across as religious. As in mindlessly following a dry ritual that leads to nothing more than more ritual. To the mind of someone not inside that worldview, its a complete waste at best and diabolical at worst.

But the non-religious have been by-and-large quite polite about their disdain for the religious. They’ve tucked the religious among them into a box and put one of those “COEXIST” stickers on it.
Fair enough.

Here’s the deal. Religion and God were never meant to be put together, let alone conjoined like two babies sharing vital organs. Religion is OUR attempt, OUR faulty efforts to reach a God that has no interest in being reached. This God is in fact the One doing the reaching. This God is the One who has from the very beginning been the initiator of any contact between Creator and Creation. Meanwhile, we’ve constructed this rickety, busted, woefully short, broken ladder in an effort to get to God. That ladder is religion. Religion is man’s attempt to reach God. Grace through Jesus is God’s statement that He’s reaching us.

Jesus paintingSo, please don’t think I have faith in religion. The word itself is in the Bible only a handful of times and not in the way we currently use it. No, I don’t cling to religion. Religion as a broken ladder could never save me. Ritualistic ruts could never do the trick. I cling to Jesus. Jesus never seemed interested in religion and yet somehow many of His followers have found themselves steeped in it. I don’t go to a particular building on Sundays because I have religion. I go because I have friends there who love Jesus too and some who are searching and I want to encourage anyone I can. I don’t read the Bible because God loves me when I do, I read it because God loves me unconditionally and is speaking through the Bible. I don’t pray because I think I’m better than anyone. I pray because I know I’m a scoundrel in need of a Savior and this Savior has embraced me into a loving relationship with Him. Like any relationship, it grows through constant, authentic communication.

So if you’re not a Christian, please understand that its entirely likely that the Christians you know dislike the connotations of “religion” as much as you do. Please understand that its Jesus we’re after because we found out that He’s after all of us. And we know how much we and the world need His love, forgiveness, and grace.

And if you’re a Christian reading these words, how have you perpetuated the concept that God and religion are inseparable? How can you replace ritual in your life with zeal, with passion, with love, with selflessness that simply loves all people the way Jesus does?

The Mechanics of Ministry: A multi-part inspection of how Church works

Welcome and thanks for stopping in to think with me through some questions that I believe need to be asked. Let me start off by saying I’ve been in fulltime ministry for over 20 years so I’m not talking from theory, from conjecture, or anecdotally. I’m talking from real life observations and insights born in real life ministry experience. I hope you’ll find things here that’ll entertain you, some things that’ll offend you, some things that’ll make you question what you hold as conviction, and some things that’ll kickstart conversation with the people around you. Part 2 (Spiritual Spectacle) and Part 3 (Ministry Hustle) will be coming later and directly connect to this one.

Part 1: That Vision Though

I’m currently in the last week or so of a 5-week sabbatical. This is only mostly irrelevant to the issue of vision, but not entirely. As I’ve been in ministry myself and seen a wide variety of ministries over the years, I can see where vision is and where vision isn’t. Or at least where it isn’t obvious to the outsider.

I recently had the opportunity to visit two well-known “mega” ministries: North Point Church in Alpharetta, GA with Lead Pastor Andy Stanley and NewSpring Church in Anderson, SC with Lead Pastor Perry Noble. Both were dynamic in different ways and both had electric atmospheres in different ways. Both experiences were enjoyable and both were experiences I’d love to repeat if given the chance.

20150802_102918When I walked into North Point, I was immediately in awe of the sheer size. Driving in, we were directed to an open parking spot by several different traffic-directing volunteers. We walked in along with a horde of other worshippers. You probably couldn’t go 15 feet in any direction and not see another volunteer in a Northpoint shirt. 20150802_104037I even commented to one of them how striking that was. Another one of them showed me around after I asked about the student ministry. He clearly loved his church and was happy to help me. It was seriously impressive, it really was.

As the service got underway, I had (at least at first) a slight feeling like I was watching the recording of a television show. As if I was part of the studio audience for something ultimately for far more people than were 20150802_103859in the large auditorium we were in. And we were; there’s no question that North Point is a global ministry. It was unmistakable, at least to me. We enjoyed the service, the worship music, and the message by Clay Scroggins. (I happened to see Clay in a hallway before the service and had to deliberately “play it cool” so I didn’t totally geek out.) The service ended, we made our way out of the sanctuary auditorium, helped myself to another eyeful of the student ministry area, snapped some pictures, and walked out of the building. Great time, great teaching, great ministry, and a great Starbucks gift card given to first-time visitors. Overall, great. If you want to see the service I attended for yourself, click here.

20150808_124334The following Sunday I attended NewSpring Church in Anderson, SC. Let me preface this by saying while I had never been to NewSpring, I do have a friend named Joel Tippitt on staff as Group Director. So, I came into the building and already had someone specific to look for. Not sure if that taints my objectivity, but I don’t think so. Keep reading.

Backstory: I actually arrived in Anderson on Saturday even though I told Joel I’d be there Sunday morning. With a rental car and nothing much to do (my family had dropped me off on their way home to VA from vacation time in GA), I decided I’d go to NewSpring to see if they had a Saturday night service. Turns out they didn’t, but it also turned out that I got way more than the potty stop I had planned for. As I drove up to the mostly empty parking lot, I could see one of the many front doors propped open. I’m not shy so I walked right in. I immediately saw 10-12 adults setting up for baptism the next morning. I spent about an hour and a half talking with them. What struck me most was their passion for what was happening at their church and how that was so clearly connected to the vision of that church.

20150809_092527

18 people celebrated baptism during this one particular service!

20150809_111456So, back to Sunday morning. I met up with Joel and he showed me all around the church facility, introducing me to people and continually connecting every area, every effort, every role to the vision of the church. Ultimately we ended up in the “VIP” room where first-time guests are welcomed after the service. While first time guests certainly ARE Very Important People, the “VIP” actually stands for Vision, Information, and Prayer because these are 3 things NewSpring Church wants to communicate to new visitors. You see, when you come to NewSpring, you’re not leaving without being crystal clear on the vision. I was struck by a large floor-to-ceiling mural in the VIP room that displayed the 5 points of the vision of the church. From the countdown intro video that kicked off the worship service, to the response/invitation at the end of the service, to nearly everything you saw and experienced there, the vision was integrated and articulated. If you want to watch the service I attended for yourself, click here.

North Point is an incredible ministry doing incredible things being led by God’s incredible Spirit. No doubt about it. And my personal connection to a staff member at NewSpring afforded me a unique perspective that wasn’t there at North Point.  Both excellent, both used of God.
Both seriously awesome.

So, what is the deal with vision? Is vision unique to an individual pastor/leader? When a pastor/leader transitions from being a pastor/leader of a particular ministry, do they take that vision with them? Does the new pastor/leader bring a new vision? Where does vision come from? How is it born? How is it cultivated and communicated in such a way that it invades every square inch of the heart of each person and every square inch of space occupied by that ministry? Can vision be overstated? Can vision be made overly complicated? Can vision be uncompelling? Is uncompelling even a word?

The matter of vision must first be a matter of Scripture. The Church doesn’t need a dynamic visionary pastor as much as it needs to understand its God-given mandate. No hyped-up, slickly-rehearsed, creatively-contrived presentation based on human ingenuity is necessary. The vision: Make disciples.

I love that. I love how those 2 words completely level the field between mega-ministries like North Point just north of Atlanta, GA and small-town single-room churches like the one I grew up in in North Cape May, NJ. No matter which one you’re at, we’re partnering with God to do the same thing: Make disciples.

The matter of vision must secondly be a matter of prayer. Our two-word mandate is a given. But every pastor/leader possesses a unique personality, character, charisma, humility, and –ahem— even “style” all their own. In other words, the methodology between two pastors who lead the same church can be wildly different indeed.

What is the vision exemplified by the pastor/leader of the local church you’re a part of? How would you articulate it? What does he seem to be trying to accomplish? And why? You see, when vision is based on prayer that leads to submission, the vision of a particular pastor/leader can take on a variety of complexions. That is why I can pray for, meet with, and support a small army of fellow pastors in my community because I know that my ministry “style” may not be (and certainly isn’t) everyone’s cup of tea. So I’m thankful when I see people connecting to Jesus and His Body across town because I’m part of Jesus’ Body too. I learned from my dad (the lone pastor of that small church in North Cape May) this incredible truth: “Genuine ministry is never jealous.” Maybe you’re a pastor/leader reading this and you need to stop right there with that statement, take it to God in prayer and confess your jealousy of other ministries and leaders. I’ve had to do that very same thing on more than a couple of occasions.

Finally, the matter of vision must be a matter of white-hot passion. And that passion must be translated into pinpoint clarity. If not, it won’t translate to those who aren’t already part of the excitement. People will observe the passion but come away with, “Boy those people were pumped! About what, I’m not sure but they were definitely excited!” Excitement is great, but excitement clearly communicated in connection with spiritual, eternal, life-giving realities is the best kind of excitement that exists. (No offense, Nascar.)

Okay, so that we can do something with all this talk…

  • So, what is the vision of YOUR local church?
  • Does your pastor know you’re as excited about the vision as they are?
  • Is the vision of your church communicable to those who aren’t yet a part of it?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Over Do It.

jump off boatI’m just past dead center of a 5-week sabbatical that was offered to me by the ministry I work with, Southside Church on the south side of Richmond, VA. I’ve been here nearly 11 years and after 10 years we say, “Take a break. 5 weeks should do it.” Believe me, I’ve enjoyed just about every second of it. It’s given me time to breathe, to rest, to reflect, and to look some of my entrenched perceptions square in the face and say, “Really?”  I’m already calculating my re-entry into the atmosphere of the church and it is all-at-once exhilarating and unpretty. But unpretty in a way that testifies to the fact that the sabbatical is working. I seriously doubt this sabbatical was afforded me with the hopes that I’d return exactly the same person I was when I set my auto-response on email and voicemail and walked out nearly 3 weeks ago.

So during this time I’ve thought about lots of things and observed even more. I’ve visited places and talked with people and challenged preconceived thoughts. I’ve thought about my former self and how he went about student ministry. I imagine that guy getting canned, me knowing all the details of his years in that role, and taking up and taking on this student ministry with all that in mind. So, without further adieu, a few thoughts so far.

Excuses: I can concoct any number of excuses as to why the ministry I’m a part of isn’t what burns in my heart as the vision* I sense God has given me. Not enough leaders, not enough students, not enough money, not enough support, not enough time, not enough buy-in. Too many obstacles, too many entities vying for resources, too many opinions mucking up the progress, too many hands in the pot. But you know what? Not one of those excuses has proved its worth. They’re all a fog that fills a space but is easily walked through as if it weren’t there at all. And they’re laughing at me.

*I once heard this definition of “vision”:
“The mental picture of what could be, fueled by the conviction of what should be.”

Question: What excuses do you concoct? Are any of them valid? (Hint, if they were you wouldn’t have identified them as excuses.)

Laziness disguised as caution and thoughtfulness: I’m a slow processor. I’ll move slower than you want me to, I can nearly guarantee it. I would be prone to apologize for that, but that would be like a crockpot apologizing for the flavorful meal it provides after doing its thing all day. Sure it takes a while, but you’re glad for the results. Right? I don’t know. That’s just what I tell myself. But anyway this form of laziness is so sneaky because its not overt. It doesn’t look like someone sitting around doing nothing. Quite the opposite actually. This laziness might be feverishly busy, but doing the wrong thing(s) because tackling the right thing(s) is too risky. I’ve got to be careful not to be busy in activities but lazy in what matters most.
Bonus: Laziness is Selfishness. Let’s not kid ourselves. Lazy people are selfish people. When I’m lazy its because what I want has trumped what you need.

Question: What matters most to you? How close to center is it?

Over Do It or Do It Over: I was thinking about this idea two days ago when I looked at our neighbor’s yard. My teenage son had mowed it the day before. He did a great job, but because of the length of the grass and the engine getting bogged down due to the amount of grass, he opted to switch to the side discharge attachment rather than the bagger attachment. That left the cut grass strewn about in a thick layer on the lawn. In other words, it looked like a hay field the next day. I called him out and we looked at it together and agreed this was no good. We couldn’t in good conscience leave this lawn looking like that. So we essentially re-did the lawn, this time with the bagger attachment. A couple hours later, 100% better. Side discharge: easier. Bagger: better.

When a task is at hand–and I mean any task–I want to keep this mantra drumming in my mind: Over do it or do it over. This is really about understanding the full capacity of excellence and not readily settling for less than what’s possible.

Question: Where are you using the side shoot when you know you ought to use the bagger? Where can you apply the “Over do it or Do it over” concept?

I freely admit that my last blog post was longer than I imagine most people would read. So I’ll stop here and get back to my radical sabbatical. More later. Maybe.