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.


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.

So I went to a Rotary Club meeting…

rotaryI’d never been to a Rotary Club meeting. I’ve been invited several times and politely declined.

Until yesterday.

I’m on vacation in GA and two of my relatives are Rotary Club members. One lives here and the other is an out of town “Rotarian”. Apparently Rotary Club members are expected to attend Rotary Club meetings even when they’re on vacation. So with two invitations from two relatives, how could I say no? Especially when the meeting was being held at the local swanky country club and lunch was included?

I observed some things about Rotary Club that I’d like to share with you. Whether these things propel you toward Rotary Club or repel you from Rotary Club is something I’ll leave between you and Rotary Club.

I went into this experience with little to no expectations except for the aforementioned lunch. Upon entering the foyer of the country club, I saw a table with two pleasant-faced ladies (I’d guess in their sixties) and a case full of large, round, pin-style name tags. The case reminded me of something that would have been handed off to a spy in the middle of a bustling town square crowd in Eastern Europe in some 1960 spy movie. Had the case been closed, I would have immediately thought, “Good Lord, what could be inside that?”  Turned out, they take the protection of their nametags pretty seriously.

IMG_20150805_130511But since I wasn’t a local member, that nifty case held nothing for me. I instead got a hand-written sticker-style name tag. To be fair, it was the most substantial sticker I’d ever seen. Stiff, stout, and customized just for me.

After being introduced to the nametag table ladies by my cousin who was a local Rotary member, I moved left through a doorway into view of a beautiful spread of salad, sides, succulent roast beef, and dessert. Since the lunch was free (to me), I piled my plate high and moved to the next room: the official meeting room.

Upon entering I immediately noticed what I surmised as the average age of the crowd. More on that later. We found a table to sit at which was already occupied by a couple of “Rotarians” but with plenty of open seats left. I sat down and started in on my salad.

My cousin introduced me to those around the table. She’s the type of person who loves connecting people. I have the feeling that she probably didn’t need the nametags to know the names of those already at the table. Those I was seated with were smiley, pleasant, friendly, and smiley. Smiles all around. That was pretty much the perceived theme of the entire meeting, in fact.

I was just a few shovelfuls into my bleu cheese dressing with a hint of salad greens when I heard a very faint sound of a bell. It was a single tone that triggered a singular response from the crowd, with me a few seconds behind. Before I knew it we were on our feet. I looked longingly at my salad and quickly decided it would be inappropriate for me to try and continue eating while standing.

A well-dressed, happy man strode to the podium in the front of the room, introduced himself with some niceties, and commenced the Pledge of Allegiance.  Oooooh, THAT’S why we were standing. Patriotism. Cool. I’m down with that. (I personally like to give the words “Under God” extra punch when I recite the Pledge.) After honoring the flag, there was an invocation. Turned out it was given by a gentleman at my table. He drew a folded piece of paper from his sport jacket pocket, read his prayer, Amen’d, and returned the paper back to the same pocket. “Hmm.” I thought. “Prayer at Rotary Club. I’m DEFINITELY down with that. Even if it is read.”

After the invocation we took our seats again. This time for good. Well, for most of us anyway.

The next order of business was to introduce all visiting guests. The instruction was given to stand when your name was read and remain standing until all the guests had been introduced. Thankfully, I was last on the list. We received our applause and returned to our salad.

The same gentleman who led us in the Pledge called to anyone who had “Happy Dollars” while patting a globe on the table next to him.  As soon as that invitation rang out, a man across the room headed to the front and toward the globe. Turned out, the globe had a hole in it and as the man put in his “happy dollars”, he gave an explanation as to why he was giving those (five) “happy dollars”. I don’t remember the reason. He was immediately followed by another gentleman who also had five “happy dollars” to give, along with a reason for giving them. Again, I don’t recall his reasoning. I just remember thinking, “My dollars are happy in my pocket.” (I’m still unsure what that was for.)

After all happy dollars were collected that were being given, the speaker for the day was introduced. He’s the head coach of the local college football team. Knowing beforehand who the speaker was, I imagined that his talk would be generically inspirational; something for everyone, so to speak. A halftime locker room talk full of passion and purpose, rousing the crowd to excellence in their respective roles in the community. Oddly enough it was about football. His half hour came and went and while I wasn’t necessarily “wowed” by this pigskin orator, I absolutely appreciated his obvious fire for football and leading his players with excitement and drive. He finished his talk, took a few questions, and was thanked by the crowd of businessmen and retirees with a hearty round of applause.

At that, we rose and exited.

Okay so here’s my advice for the Rotary Club, coming free of charge from a guy who just visited one of your meetings. And since I’m someone who dwells in the world of fulltime ministry, people like me need to listen up as well. Why? Because its all relatable.

Don’t just know who you are, say who you are. And more importantly who WE are.

This is just my opinion and maybe I’m off, but I think the words “Rotary Club” convey exactly zero about the Rotary Club’s purpose. Being among all those Rotarians, I got the sense that members know why the Rotary Club exists, but there was no clear articulation of that purpose. So I was left wondering why we had gathered and based on my experience I think the purpose is for mostly older, well-off citizens to have lunch, network, give donations to something, eradicate polio, and pledge our flag. All good things for sure.

Business owners, community organizations, and churches alike: IF you’re going to have insider knowledge, don’t let anyone not be an insider. I wasn’t offended at all by the fact that everyone around me seemed to be clued in. I just would have loved to see something somewhere that helped me understand why we were all there eating salad and giving happy dollars to a globe with a hole. I know there was more to it all, but I don’t know what else that “more” includes.

Be a connector.

My time at my first Rotary Club meeting was as good as it was because of my cousin’s ability and willingness to connect people. Connecting people seems to often get relegated to those who are deemed “outgoing” or “extroverted” or just “people kind of people”. But I’d dare say that it doesn’t take much at all to say,

  • “Hi, my name is ______. What’s your name?”
  • “Do you live nearby?”
  • “What do you do?”
  • “What do you like to do when you don’t have anything to do?”
  • “Do you have any kids?”
  • “Are you reading a book right now? Would you recommend it?”
  • “I’m from out of town. What should I see before I leave?”
  • “I just saw (insert movie title) and thought it was (insert opinion). Have you seen any good movies lately?”
  • You get the idea.

Any one of those questions might likely lead to another question. And none of them are rocket science, but if you ever need help just return to this blog, read one of these questions and recommend jerrythinks to them while you’re at it.

Business owners, community organizations, and churches alike: That person who walks into your business, club, or church service is wanting one thing before all else. They want to be noticed and welcomed. If you fail at that level you don’t deserve them to return ever again. Smile. Say hello. Introduce them. Connect.

Multiply before you die.

As I looked around the room at that Rotary Club meeting, I couldn’t help but notice that 75-80% of those in attendance were 60 and older. Now, I’m not saying that the Rotary Club is knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door but unless this organization is intentional about bringing in younger Rotarians, and doing so continually, its a biological fact that Rotary Club can’t survive. But then again, it was founded in 1905, so 110 years (so far) is none-too-shabby a lifespan. I sincerely doubt that the Rotary has any plans on going anywhere anytime soon. So, let’s just chalk this white-haired-lunch up to this particular local chapter. Still, you know by now what’s coming next.

Business owners, community organizations, and churches alike: Unless you are engaging the younger of the generations along with the older, you too are looking at a very limited timeframe. I can walk into a church service and within a few minutes get a sense of how much time that local church body has left. Are there younger faces around? Is the heart of the people to reach out and connect with those who aren’t quite as far down life’s path? What is being done to engage them?

  1. Have you ever been to a Rotary Club meeting? How was is different from my experience? Was it similar at all?
  2. Which of these 3 observations resonate with you and where you are?
  3. Read this quote Rotary’s founder and think about how it relates to those of us called “church goers”: “Whatever Rotary may mean to us, to the world it will be known by the results it achieves.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

(In case you’re like me and didn’t know much at all about Rotary, here are some tidbits I learned through looking for myself.)

  • pharrisphotoStarted in 1905 by a Chicago attorney named Paul P. Harris.
  • Began and continues as a “service” organization.
  • Harris wanted a place where professionals from diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships.
  • The name “Rotary” came from the beginnings when the location of the meeting would rotate among the offices of the members.
  • A couple notable Rotarians: James Cash Penney (see it?) and Manny Pacquaio (world champion boxer and congressman) Also, presidents, senators, and astronauts.
  • Approximately 1.2 million members worldwide.

The Anonymous Recipient

Recently I took two of my kids to get their haircut. After giving the nice lady behind the counter their names, we sat down in the waiting area just two steps away. Not long after a man comes in with his young son. I’d guess the boy was probably 5 years old or so. The lady who had just helped me was occupied when the man and boy came in, but greeted them and told them nicely she’d be right with them.

So far.  So good.

When she returns to the front counter anonymous recipienthowever, this is where the plot commences to thicken.

The nice lady smiles warmly, greets the man and asks, “What is your name?” (A standard question asks to every customer so that their name is put on the list of who’s getting their hair cut next.)

The man looks back at her and simply shrugs.  Clearly he heard her, but clearly wasn’t answering the seemingly simple question. She tried again. “Your name?”  He shrugged again.  *Shrug.*

She tried another tactic, “You can give me ANY name.”

With an irritated look up and away at the ceiling of that hair cut place he replied, “Winnie the Pooh.”

Without another word, the nice lady typed (presumably) “Winnie the Pooh” into her computer and turned to walk away.

Within 60 seconds I heard the man say to his young son in a conspicuously loud tone, “I know I’m not Winnie the Pooh, but I don’t think a business needs to know anything about me in order for me to take advantage of their services.”

I thought to myself, “Geez guy, conspiracy theorize much?” As if the Hair Cuttery is really a false front to some governmental underground personal information farming. As if the nice ladies who clip your hair are covert operatives with no other objective then to sell you gel while they leach every bit of identifying information from you they possibly can. Yeah. I bet that’s it. “Hey Jason Bourne, you might want to consider taking it down a notch or two. Your son might end up as kooked out as you seem to be.” That’s what I thought to myself.

And then I thought other things to myself. Things less to do with “Pooh” over there and more to do with how some people approach God in a similar way. Let me explain. It seems we’re totally fine taking what God gives us freely, but not as keen on the idea of letting Him get close enough to be Lord. In our own way, we live the snarky attitude of “I don’t think God needs to know anything about me or have any part of my life in order for me to take advantage of his services.” So, they slip in to the church service, collect their “I feel good cuz I went to church” feeling and slink out the door; unconnected, unnoticed, unknowing, and anonymous. This approach is also handy if you happen to find that whole “spiritual community” and “fellowship” and “bear with one another” and “unity” thing the Bible endorses (commands actually) to be not quite your thing.

I’ll spare you the history lesson on the Industrial Revolution and how that got us sliding down a slippery slope of disconnectedness, isolation, and ultimately a thinly veiled anonymity. But I will say this:

Anonymity is a dangerous thing. It lets you keep others at arm’s length while your soul withers from starvation of the things that it actually needs to survive and thrive. When we approach God with a spiritual ski mask on, insist he shove the grace in the bag in small, unmarked bills and we bolt out the door into our hectic, streamlined, anonymous lives, we are truly only fooling ourselves.

Besides, few things are more pathetic and dangerous than being so delusional that you call yourself Winnie the Pooh in a strip mall Hair Cuttery.

So ask yourself…

  1. Where do I need to let God and others get closer to knowing who I am?
  2. What sins are making up the walls I’ve constructed in hopes of keeping myself safe from judgment?
  3. Who is one person right now that I would allow to know my name, my story, my fears, and my hopes?

Bonus question for the comment section: Why do you think American culture has drifted as it has to isolationism?