From Strategy

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The Problem With Incremental Change

So you want to bring about change but you’re afraid of the pushback that you know the change will create?

Totally understand that.

So you’re tempted to do what many leaders have done. Instead of bringing about the deep or radical change you know needs to happen, you decide to introduce change incrementally.

Rather than remove the furniture you know needs to go, you move it an inch a week, hoping nobody will notice.

Rather than fire the poor performer, you transfer him to a new position and hope one day he’ll leave.

Rather than kill the programs that need to go, you add a few new ones instead and skirt the real issue.

Rather than make all the changes you know need to be made, you create a 10 year time line, thinking that people will better accept the change the longer you delay.

Sound familiar?

What’s wrong with this picture?

More than a few things actually.

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The Problem With Incremental Change

The problem with incremental change…

…is that it brings incremental results.

If you want incremental results, then embrace incremental change.

The reality is that most leaders don’t want incremental results.

You dream of significant results.  Of radically different results.

Yet for some reason too many leaders fall for the leadership lie that incremental change will usher in radically different results.

It won’t.

Radical change brings the potential for radical results.

Incremental change never does.

Why Do Leaders Fall For This?

Why do you as a leader talk yourself into believing that incremental change will produce the results you’re looking for?

There are at least three reasons:

1. You fear people’s reaction to significant change

You’ve seen other leaders get crucified for ushering in change. And you don’t want that to be you.

Fear is one of the main reasons change isn’t happening fast enough in the church or in many organizations today.

Personally, I think it would be a terrible thing to stand before God one day and explain that the main reason you didn’t do what you were called to do is because you were afraid.

Do you really want fear to be your final epitaph as a leader?

Or would you rather go down trying?

Personally, I’d rather die trying.

2. Past opposition to change

You tried change once, and it failed.

Well, awesome.

You also had a bad meal once, but you didn’t stop eating.

Why is it leaders shy away from change once they’ve had any opposition to it?

Maybe the change itself isn’t the problem.

Maybe your strategy is the problem.

This is why I outlined 5 specific strategies to lead change in the face of opposition in my book Leading Change Without Losing It.  And why I’m so passionate about helping leaders navigate change.

Just because you failed at leading change once doesn’t mean you’ll fail forever.

Get a new strategy. What’s at stake is far too important not to.

3. Belief that progress should come without pain

Now we get closer to the heart of the matter. Many leaders secretly wish progress came without pain.

Progress almost never comes without pain.

Significant things are rarely accomplished without significant struggle.

Our heroes are always people who suffered to bring about a better end. Part of us wants to live like that, and part of us doesn’t.

The leadership question is whether you’re willing to endure pain for the sake of a better future.

Real leaders say yes to that. They honestly do.

So…if you want significantly different results, push past the fear and stop thinking incrementally.

Incremental change brings about incremental results.

Now you know what you’re dealing with.

What are you learning about change?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

The Evangelism Conversation No One Is Having

I was listening to a podcast recently that confirmed what many of us have intuitively known for a long time.

People are having spiritual conversations every day…they just never think of turning to a preacher or the church for answers.

I’m not talking about people who have other religious backgrounds. I’m talking about your neighbours, your friends, maybe even your family members as well as cultural leaders and thought leaders in our cultural context who are unchurched.

It’s not that people aren’t interested in spirituality; it’s that they don’t think the church can help them.

It’s completely worth the 45 minutes for you to listen to this conversation between Lewis Howes and Prince Ea. (The direct iTunes link is here). Lewis is a pro-athelte turned podcaster and Prince Ea has dedicated his life to fitness, inspiration and music.

As you listen to this conversation, you’ll see how much the dialogue has completely shifted. Lewis is clearly looking for answers to spiritual questions, and Prince Ea is giving them, but the conversation is completely different than any conversation I’ve ever heard in any church.

Jesus comes up once, but they quickly move on to having dinner with Buddha instead.

Truthfully, most of the people they reference in this conversation are people I’ve never read…or even heard of.

The dialogue is moving, friends, and we preachers and church leaders are increasingly not a part of it.

A Shrinking Audience

If many preachers and church leaders were musicians, I’d say we’re increasingly cutting records nobody’s listening to, let alone buying.

Yes, that’s a bit harsh.

And I write this in a year when our church is seeing a year of encouraging growth—mostly from unchurched people.

But I’m painfully aware that we have over 250,000 people within a 30 minute drive of our locations who are completely unchurched.

Who’s talking to them?

I think that’s crickets I hear.

I say this not so much as criticism as I do out of a sense of burden.

I just think we need to get better at this. need to get better at this. We all do.

6 Steps Toward Having the Conversation No One is Having

So how do we get better at this?

Here are 6 steps that I think can lead us toward the evangelism conversation far too few of us are having.

1. Listen to voices that don’t simply affirm what you already believe

Look, it’s great to listen to people who believe what you believe…to have your faith strengthened or your skills sharpened.

But don’t stop there.

Listen to people who disagree with you, people who think differently than you, people who don’t believe what you believe.

And I’m not talking about people who watch Fox News watching CNN or MSNBC as an alternative. Or people who listen to John Piper checking out Rick Warren for radically different views.

I mean just listen to people who don’t share your faith system at all.

Podcasting makes this so easy.

I love creating my podcast for church leaders every week (you can subscribe for free here, btw) and I love listening to other preachers and Christian leaders, but I make it a discipline to listen to other, non-Christian voices.

I have to get better at this, but simply listening to people who agree with you doesn’t make you a better thinker or preacher.

2. Listen to Top 40 radio

My personal music preferences don’t tend to lean toward Top 40 anymore. I like current music, just not the stuff the people I’m trying to reach are buying.

You might find yourself in a similar position as a Christian leader.

Making yourself listen to music your unchurched friends are listening to helps you get into their world.

Yes, you’ll find the music morally objectionable. And you won’t like the beats. But I’m not asking you to like what unchurched people are listening to…just to listen to understand it.

Music contains so many clues to the value system of our culture, the struggles of our culture and the hopes of our culture. A culture that I assume you’re trying to reach with the ultimate hope of Jesus.

If you want more on music and approach to church, Rich Birch and I talk about how even contemporary church music isn’t contemporary anymore in Episode 8 of my leadership podcast.

3. Read what your unchurched neighbour is reading

So this isn’t an excuse to dive into 50 Shades of Grey, but when was the last time you checked out the Amazon Top 100 bestsellers?

Or the New York Times Best Seller List?

The spiritual dialogue has moved, and the clues to what it looks like are found all over today’s best seller lists.

4. Understand the culture’s vocabulary

Even one listen to the conversation between Lewis Howes and Prince Ea will show you how much the dialogue has shifted.

Their conversation sounds nothing like anything I’ve heard from any church platform lately, but they’re asking all the questions Christians ask.

This doesn’t mean you should start talking street if you’ve got no street in you. You’ll come off as inauthentic, awkward and even weird. Avoid that.

But people will be able to tell if you’re trying to connect with them where they’re at.

Ask yourself some tough questions:

Would any message I’ve preached be easy to understand by anyone who had never been in church?

Am I answering questions people are actually asking?

Do I even know the questions people who have never been to church are asking?

Can I convey the answers in language anyone can understand?

5. Explore all the language of scripture

Most of us get stuck using only a few of the metaphors for God and faith that the scripture uses.

We might love preaching about the blood of Jesus, but to our culture, that seems increasingly weird. I’m not saying you should never use it, but if you do, try to explain why it matters.

And look for other metaphors. The Apostle Paul was masterful at this, engaging and quoting Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in front of a group of Greeks who had never read the Hebrew Bible.

He started with their language, rather than his. And culled from scriptural metaphors that would make the most sense to them as outsiders before getting to the resurrection.

So what are you favourite metaphors? Just listen to your last 20 messages or conversations and you’ll figure it out.

Then as you read your bible, get ready to get surprised at how many different ways scripture describes God or even salvation.

The metaphors Scripture uses to describe God are far richer than most Christian leaders realize.

6. Get around some people under the age of 30

If you want to hit the deep end quickly on understanding culture, this is it.

I was talking to Perry Noble recently and he completely surprised me by telling me he meets monthly with a group of high school students just so he can stay current. And he gives them his cell number so they can stay up to date.

This is a leader who leads one of the largest, fastest growing churches in America who finds the time to meet a dozen times a year or more with students so he can stay fresh.

If Perry can do it, you and I can probably find the time.

Whether you decide to meet with junior high kids, high school students, a group of millennials outside the church or whomever you choose to meet with, the point is this: meeting with teens or young adults who understand culture, where it’s at and where it’s going keeps you from becoming irrelevant.

I usually do random meetings with young adults, but this kind of structured intentional meeting really challenged me.

The truth is churched people will ask you to meet with them all day long. So will people your age.

Students never will.

Unchurched people never will.

Millennials never will.

So make the time.

The Goal?

Want to know where the hope lies in all of this?

Let me show you.

As most iTunes users will know, if you locate a podcast or even album on iTunes, it tells you what people who listen to that podcast also listen to.

Look at what I found under Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness Podcast.

I found Michael Hyatt.

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Michael is a giant in the leadership world these days, as are John Lee Dumas, Pat Flynn, Tim Ferriss and other others listed.

But Michael is also a Christian. And he speaks about his faith often and openly in his writings and on his podcast.

The church needs more leaders like Michael who not only respond to culture, but influence it That’s exactly what Michael is doing…largely because he’s so great at leadership.

Wouldn’t it be great to see a day when people who are listening to podcasts on spirituality see a church’s or Christian leader’s podcast come up under the “Listeners also subscribed to…” section of an iTunes page?

What if that was you?

Or your church?

The better we get at understanding and addressing our rapidly change culture, the more frequently this will happen.

Two More Resources

If you want to drill down more on this subject, here are two more resources I’ve put together.

Blog Post: 5 Important Ways Evangelism is Shifting in Our Culture

Podcast: Churchless. Why and How America Is Learning to Live Without The Church: An Interview with David Kinnaman (also below).

Let’s Get Better At This Together

Got books you’ve read that have helped you get better at connecting with the culture?

Music you listen to?

Podcasts you’ve listened to?

Scroll down and leave a comment listing what you’re reading, listening to or discovered.

We can all get better together.

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The Fastest Path to Becoming an Ineffective Leader

I was talking to a leader this week who has come under fire from a group in his church who is opposed to the change he and his team are making.

I won’t go into the details, but it’s a change about 99% of you reading this post would advise he make. It’s actually not even that controversial. It’s common sense.

You know what he’s doing? He’s leading.

But he’s getting a crazy amount of pushback from a tiny group of people, less than 10% of his community (as I wrote about here, the opponents almost always a tiny group even when you think they’re not).

He was clearly rattled.

It’s hard to come under fire.

It’s painful to have people spread untrue rumours about you.

It’s tough to see your popularity (even with a small group) sink.

At the core of it, he’s dealing with one of the hardest dynamics any leader faces: opposition. And handling rejection poorly creates the fastest path to becoming an ineffective leader.

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We’re All Afraid of Opposition

Here are the dynamics around rejection and opposition most of us face.

You work hard on an idea. You

Sweat over it

Pray over it

Revise it

Perfect it

And you hope—really hope—that when your idea is unveiled, people will like it.

Before you dismiss that, and announce “I don’t care what people think!” have you ever unveiled an idea or project you sincerely hoped people wouldn’t like?

Didn’t think so.

So the desire to have your proposal accepted is pretty universal, isn’t it?

Almost every leader is afraid of one thing: opposition.

And not just personal opposition, but opposition that rejects your ideas as well. Your hopes. Your strategy. Your dream.

And your dream for the mission.

Here Comes the Trap

What happens next is critical.

When you announce your idea and it’s met with opposition—any opposition—most of us freeze.

That’s the position my friend was in. He was discouraged, dejected and rattled. (That’s actually a sign of a healthy heart by the way. It’s good to be bothered by criticism. Only pathological people aren’t.)

Faced with push back, even from a splinter group, here’s the mistake most leaders make.

Afraid of rejection, you and I revise our ideas until we think they have the greatest chance of acceptance.

And in principle, that’s a good idea. Who wants to introduce something that ultimately only 5 people on Planet Earth are going to find helpful?

But often, in the process of trying to get people to buy in to our initiative, we take the edges off of it.

We dilute it. We compromise. We talk about what’s acceptable, not about what’s best.

And we all die a little inside.

So, because you’ve been rattled, you then re-introduce your slightly watered-down idea/product/change/innovation hoping that people applaud wildly.

Except they don’t. People still don’t like it.

You hear from the critics

A few people leave

More people threaten to leave

You get really scared

So you retreat.

You revise your plan. You sand more edges off. You compromise more fully. You try to offend as few people as possible.

And you die even a little more inside.

Except now, your proposal becomes, literally,  unremarkable.

Maybe You Had Something Remarkable

Perhaps you originally had a remarkable idea.

And criticism, at its heart, is a sign that what you’re proposing is remarkable. Think about it: the presence of critics indicates you might have a truly remarkable idea.

Do you see what you often do when you water down your bold changes as a result of criticism? You change a remarkable initiative into an unremarkable one.

You’ve chosen inoffensiveness over effectiveness.

And being inoffensive ultimately makes you ineffective.

And Suddenly You’re on the Fastest Path To Irrelevance

And that’s why far too many leaders end in a place where they are too afraid to be bold. Too afraid to try something new. Too afraid to even dream.

They reduce potentially great initiatives to the least offensive form they can find, hoping everyone will buy in.

Except that your ability to attract new people just went out the window.

The only people who really like your new idea are a small core of the people who already liked your old idea…and any growth potential is jettisoned.

Here’s the lesson far too many leaders never learn about trying to offend as few people as possible:

If you attempt to offend no one, you will eventually become irrelevant to everyone.

Where does this land you as a leader?

With worship services that are bland enough to inspire no one, including almost none of the 40 or 400 people who are there but who strangely want to keep it that way.

Adopting mission statements so drab they could have been lifted from an HR manual.

With a vision for the future that looks far too much like the past.

It’s not that difficult to head down the path to irrelevance.

Lead Boldly

So what do you do?

Four things can help a leader usher in bolder change and avoid irrelevance:

1. Be Bold

Don’t stop dreaming. Introduce some bolder changes. Incremental change brings incremental results. Bolder change will bring bolder results.

2. Lead with Humility

No one likes an arrogant person; even fewer people like an arrogant leader. Being bold is not a licence to offend. Leading from a place of humility can help you broker change far better than leading from a place of arrogance.

3. Take the Long View

A key difference between leaders who successfully navigate change and those who don’t is the ability to stick out the initial waves of criticism.

The fact that some people don’t like your change is natural. Take the long view and realize that this too shall pass.

And it will pass sooner than you think.

4. Focus on Who You Want To Reach, Not Who You Want to Keep

If you focus on the 10% of people who don’t like the change, you will lose the thousands of people you can reach by making the change.

Again, this is not an excuse to be stubborn, arrogant or bullying. But it is permission to be courageous. To be true to your convictions, and to lead with some conviction and even some occasional daring. I share more specific strategies on how to effectively lead change here.

If your mission is as important as you say it is, it deserves your best leadership and courage.

My Guess Is…

…that you are not trying to be ineffective.

It’s just that gravitational pull we all feel in leadership to please everybody is almost always counterproductive. Sometimes, you even end up being nothing to anyone.

So what’s keeping you back from acting on your best strategy?

What’s keeping you back from being more daring?

It’s fear, isn’t it?

Fear of being rejected.

Fear of offending people.

Well…just know what’s at stake.

Inoffensive is ineffective.

In your attempt to offend no one, you just might become irrelevant to everyone.

My friend called me at just the right time. He hasn’t retreated from his team’s initiative. And he shouldn’t. He’ll keep leading, and his church and community will be better for it. And he’s leading humbly with grace.

Maybe you’re at the cross roads where the push back is becoming so intense from a small group that you want to throw in the towel.

If you have a great idea that you and the team believe is great, hang in there. Just hang in there.

After all, inoffensive is ineffective. And neither you nor your organization want to land there.

What do you think?  What would you add to this conversation?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

How Weekend Church Services Will Change In the Future

If you’re breathing, you know our culture is changing and that the church is undergoing a massive transition.

The question is, what do you do about that?

How do you lead in the midst of it?

And if you’re leading a church, how do you respond?

Questions like that have a lot of church leaders soul searching these days, including me. That can only be good for the mission of the church and for the future.

I frequently write about the subject of the current and future church on this blog because I care about the church deeply. Several months ago I wrote a 5 part series on why people attend church less often and how the church can respond. You can access that series here.

This is a follow up to that series.

While the way forward is not clear and will change, I offer these 5 guidelines on how our weekend church services will change in addition to the 10 predictions I made about future church attendance patterns here.

Naturally, not all might be accurate. But I hope they help further the dialogue in your mind and in your church.

1. Preaching And Teaching Will Go Hand In Hand

Most pastors lean toward preaching or teaching. Few do both regularly or well.

What’s the difference between preaching and teaching?

Without going all seminary for a moment, a broad distinction would be that preaching is announcing the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, and teaching is the instruction and building up of people who have become Christians.

For sure, it’s more nuanced than that. But the two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

Sometimes even in the early church the terms were used interchangeably, but the main distinction is between proclaiming the Gospel and instructing Christians.

There’s no doubt there’s a resurgence in teaching ministry. Many of the churches that are reaching people under 30 are doing it with strong teaching ministries. John Piper has a lot of Millennials listening. So do Louis Giglio and Jon Tyson.

This shouldn’t be surprising.

Churches that are reaching people with no church background have a developing issue. At Connexus Church, where I serve, over 50% of our growth is directly from people with no church background or attendance.

That’s amazing, but the question is how do you give people background to the faith they’re adopting while continuing to communicate in a way that expands the mission?

For sure, you can move off Sunday with teaching into small groups and other venues (and the internet gives us options for content creation that didn’t exist 15 years ago). But the fact remains that the Sunday morning message is when you simply have most people’s attention.

The challenge, of course, with having a predominantly teaching ministry, is that the church becomes about insiders and you miss reaching outsiders.

The challenge with having a predominantly preaching ministry is that the church can become all about outsiders and you miss teaching insiders.

The future church will have to have a both/and approach.

The communication skill set that will be most highly effective will be a preacher who can both preach in a way that motivates insiders and teach in a way that is accessible to outsiders.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to teach and preach moving forward. I think every preacher has to, regardless of your leaning.

By the way, Jon Tyson’s short summary of his methodology for sermon prep is not a bad lens through which to view the dual purpose of preaching and teaching. You can read it here.

2. The Gathering Will Become the Sending

For the many churches that have adopted an attractional model, the unspoken expectation is that people gather predominantly to come and see.

Combine that with a highly individualist consumer culture, and that’s how most people will view church: a place to gather, consume and leave.

Naturally, that’s a huge mistake, but it reflects the era we live in.

How do you combat that?

Instead of seeing Sunday only as a gathering, wise leaders will also see it as a sending. Tiffany DeLuccia had some great thoughts on this over at Tony Morgan’s blog recently.

The gatherings of the early church were not just a place to worship, learn and encourage, they  involved a sending out into the world to change the world.

The Reformed four-fold pattern of worship embodies this so well. While the church gathers, it also sends.

The goal of a service is not to applaud the message or talk about how amazing the music was. The goal is to go back out into the world for which Christ died better equipped to live out and share our faith.

Figuring out how not just to dismiss people when the service is over but to send people out in the world equipped to live and lead differently is critical.

Church is not a spectator sport. It’s a place of transformation.

Future churches will embrace that.

3. The Gathering Will Be More Of An Experience….Less of a Show

As people have more and more options and freedom with their time, and as guilt dissipates, people are trading in Sundays for what they think are better options.

Many churches have responded in the last decade by adding more lights, better sound, better video and fun moments in their services. I get that, and it’s not as inherently bad as some critics would say it is. The majority of churches who are doing this are reaching more people and seeing more people come to Christ than churches that don’t.

And yet when you live in an age when you can listen to any message on your phone when you run and stream your 3 favourite worship songs any time any where, the urge to gather seems less appealing to a growing number of people.

As I argued in this post, cool church is dying and something else is emerging.

What’s emerging, I think, is a more authentic church. And what’s emerging is more of an experience than a show.

When people show up at a church these days, they want to experience God, not just sing a few songs and hear a helpful message. They want God more than they even want advice.

This hunger is a good hunger. It will get us thinking about how to facilitate an experience of God for hundreds or even thousands of people.

I’m not talking about manufacturing something that isn’t there, but somehow facilitate that magnificent, imminent and transcendent experience between God and his people that the church has facilitated for millennia…and to do it in a way that connects with this generation.

That is not going to be found in a formula, but rather will be found on our knees, open and hoping to experience God ourselves in a way that radiates out as we minister to others.

You can’t podcast an experience…not fully.

When God is present, there is something about being in the room together with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of believers and unbelievers that is unique.

We have to recapture that kind of experience using the best of the past and the best of present.

4. Tradition and Innovation Will Become Companions

There has been a battle in much of church culture between tradition and innovation.

The traditionalists don’t want to innovate.

The innovators want little to do with tradition.

This trend has fresh wrinkles as it’s clear that some younger Christians, as has been prominently articulated by Millennials like Rachel Held Evans, are leaving evangelicalism and returning to tradition.

What many church leaders are realizing is that both tradition and innovation can be stale and dead.

Neither has to be.

Tradition needs innovation and innovation needs tradition.

In the future, tradition and innovation will become companions.

Innovative churches will recapture some of the best of tradition that has been lost, and traditional churches will blow off the dust and innovate, keeping the best of what they have and changing everything else.

Tradition and innovation have been somewhat mutually exclusive conversations and communities in the last few decades. Fusing the two could perhaps produce some incredibly healthy dialogue moving forward.

5. Community Will Matter, Greatly

The more connected our culture becomes, the more disconnected we feel.

In the future, the church will function more like a community.

Not just random individuals who gather in common space for an hour (the worst caricature of megachurch).

And not a community of insiders indifferent to the world (the worst caricature of insider church).

Instead, the future church will be a community of people who serve together, give together, invite friends together and do community beyond Sunday as well as on Sunday. And above all, it will be a community that is continually welcoming new friends and new family.

Among practically every person under 30 I talk to or listen to, there’s a palpable longing for authentic community—a desire to connect in person, for real, in depth.

Jefferson Bethke articulates the longing of many his generation so well in this Church Leader’s podcast episode (it’s so worth the listen).

The church that figures out how to bring old and young together at the table, Christian and non-Christian together in backyards, and the mature and the just-starting-out together in friendship will become a light to many in their community.

Naturally, the churches or groups of churches that figure out how to do this well for hundreds, and even for thousands or tens of thousands, will be able to see communities and regions transformed.

Community has been the hallmark of the church at its best for years. It will continue to be the hallmark of the church for the future.

Want More?

This is a huge topic very much in transition as we speak.

For those of you who want to dig deeper, in addition to the original blog and podcast series, here are some interviews from my Leadership Podcast I’ve done with church leaders on the changing nature of church.

Rich Birch on Whether Contemporary Churches Are Losing Their Edge

In Episode 8 of my podcast, Rich Birch and I talk about whether contemporary churches are losing their edge.

Geoff Surratt on Churches That Are Reaching Millennials

In Episode 40, Geoff Surratt and I talk about reaching millennials and look at specific churches that are doing a great job.

John Stickl on Leading a Church As a Millennial Leader

John Stickl took over a mega-church at age 29, and a few years later is reaching thousands more, many of whom are millennials. In this interview, he shares their vision and strategy.

Josh Gagnon on Adapting Church To Culture in New England

Josh Gagnon is another Millennial mega-church leader who talks about how to make church work in New England and on using tradition and reach unchurched people.

To access these interview for free on your phone or other devise, just subscribe.

You can subscribe to my podcast for free here on iTunesStitcher or Tune In Radio.

What Do You Think?

I think healthy dialogue always makes the conversation and the future better. I’d love to know what you think will characterize the future church.

Please know I also write this post as one committed to the future of the local, organized church. I realize there are many who are ‘done’ with church (I wrote a response to people who are done with church here).

I’m not sure how helpful it would be to use the comments to list how awful the church you used to go to is. So please don’t rail against the church leaders who are doing their best to lead a local church or even the people you know who aren’t doing their best or are poor leaders. We have enough of that online as it is.

But for those who want to make the local church better, or want to imagine a church they and their friends would attend, what would you add to this post?

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Some Advice on Same-Sex Marriage for US Church Leaders From a Canadian

In June 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples can marry in all 50 states, setting off a flurry of reaction by Christians and virtually everyone else on social media and beyond.

Ed Stetzer wrote a helpful background post to the shift in opinion that led to the decision and included links to a number of other leading articles in his post.

The social media reaction ranged from surprising to predictable to disappointing to occasionally refreshing.

I write from the perspective of a pastor of an evangelical church in a country where same sex-marriage has been the law of the land for a decade.

That does not mean I hold any uniquely deep wisdom, but it does mean we’ve had a decade to process and pray over the issue.

I hope what I offer can help. It’s my perspective. My fingers tremble at the keyboard because my goal is to help in the midst of a dialogue that seems far more divisive than it is uniting or constructive.

There will be many who disagree with me, I’m sure, but I hope it pulls debate away from the “sky is falling/this is the best thing ever” dichotomy that seems to characterize much of the dialogue so far.

The purpose of this post is not to take a position or define matters theologically (for there is so much debate around that). Rather, the purpose of this post is to think through how to respond as a church when the law of the land changes as fundamentally as it’s changing on same-sex marriage and many other issues.

Here are 5 perspectives I hope are helpful as church leaders of various positions on the subject think and pray through a way forward.

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1. The church has always been counter-cultural

Most of us reading this post have been born into a unique season in history in which our culture is moving from a Christian culture to a post-Christian culture before our eyes.

Whatever you think about history, theology or exactly when this shift happened, it’s clear for all of us that the world into which we were born no longer exists.

Viewpoints that were widely embraced by culture just decades ago are no longer embraced. For some this seems like progress. For others, it seems like we’re losing something. Regardless, things have changed fundamentally.

But is that really such a big deal? For most of the last 2000 years, the authentic church has been counter-cultural. The church was certainly counter-cultural in the first century.

Even at the height of ‘Christendom’ (whenever that was), the most conservative historians would agree that Christianity as embraced by the state was different than the authentic Christianity we read about in scripture or that was practiced by many devout followers of Jesus.

Being counter-cultural usually helps the church more than hurts it.

If you think about it, regardless of your theological position, all your views as a Christian are counter-cultural and always will be. If your views are cultural, you’re probably not reading the scriptures closely enough.

We’re at our best when we offer an alternative, not just a reflection of a diluted or hijacked spirituality.

2. It’s actually strange to ask non-Christians to hold Christian values

As the Barna Group has pointed out, a growing number of people in America are best described as post-Christian. The majority of Canadians would certainly qualify as having a post-Christian worldview.

The question Christians in a post-Christian culture have to ask themselves is this:

Why would we expect non-Christians to behave like Christians?

If you believe sex is a gift given by God to be experienced between a man and a woman within marriage, why would you expect people who don’t follow Christ to embrace that?

 Why would we expect people who don’t profess to be Christians to:

Wait until marriage to have sex?

Clean up their language?

Stop smoking weed?

Be faithful to one person for life?

Pass laws like the entire nation was Christian?

Seriously? Why?

Most people today are not pretending to be Christians. So why would they adopt Christian values or morals?

Please don’t get me wrong.

I’m a pastor. I completely believe that the Jesus is not only the Way, but that God’s way is the best way.

When you follow biblical teachings about how to live life, your life simply goes better. It just does. I 100 percent agree.

I do everything I personally can to align my life with the teachings of scripture, and I’m passionate about helping every follower of Christ do the same.

But what’s the logic behind judging people who don’t follow Jesus for behaving like people who don’t follow Jesus?

Why would you hold the world to the same standard you hold the church?

First, non-Christians usually act more consistently with their value system than you do.

It’s difficult for a non-Christian to be a hypocrite because they tend to live out what they believe.

Chances are they are better at living out their values than you or I are. Jesus never blamed pagans for acting like pagans.

But he did speak out against religious people for acting hypocritically. Think about that.

3. You’ve been dealing with sex outside of traditional marriage for a LONG time

If you believe gay sex is sinful, it’s really no morally different than straight sex outside of marriage.

Be honest, pretty much every unmarried person in your church is having sex (yes, even the Christians).

I know you want to believe that’s not true (trust me, I want to believe that’s not true), but why don’t you ask around? You’ll discover that only a few really surrender their sexuality.

Not to mention the married folks that struggle with porn, lust and a long list of other dysfunctions.

If you believe gay marriage is not God’s design, you’re really dealing with the same issue you’ve been dealing with all along—sex outside of its God-given context.

You don’t need to treat it any differently.

By the way, if you don’t deal with straight sex outside of marriage, don’t start being inconsistent and speak out against gay sex.

And you may want to start dealing with gluttony and gossip and greed while you’re at it. (I wrote more here about how to get the hypocrisy out of our sex talk in church.)

At least be consistent…humbly address all forms of sex outside of marriage.

The dialogue is possible. (Andy Stanley offers a great rationale for sex staying inside marriage here.)

We have that dialogue all the time at our church.

And people are grateful for it.

We also talk about our greed, our gluttony, our jealousy and our hypocrisy as Christians. It’s amazing. Jesus brings healing to all these areas of life, including our sex lives.

4. The early church never looked to the government for guidance

Having a government that doesn’t embrace the church’s values line for line actually puts Christians in some great company—the company of the earliest followers of Jesus.

Jesus spent about zero time asking the government to change during his ministry. In fact, people asked him to become the government, and he replied that his Kingdom is not of this world.

The Apostle Paul appeared before government officials regularly. Not once did he ask them to change the laws of the land.

He did, however, invite government officials to have Jesus personally change them. 

Paul constantly suffered at the hands of the authorities, ultimately dying under their power, but like Jesus, didn’t look to them for change.

Rather than asking the government to release him from prison, he wrote letters from prison talking about the love of Jesus Christ.

Instead of looking to the government for help, Paul and Jesus looked to God.

None of us in the West are suffering nearly as radically as Jesus and Paul suffered at the hands of a government. In fact, in Canada and the US, our government protects our freedom to assemble and even disagree with others. Plus, it gives us tax breaks for donations.

We honestly don’t have it that hard.

Maybe the future North American church will be more like the early church, rising early, before dawn, to pray, to encourage, to break bread.

Maybe we will pool our possessions and see the image of God in women. And love our wives radically and deeply with a protective love that will shock the culture. Maybe we will treat others with self-giving love, and even offer our lives in place of theirs.

Maybe we’ll be willing to lose our jobs, our homes, our families and even our lives because we follow Jesus.

That might just touch off a revolution like it did two millennia ago.

Perhaps the government might even take notice, amazed by the love that radical Jesus followers display.

5. Our judgment of LGBT people is destroying any potential relationship

Even the first 72 hour of social media reaction has driven a deeper wedge between Christian leaders and the LGBT community Jesus loves (yes, Jesus died for the world because he loves it).

Judgment is a terrible evangelism strategy.

People don’t line up to be judged.

If you want to keep being ineffective at reaching unchurched people, keep judging them.

Judging outsiders is un-Christian. Paul told us to stop judging people outside the church.

Jesus said God will judge us by the same standard with which we judge others.

Paul also reminds us to drop the uppity-attitude; that none of us were saved by the good we did but by grace.

Take a deep breath. You were saved by grace. Your sins are simply different than many others. And honestly, in many respects, they are the same.

People don’t line up to be judged. But they might line up to be loved.

So love people. Especially the people with whom you disagree.

Those are a few of the things I’ve learned and I’m struggling with.

The dialogue is not easy when culture is changing and people who sincerely love Jesus sincerely disagree.

I think there’s more hope than there is despair for the future. The radical ethic of grace and truth found in Jesus is more desperately needed in our world today than ever before.

Is the path crystal clear? No.

But rather than being a set back, perhaps this can move the church yet another step closer to realizing its true mission.

I was tempted to close comments off on this post, but I will leave them open just to see if we can continue the discussion constructively and humbly.

Rants and abusive viewpoints (on either side) will be deleted.

Show grace.

Respect those with whom you disagree.

If you want to leave a comment that helps, please do so.

But please spend at least as much time praying for the situation and for people you know who have been hurt by this dialogue as you do commenting on this post, on others like it or on your social media channels.

Maybe spend more time praying, actually.

That’s what we all really need. And that’s what will move the mission of the church forward.

————

Caleb’s Story

To help you navigate the issue a little further, I’m adding the interview I did on my Leadership Podcast with Caleb Kaltenbach into this post.

Caleb was born to parents who divorced to both pursue gay relationships. Caleb grew up to become a Christian and a pastor, and has spent his adult life fighting for the relationship with his parents. It’s a fascinating, moving story of grace in the midst of disagreement.

Your can listen here in the browser window below, or click here to listen to Episode 33 on your phone or other device.

You can subscribe to my podcast for free here on iTunes, Stitcher or Tune In Radio.

young leader mistakes

5 Early Leadership Mistakes I Made (That You You Don’t Need To)

I love it when leaders share their success stories. It’s great to pick up transferable principles and try to work them into your life.

But there’s a part of me that likes it even more when leaders share their mistakes.

When someone shares their mistakes, I feel like I can relate to them. It reminds me I’m not alone. And it shows me we’re really all in this together.

People admire your strengths, but they resonate with your weaknesses.

So let me share with you some more of my weaknesses as a leader. Some of these mistakes, I made starting out, while some I still struggle with.

I’ll bet you can relate.

young leader mistakes

For all five mistakes listed below, I’ve had to adjust the sails and learn new behaviours that make me more effective at what I’m called to do.

The best part, of course, is once you’ve noticed the mistakes you naturally make, you can learn new skills to manoeuvre around them. It’s the self-aware who grow the most.

Here are five leadership mistakes I’ve made that (now) you no longer need to:

1. Thinking a leader needs to have all the answers 

As a young leader, I was afraid people would notice that I was young and didn’t know as much as I should. I took me a few years to become comfortable with saying “I don’t know.”

Wish I’d learned that right off the bat.

Ironically, people already know that you don’t know.

And when you say you don’t know, it actually creates empathy and a better sense of team.

Now more than ever, I fully realize how much I have left to learn. If you want to drill down more on finding your confidence as a young leader, listen in on my conversation with Clay Scroggins, who at age 34 recently became the leader pastor of North Point Church in Atlanta working under Andy Stanley.

Clay is tremendously transparent about his struggles as a young leader. That’s one of the reasons I admire Clay so much. And likely one of the reasons why he’s leading so much so young.

2. Trying to be too original 

This characterized my first 7 or 8 years of leadership.

I didn’t know you could take what others have done and simply implement it (I’m not talking about plagiarizing sermons or stealing proprietary ideas here – but about ministry models and strategies that you’re free to use).

I’d go to a conference and feel I’d need to change something enough to put ‘my spin’ or ‘our spin’ on it.

Well, sometimes your spin on a great idea makes it worse. If you really have an original idea that’s going to change things – use it.

But there are smarter people who are further along than you from whom you can borrow.

Sometimes you just need to give yourself permission to borrow. Give credit, and don’t stifle your ALL your creativity in the process, but it’s okay to take the best ideas and put them to work in your context.

You don’t need to be unique. You just need to be effective.

3.  Using people to accomplish tasks

I feel so bad about this one.

I’m a task guy. Early on, sometimes I saw people as a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

It’s a goal of mine to do what great managers do – not use people to get tasks done, but to get ‘people done’ through tasks.

When you use people you lose people. When you value people, they stay. So stop using people.

4. Depending too much on my own strength

Being an A-type personality has strengths and weaknesses. Looking back, I wish I had developed a better sense of team earlier and I wished I had sought out mentors earlier.

I’m still also trying to figure out the balance between Jesus’ teaching that human effort accomplishes nothing and that we need to serve and lead with all diligence.

I love how St. Augustine phrased it over a millennium ago: Work like everything depends on you. Pray like everything depends on God.

5. Pointing out what’s wrong – not what’s right 

This is something I still struggle with daily.

I immediately notice what’s right and wrong, and gravitate toward fixing what’s wrong.

I’m king of this. And ironically, it motivates me to get better.

But it can end up being de-motivating to the people around you. I’ve had to learn to celebrate the wins (there are a ton of them when you look), point out what’s right and high five the team.

It doesn’t take much strength to point out what’s wrong. It always takes strength to point out what’s right when you see what’s wrong.

Only once you’ve celebrated what’s right should you move to what’s wrong. Otherwise you knock the wind out of people.

Honestly, this is still a daily discipline with me. And I don’t always win at it.

What About You?

Those are five leadership mistakes I’ve made. How about you?

What are you struggling with? How are you overcoming?

What are you stuck on? Scroll down and leave a comment.

pastors moral failure

5 Reasons Pastors Fail Morally (And What To Watch For in Your Own Life)

Twice this week so far, I’ve heard of church leaders who are moving out of leadership because they had affairs.

Last weekend, another well known pastor had to step down after admitting to having had an affair. Yesterday I got a call from someone about another leader who had an affair and is stepping back.

It’s heartbreaking.

My heart is broken for the pastors and their families. For the church, for their ministries and for everyone who followed them and was impacted by their leadership. My heart is broken for the Kingdom of God.

I don’t know either person in question well, so I’m in no position to comment on the specific situations let alone judge (we should be so so careful of that anyway).

But I do personally know a few pastors who have had to leave ministry because of some kind of moral failure, and I’ve sat down and had some heartbreaking conversations with people who have experienced a moral failure or been on the other side of a moral breakdown.

I also know my own heart and the strange mix of grace and sin that makes us human.

So, once again, I ask myself

Why does this happen?

Why does it happen so frequently—not just to preachers, but to many business leaders, politicians and other people in the spotlight?

What do I have to watch for in my own life?

I don’t think for the most part pastors and leaders who fail morally set out to fail.

They didn’t begin in leadership by hoping “one day I hope I have an affair/steal money/destroy my family/ruin my church/disillusion many/lose my soul.

In the beginning, most pastors and leaders have excellent motives…and then something happens.

While I’m sure the pattern varies between people and situations, I’ve seen some patterns I’ve learned to check in myself.

I share them in the hopes they can help every leader before they get into an even slightly compromising situation, let alone an affair or other morally tainted situation.

pastors moral failure

5 Signs I Might Be Headed for a Moral Failure

So, as I reflect once again, here are 5 reasons I think pastors fail morally and reasons that might push me or you past the edge.

I write them in the first person (as awkward as it sounds) because this post is intended to help those of us still in leadership, not to judge those who have fallen out of it.

So because the person whose spirit I most need to watch is mine, I phrase things personally. I also realize that even talking about the fact that this could happen to any of us is one more guard rail against it happening in my life. And I pray it never happens.

So with that in mind, here are the conditions that perhaps set up a leader for moral failure.

1. I’ve chosen isolation over community

Sin usually happens in secret. And the only way to keep secrets well is to cut yourself off from true community.

Isolation can be a very natural drift in leadership. But as I’ve argued before, loneliness and isolation are not inevitable; they are choices.

I have to make sure someone in my life knows what’s really going on. And just because not everybody needs to know what’s going on in your life and in your thought life doesn’t mean no one needs to know.

Solitude is a gift from God. Isolation is a tool of the enemy.

To live transparently with handful of people who know who you are, where you are and what you’re inner life is really like is difficult, but it’s far easier than picking up the pieces after your life has fallen apart.

Who really knows what’s going on?

And if you don’t have anyone you’re talking to, you can hire someone. Telling a counsellor is far better than telling no one. And counsellors have helped me so much over the years.

Here is how I’ve developed my inner circle, including a group that knows the ups and downs of what I’m carrying in my life.

Bringing darkness into the light breaks its power.

2. I’ve stopped confessing my sins

I am convinced that confession is a lost art.

As a leader, I have to make sure that I continue to confess my sins before God daily.

When I confess my sins, I need to not only look for the obvious, but for the cracks. For small sins that could become much bigger. For motives that aren’t pure. For thoughts that run off in dangerous directions.

I need to bring it all before God.

If you want more on why we don’t confess our sins, I preached recently about it in Part 3 of the Pursued Series, which you can watch here.

In the meantime, ask yourself: when was the last time you confessed your sin before God?

Admitting your tendencies to God and even weeping over them is much easier than explaining to your wife and kids what happened one day.

Confession is designed to stop what sin starts.

3. I’m not thinking of the consequences

When you sin, you desire the action but not the consequences.

But sin always has consequences. Often horrible consequences.

Keeping the consequences in mind can be so so healthy.

I can’t imagine having to explain to my wife, my kids, our elders, our staff, our team and to the hundreds (maybe thousands) of others who trusted me how I betrayed their trust.

The fear of having to have those conversations can be very healthy and quite motivating. It should be motivating.

I just would never want to betray the trust of the people I love the most and many others who would perhaps lose their faith because of a moral failure on my part.

Thinking about the consequences of a sin is a great way to ultimately avoid committing of a sin.

4. I think the rules don’t apply to me

Perhaps this is why leaders fall more frequently than others.

You begin to think the rules don’t apply to you, or that they shouldn’t apply to you.

So you ignore them, skirt them, rewrite them or spit in their face.

This is so, so dangerous.

Leaders who avoid accountability still eventually have to give account for their actions—when they get caught.

Isn’t it better to give account for your actions daily than to simply give an account for your actions when you get caught one day?

Accountability and transparency are vital in leadership. And if you cultivate a great inner circle (point 1) you will be a far better leader day to day.

5. I see failure as my best escape

When I first started out in ministry, I met with a pastor who had just had to resign because of an affair. He was 20 years my senior, and we met for lunch.

I asked him why he had an affair, and he told me in part it was because he couldn’t handle the pressure of ministry anymore but couldn’t find an easy way to get out. The affair forced him out.

Years later I would discover the pain of burnout personally. Nine years ago I burnt out (a burn out triggered by physical and emotional exhaustion).

I was so burnt out an escape from my life looked appealing. By the grace of God, I knew enough to keep my head in the game even though my heart had stopped working. As a result, during my darkest months, I kept saying to myself “whatever you do, don’t do anything rash—don’t cheat on your wife, don’t quit your job and don’t buy a sports car.”

And again, by the grace of God, I didn’t cheat, quit or buy a sports car. (Although as Perry Noble and I discuss in this interview about how we both burned out, the sports car option still looks attractive….maybe one day.)

The bottom line is this. If you’re burning out, an affair or a rash, irresponsible decision is NOT the only way out.

Nor is it even a good way out. There are many other, healthier options.

If you’re looking for more resources on burnout, Perry Noble and I put this page of free resources together to help church leaders. You can survive, and even thrive, again one day.

What Are You Learning?

What are you learning about temptation, leadership and moral failure?

As to the comments section, just so you know, self-righteous, judgmental comments will be deleted. As I wrote when Mark Driscoll’s controversy broke last year, no one write or prays with clean hands.

No one. Not me. Not you.

But with the aim of helping people and seeking grace before a fall happens, not just after, what are you learning? Scroll down and leave a comment!

8 Ways Church Leaders Can Use Periscope to Aid Your Mission

Today’s guest post on Periscope is by Rich Birch of Unseminary.com and the Unseminary Podcast.  Rich was also a guest on Episode 8 of my podcast. Scroll down the bottom to learn more about Rich and get a free ministry magazine with some of Rich’s best content. 

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Periscope is a live video-streaming app for iOS and Android smartphones.

Twitter purchased the startup behind the app for a reported $100 million in March 2015.

The app empowers users on Twitter to instantly and easily start broadcasting live video from their phone to their followers and the world!

So, how could you use Periscope at your church? Here are 8 ways.

Weekend Warm-Up

Typically you arrive at church before some of your people have even decided if they are going to attend. Use Periscope in the morning to invite them to join you. Reveal some of the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into make the morning great for them. Do quick interviews with team members who are getting ready for the day. Walk through the facility and show teams praying for them. Ask your people to invite others to join you!

Message Prep

Content creation should be a team sport. Ask for help when preparing your message. Give people a sneak peek at what you are talking about and then ask them to help with some key points. Maybe you’re choosing from two different bottom lines for your message … ask for help with choosing which is This will draw in your community, build anticipation for the weekend and give you some great ideas.

For Fun

You do have fun every once and a while … right? Let other people in on it! Is your team doing some goofy? Open up Periscope and laugh along with them. Did you just do something dumb and you’re laughing at yourself? Invite your community to laugh along with you! Humor has a way of drawing in people like nothing else — plus it humanizes you.

Ask for Prayer

Pastoral care starts with showing your needs and weaknesses. As you open up and become transparent with people, they will reciprocate and open up to What if you took some time to ask for prayer for whatever you’re facing as a leader. Let your church community into your world and see where you are trusting God to move. Ask for “hearts” if people are going to pray.

Morning Devotionals

How about leading your church in a devotional through Periscope every morning this week? As you read scripture and pray, just open up your phone and talk them through it. Model a healthy interior life that your people can Imagine dozens of people commuting to work … or at the gym … or at home listening to what God is saying.

Leadership Development

Are you working through some leadership concepts that you think could apply to your broader community? Get in front of a whiteboard and talk through them. Leading a volunteer-driven organization takes passion and clarity. Many of your people would love to tap into that and apply the lessons to their everyday lives.

Get Personal

Do you remember when you were a kid and you saw your teacher at the mall? That sensation of seeing him or her in the normal world was a paradigm shift, right? There was a time that church leaders lived in a similar bubble. We only saw them in “holy places” doing “holy things.” That kind of distance makes it almost impossible for your church community to relate to you. Flip on Periscope when you’re cutting the grass at home and see what people are up to. Or turn it on when you’re making dinner and ask others what they are eating that evening. Trust me, people love that stuff. I know it may seem trivial, but it’s the social part of social media.

Interviews with Leaders

You probably come into the orbit of some amazing leaders. Maybe they’re community leaders in your town or business leaders from your church. Ask them if you could take a few minutes and record a quick video of them. You could take questions from your audience and help them learn. This shows you as a thoughtful leader in your community and helps pass along the lessons you are learning from others!

8 Leaders You Should Follow on Periscope

Mac Lake (@maclake) // Visionary Architect for The , a church-planting network based out of West Ridge Church in the greater Atlanta area. Mac provides some serious leadership development value with great “whiteboard talks.”

Casey Graham (@caseygraham) // Founder of The Rocket Company, which provides great how-to help for church leaders. Casey offers great insights into how The Rocket Company reaches new people and builds the organization.

Miles McPherson (@milesmcpherson) // Pastor at Rock Church in San Diego. Miles shares some great behind-the-scenes footage that other church leaders could also provide through this medium.

Jonathan Pearson (@jonathanpearson) // Pastor at Cornerstone Church in South Carolina as well as blogger and thought leader. Jonathan provides some great insights for using technology within the faith community.

Jon Acuff (@jonacuff) // Blogger, author, interview giver, humorist … Jon does it all. Jon is a gifted communicator who uses Periscope to build his online community. Watch and follow his lead!

Chris Rivers (@chrisrivers) // Chris is founder of CultureBus and navigator with Auxano. He is always on the road helping churches and provides huge value (and fun!) for people who follow him.

Scott Williams (@scottwilliams) // Scott is an author, blogger and church consultant who was a key leader and campus pastor at LifeChurch.tv. Scott is a heavy content producer on Periscope and provides great insights into his learnings and leadership.

Tim Parsons (@_TimParsons_) // Tim is executive pastor at First Assembly in Indiana and founder of The Sunday Punch Team. Tim consistently provides great content and you should be following him!

We’d love to hear from you in the comments about who else is providing great value on Periscope!

About Rich //

Rich Birch is a pastor at Liquid Church which serves the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey.

He blogs & podcasts at unSeminary. [Friends of Carey’s can download a FREE 23 page Digital Magazine about reaching people who aren’t connected to your church yet by clicking here.]

A Response To Christians Who Are Done With Church

You hear it all the time.

I’m done with church.

I don’t really need to go to church…my relationship with God is personal.

I’ve had it with organized religion.

The church is a man-made invention, not God’s idea.

I completely understand why a growing number of people are bailing on church. Even people who used to lead in the church often stop attending (here are 9 reasons why church leaders do that).

We’ve spent a lot of time working through the issue of declining church attendance (and growing disillusionment with the church) on this blog and in my leadership podcast. (For a summary of the issues, here’s a piece on the 10 reasons even committed church attenders are attending church less often).

I get it.

The church is far from perfect. Life is complex. There are growing options. And the post-modern mind distrusts most things organized or institutional.

But as trendy as the idea of writing off the church may be, it’s a mistake.

While writing off the church passes as sophisticated thinking, it’s actually the opposite; what if it’s a simplistic and even reductionistic line of thinking that leads nowhere constructive?

The church isn’t even biblical, is it?

People argue the idea of church isn’t even biblical.

So let’s start with the basics.

First if you’re a Christian, church is not something you go to. It’s something you are.

You can’t disassociate from church as a Christian anymore than you can disassociate from humanity as a person.

You don’t go to church. You are the church.

Second, the church was not a human invention. Half-reading the New Testament with one eye closed will still lead you to the inescapable conclusion that the church was God’s idea.

In fact, most of the New Testament is not about the teachings of Jesus. It’s about the work of the church that Jesus initiated and ordained. I won’t fill this post with scripture verses that prove my point, because, quite frankly, you’d have to get rid of the majority of the New Testament to argue that the church was a parenthetical, made-up organization.

If you want to get rid of the church, you also need to get rid of Jesus.

You can’t have one without the other.

Maybe what bothers you should actually amaze you

I understand that the idea of the church being imperfect makes some people despair.

But rather than making us despair, the fact that Jesus started the church with imperfect people should make us marvel at God’s incredible grace.

That God would use ordinary, broken human beings as vessels of his grace, and delight in it is awe-inspiring. He’s proud of how his grace is beating through your imperfect-but-redeemed life and through the church (have you ever read Ephesians 3: 10-11?).

The idea that God would use you and me is pretty amazing. He had other options.

He could have spoken to the world directly, but instead chose to use broken people to showcase his grace to a world in need of redemption.

For sure, community is messy.

People sin. Leaders are sinful.

Most of the New Testament is not a story of an idealized church where everything worked perfectly all the time (just read 1 Corinthians any time you’re frustrated with your church).

Most of the New Testament is a story of Jesus using his followers to spread his love in spite of themselves and as they overcome obstacle after obstacle.

The fact that Christ uses flawed people to accomplish his work on earth is actually a sign of his grace, not a sign of his absence.

The church’s story, as twisted as it gets at times, is a beautiful story of God’s grace, God’s power and God’s redemption.

So, by the way, is your life, which reflects the story of the church more than you would want to admit.

The church gives the world a front row seat to the grace of God.

The ultimate consumerism isn’t going to church…it’s walking away from it

People criticize the church today as being consumeristic. And to some extent, churches cater to consumerism—often to our detriment. I agree that consumerism is a problem for Christianity.

But ironically, much of the dialogue about why people are done with church pushes people deeper into Christian consumerism than it pushes them into deeper discipleship: Here I am, all alone, worshipping God on my schedule when it’s convenient for me.

Listening to a podcast of your favourite preacher while you’re at the gym or on the back deck and pushing three of your favourite worship songs through your ear buds does not make you a more passionate Christ follower.

It usually makes you a less effective one.

Disconnecting yourself from community is actually less faithful than connecting yourself to a flawed community.

If you think the church today isn’t enough (and arguably, we need to reform it), then do what the early Christians did.

If you want a more biblical church…don’t gather weekly, gather daily. Before dawn.

Get up before the sun rises to pray together with other Christians before you go to work. Pool your possessions. Don’t claim anything as your own.

Be willing to lose your job, your home, your family and even your life because you follow Jesus.

Then you’ll be more authentic.

And notice that the early church did indeed gather. 

Gathering always leads to some form of organizing.

To pretend the church doesn’t need to be organized is as logical arguing that society doesn’t need to be organized.

Because community is inevitable, organization is inevitable.

Our ability to organize and to accomplish more together than we can alone is one of the crowning achievements of humanity, and our ability to work together makes Christian effort far more effective. 

It’s also part of God’s design for how we should interact while we’re on this planet. Come to think of it, heaven is a community too.

The only one who wants us to believe that we are better off alone is our enemy.

If you really think about it, it’s actually a very clever tactic.

The church has helped even those who resent the church

Finally, if you’re reading this article and you have any modicum of faith in Jesus, may I suggest your faith is actually the result of the mission of the church.

Very few people come to know Jesus because he appears to them supernaturally when they are alone and calls them by name.

Does that ever happen? Sure. But not to 99.9% of us.

Almost all of us who follow Jesus have had our lives changed by a flawed body called the church that Jesus so passionately loves and calls his own.

Think about that.

We need more church

Do we need more churches? Yes.

Do we need more humble churches? We do.

Do you we need authentic, transparent leadership? Absolutely.

Does the church need to change? Without a doubt.

The church needs continual reformation and transformation.

So what will the future look like?

Will we gather in quite the way we do today in the future? In some ways yes; in others, no.

Hopefully we gather more frequently and work through our differences at a deeper level and impact our communities more powerfully.

These two posts offer 10 predictions about future church attendance and 11 traits of churches that will impact the future.

But regardless of how the church gathers in the future, we will gather…we need to gather.

We Christians need each other, probably now more than ever.

And even if you don’t think you need other Christians, I promise you you do, and so does our world.

Now, more than ever, the world needs Christian working together humbly under Christ to lead people into a growing relationship with him, in whatever innovate and fresh forms that takes.

The church is not dead.

Far from it.

Maybe it’s just beginning to take shape for a brand new era that desperately needs it.

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7 Practical Leadership Insights From Our Move Into Our New Building

Whether you’re doing a building project or not, building projects can be an opportunity to learn some leadership insights.

You learn a lot about yourself, your church or organization and even the culture during something as tangible and intensive as a building project.

Last month at Connexus Church, a church plant where I serve as Lead Pastor, we moved into our first permanent facility and completely refreshed our portable location. (The pic below is from my opening message. You can see some other photos and highlights here).

I hope what we learned can help you grow your mission.

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1. Distinguish between high pace and high passion

As would be the case with any intense project, our team ran incredibly hard to get into the building. The last two months in particular were a frenzy, and people (both staff and volunteers) worked long days every day to make sure we opened on time and with excellence.

We had some incredibly fun moments in those long hours, but when it was over, everyone was exhilarated but exhausted.

Clearly the pace we were running at is unsustainable.

But what also surfaced in the months leading up to our opening was a passion level we haven’t seen in years. Some volunteers pulled all nighters to meet deadlines. People invited dozens of friends. People were so excited!

I knew I didn’t want the excitement of the project to be lost. But I also knew we were running at an unsustainable pace.

The temptation after a long sprint like that is for everything to go back to ‘normal’—something I didn’t want to see happen.

So in the weeks right after launch, I made a distinction between pace and passion.

The pace needs to return to a sustainable level. People need to take days off again and find a rhythm that allows them to thrive, at work and at home.

BUT…I didn’t want to lose the excitement around launch.

So we started to talk about the passion we’d seen for the project. I’m encouraging our team to keep the passion level high and throw it all into the mission.

Moving forward, we need to maintain a high passion AND we need to return to a sustainable pace.

I think by clearly delineating between the two, we’re able to capture the BEST of what the project offered us and still have some semblance of balance in our lives.

If you keep a high pace and a high passion, you burn people out.

If you keep a sustainable pace and lose the passion, you eventually lose effectiveness.

A high passion and sustainable pace offers the best of both worlds.

You can’t run at a high pace forever. But you should run with high passion forever.

2. Offer multiple jump in points for different kinds of people

When you’re leading a building project, you have to cast vision at different levels.

When we began our capital campaign three years ago (we used Injoy Stewardship Solutions to help us with this, by the way, who were super helpful), we didn’t have an address or even a blue print to show the congregation.

Usually your first donors on a project like that are visionary givers. They are bought into the mission and vision and their trust of the leadership of the church is high.

Different people opt in at different stages of a campaign.

Others jumped in when the location had been secured. Other still when construction began.

Some jumped on board (financially and in terms of their volunteer help) once they actually toured the construction site.

We also ran a countdown to the opening and that helped more people jump on board in terms of serving, giving and inviting their friends to the grand opening.

We also realized that some were still waiting to jump on board until the facility was open. So 30 days after move in we’re calling for more volunteers (realizing some people will want to serve now that they’ve seen it open and fully operational), and we’ll give people the opportunity to jump in financially in the first six months of occupancy.

I’m an early adopter, but Just because I’m an early adopter doesn’t mean everyone is.

The lesson? Offer multiple jump in points on every project.

3. Leverage ‘new’ as an opportunity to invite

Anytime you do something new, it’s an opportunity for momentum.

People will invite to ‘new’ in the same way they invite to Christmas, Easter and other big occasions.

We used the hashtag #EverybodyBringSomebody on our social media for months, and encouraged everybody to bring somebody.

We’ve seen the biggest visitor spike we’ve seen in a while, and opening Sunday at our Barrie location saw 2x the normal attendance.

Whenever you do something new (even a new series!), leverage it as an opportunity to invite.

If you want more, one of my favourite Andy Stanley leadership talks is on momentum. You can find it here for free if you scroll down under video and click ‘more’. It’s the talk called “The Three Components of Momentum.” You’re welcome. :)

4. Keep the why WAY bigger than the what and the how

In a building project (or any project focused on a tangible goal), the temptation will be to gravitate toward the what and the how.

People pepper you with question like

How many square feet are you building? (Answer. 24,000)

How much will this cost? (Answer, total project cost of $2,800,000—it’s the build out of permanent leased space.)

How many people can this building hold? (About 1,500 people per Sunday if we run 3 services…we built what we can afford right now. It’s a hub out of which we can launch future campuses and our online campus). 

What you will naturally forget to communicate…is the why behind the what and the how.

Why are we doing this? Because we’re creating a church unchurched people love to attend. And we’re leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus.

That’s why.

Even as a leader, you will forget to communicate this because the what and the how are so interesting.

But don’t forget.

 

5. Get ready for the ‘Now What?”

The reality is that once you open your facility or finish your project, there’s an inevitable let down that happens.

It’s a post-adrenaline let down…the crash. And then the question “Now what?” emerges.

And often, leaders don’t have a great answer.

If you don’t have a great answer for “Now What?” you won’t like what happens next.

As a result, life returns to normal far too quickly…if you let it.

The best way to prepare for the let down is to take point 6 seriously.

6. See the completion of your project as a start line, not a finish line

My answer for to the Now what? question was this: completing our new facility is the start line, not the finish line.

When you work really hard on a project, everyone’s looking for the finish line. And there needs to be a finish line. You can’t run hard forever.

But leaders need to keep some gas in the tank and be ready to go.

In the months leading up to the completion, I kept reminding myself and my team that completing the building is our start line, not our finish line.

To treat the opening of a building as a finish line would be like buying a sports car only to park in your driveway…forever. Isn’t driving it the point?

Our new facility and your new project provide the chance to take the mission to places and levels it’s never been before. It’s a means to an end, not the end in itself.

If you see whatever project you’re working on as a start line, not a finish line, you’ll be much more effective in accomplishing your mission.

7. Re-evaluate everything in light of your new season

Whenever you enter a new season, it’s important to look at everything through fresh eyes.

Think through your staffing, your strategy, your values, your team, your dreams. Is each of them optimally positioned for what’s ahead?

When our attendance doubled on opening day, it was a chance for us to test our systems. We had added 150 volunteers just a month prior to opening…and are we glad we did. We needed everyone of them.

But our check in system for families worked. Our guest services team could accommodate all the new guests. Our parking team was ready. Our staff was ready.

While we were thankful for that, we started to ask “what if every Sunday was like this?” And then we made more changes, to parking, to guest services, to our check in. And we’re tracking how people are connecting in this new era.

We’re also rethinking our budget and our staff positions and where we need to be in a year on all those fronts.

The point is you could cruise and hope it all works, but change allows you to reevaluate all your approaches and systems to see if they are helping you best steward the opportunities in front of you. If they’re not, change them.

What Do You See?

Those are 7 insights we’ve gleaned over the last month or two.

What are you learning about new seasons, projects and opportunities before you?

Scroll down and leave a comment!