When what you see isn’t real

My alarm went off at 6:00 am on Saturday morning, as it does almost every day. But Saturday was different. As I rolled over to turn off the alarm everything began spinning violently. It took several seconds to figure which of the phones blurring in front of my eyes was the real one. I laid back and watched the room spin around me, thinking it would stop as soon as my eyes adjusted. When I got up to use the bathroom, however, the floor lurched violently to the left, then to the right. I stumbled wildly to the bathroom and then back to bed. I lay on my back, eyes closed tightly to block out the jumping, spinning world around me. Waves of nausea and panic swept over me as I realized something had gone horribly wrong in the night. Either the earth had been knocked off its axis, or I was having my first encounter with vertigo. Three days flat on my back, several medical tests and a cocktail of meds later I have concluded the earth is ok and I’m slowly recovering from vertigo. I imagine hell will be vertigo for eternity, with a side of flames.
Here’s the thing about vertigo, it’s not real. The world appears to be jumping and spinning out of control, but it’s not. It’s all in my head. Something in my inner ear is messed up, and it’s changing my perception of the world. The earth is fine, I’m the one with the problem. The disconcerting thing, however, is that all my previous experience tells me I’m ok, it’s the world that’s messed up. The knowledge that the ground is not actually moving, and my arm around my incredible wife’s steady shoulder are what gets me through the tough parts of the day.

There’s a saying that perception is reality, but vertigo has convinced me that it is not. Perception is just the tiny window I have on the world, and I wonder how many times my perception of that world is completely wrong? My perception of God, of relationships, of the “real” world. The Apostle Paul said,  

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

To paraphrase, we all suffer from vertigo. The things we think we know are only our flawed perceptions of the world around us. That is why we have to stand on the solid ground of biblical truth, and rely on the steadying hand of unconditional love. We cannot trust what we perceive to be true, and we cannot find balance without friends we love and who love us in return. Because of the vertigo brought on by living in a world warped by sin, daily grounding in God’s word and regular time spent with a small group of Christ followers is our only hope of making sense out of this tilt-a-whirl life.

That sounds so religiously trite, doesn’t it? “All you need is the Bible and a good Christian friend”‘ sounds like something a TV evangelist would say right before selling you a timeshare in Jesusland. And it is trite until you realize how completely tainted your worldview really is. Last Friday I never gave walking down a set of stairs a second thought; today every step is a triumph. When we realize just how out of whack our worldview really is we’ll grab the Bible and hold onto friends like I grip the handrail and Sherry’s shoulder. We all have vertigo, the question is how we will deal with it.
As for me every day brings a little improvement. Today I can walk without falling down. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll leave the house. Or maybe the day after…

10 Commandments for Great Discussions

One of the things I love to do is facilitate discussions. This is WAY different than teaching or running a meeting, but many people miss it. Team meetings, board meetings and small group meetings are often less effective or helpful because the leader isn’t effective at facilitating the exchange of ideas. Over the past 30 years of ministry I have had the chance to facilitate hundreds of discussions in dozens of environments, and along the way I’ve picked up some principles for what works and what doesn’t; here are my top 10:

10 Commandments for Facilitating Discussions

  1. Don’t teach

    If the goal is the transfer of information, then the need is a teacher. If the goal is the free exchange of ideas, then the need is a facilitator. Most pastors make lousy facilitators because wherever two or three are gathered together they see a chance to teach. Don’t do it, it kills real discussion.

  2. Warm up the crowd

    Always start with some kind of ice breaker. It can be corny, serious or somewhere in between, but it can’t be too personal and it needs to be something anyone can answer. And there isn’t a right or wrong answer. (See #4 below) The first question is like warming up before you exercise, it makes things go better later.

  3. Stick to essay questions

    A quick poll of the group is fine, but good discussion questions should lead to, well, discussion. No simple one or two word answers.

  4. Avoid wrong answers

    Asking factual questions makes it feel more like a quiz than a discussion, and introverts will disappear for fear of getting the wrong answer.

  5. Focus on opinions, feelings and actions; in that order

    Not everyone (anyone?) knows the correct definition of apostle, but everyone has opinions and feelings; and anyone can take an action. Use questions like
    -What do you think about…?
    -How do you feel about…?
    -What will you do about…?

    A sub-rule is “All opinions and feelings are valid”. This makes the legalist in me shudder, but its true. My opinions and feelings are mine, so  you don’t get to decide if they are valid or not. As a facilitator you need to let the Holy Spirit do the work of convicting and judging. You don’t have to agree with an opinion or feeling to validated it.

  6. Admit when you don’t know

    Sometimes questions will come up you don’t know the answer to; admit it. Promise to find an answer if you can. Making crap up ruins a discussion. (You can tweet that.)

  7. Get comfortable with silence

    Silence in a discussion is seldom comfortable, but often necessary. Processors need silence to gather their thoughts before jumping in. Resist the urge to rescue the group and break the silence. Too much silence, however, can be a bad thing. If the lame duck question has been laying there for a couple of minutes put it out of its misery and move on.

  8. Include as many in the discussion as possible

    This is more art than science. Some people need permission to express their thoughts to the group, others would rather be forced to dance the Macarena naked than talk out loud. You have to watch for visual cues to separate the reluctant from the terrified. Call on the reluctant, make the terrified dance. Not really, just leave them alone.

  9. Help talkers move on

    Letting a talker dominate the discussion makes everyone (except the talker) miserable and kills any meaningful exchange. Learn to interject phrases like “Let me jump in…” and “Great stuff, thanks for sharing. Let’s move on to another question.” Don’t just sit there and take it, that’s why you’re the facilitator. Be careful though, if you embarrass the talker the rest of the group will turn on you. Gently, gently.

  10. Always encourage

    Every comment should be acknowledged with an encouragement. Encouragement isn’t agreement, it is being thankful for the contribution. Everyone who contributes should feel appreciation for their gift.

Facilitation is a blast when done right, and is a way to help people and teams become better. So don’t suck at it. 🙂



Mourning the loss of another pastor

igNobleMy stomach sank on Friday night when I first read that Perry Noble might be fired by NewSpring Church. I hoped this was the worst PR stunt of all time, that Perry would scold all of us on Sunday morning to not believe rumors propagated through social media, and we’d all be slightly chagrined and a little angry at being sucked into such an awful practical joke. But it wasn’t a stunt or a joke. Sunday morning Shane Duffey, an Executive Pastor at NewSpring, announced that Perry had been fired. He then read a letter from Perry explaining that an unhealthy reliance on alcohol had let to this day, and that he will now focus on healing and health for he and his family.

After pouring his heart and soul into ministry, Perry has been disqualified to lead a church he started in his living room. Perry’s influence with leaders around the world has been permanently diminished. NewSpring staff face an uncertain future, and attenders are angry, confused and disillusioned with their pastor and their church. There is no bright side.

This isn’t a post about the lessons we can learn about Perry’s fall from grace. I don’t have warnings for the future, I don’t have advice for church leaders. I don’t know why Perry failed. I don’t know why NewSpring fired him. I don’t know how we can prevent things like this in the future, and I don’t know what is wrong with the American church that things like this keep happening.

All I feel is sadness. So many people in South Carolina found hope and freedom under Perry’s preaching. So many church leaders were encouraged and challenged by Perry’s teaching. At a conference in Atlanta this past April I was convicted again as I listened to Perry teach practical ministry lessons from the 23rd Psalm. I didn’t always agree with Perry’s method or tone, as I’m sure he wouldn’t always agree with mine, but Perry was an amazing voice for the Kingdom. Now, at least for a time and maybe forever, that voice has been silenced. Perry’s family is humiliated and Perry’s church is wounded. This is a time to mourn.

When a soldier is mortally wounded his comrades don’t analyze his mistakes or castigate his commander. They reach out to his family and mourn his loss. Perry has lost his ministry and NewSpring has lost their pastor. Rather than assigning blame and drawing conclusions what if we simply spend some time grieving with and for our brothers and sisters.

Lunch with a Heretic

heretic-nametagI recently attended a heresy luncheon. That wasn’t the official title, but I’m pretty sure the speaker would have been burned at the stake in another age. Doctrines such as original sin, substitutionary atonement and election were tossed aside along with inerrancy of scripture. This was the Super Bowl of revisionism. One of the wrappers for the belief system espoused was “alternative orthodoxy”, which is a little like “modified monogamy”; I’m fairly sure the alternative to orthodoxy is apostasy. By the end of the meeting my conservative nerves were frayed from not shouting “The Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it”. (Which is a phrase I hope to never utter out loud.)

Since the luncheon I have been debating the speaker in my head. I’ve read every Wikipedia article about him and his core philosophies (because I’m just that deep), and I’ve Googled everyone who has written an article calling him a heretic. The reality is he’s way smarter than I am, so I’m looking for intelligent people to affirm my shock and dismay. I fall asleep debating him, I wake up having triumphed in my pretend theology match. I didn’t argue with him face-to-face, but I’m 10-0 in my imagination.

At the same time I am digging deep into his theological arguments. I am reading and re-reading scripture depicting Christ as the sacrificial lamb. I’m examining the difference between what I know and what I think I know about original sin. I am revisiting the tension between

2 Cor 5:15 (NIV) And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

Acts 13:48 (NIV) When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

I haven’t been this engaged in theology since my freshman year of Bible college when I found out the KJV Bible wasn’t handed directly from God to Paul. (Council of Carthage? What???) Nothing brings doctrine to life like someone who completely disagrees.

What I’m realizing is that when I shelter myself from people with a different understanding of God, and label them heretics, my thinking becomes very shallow. From a distance it is easy to put others in boxes without wresting with my own understanding of the universe and how it works. When, however, I sit across a lunch table and listen to understand, rather than refute, I can learn and grow.

The bottom line is I need more heretics in my life.

Thank God for Donald Trump

nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runnersOne of the most frustrating things about American politics is the connection between conservative evangelicalism and the Republican party. What began with the fight against legalized abortion expanded to gay rights, gun control, immigration reform and eventually fiscal policy. To be considered an upstanding Christian you needed to toe the party line on these and a host of ever emerging issues. Nuanced discussions with room for dissenting opinions were smothered by the bullhorn of Republican politicians who loved God and hated abortion, taxes, limits on automatic weapons and citizenship for “illegal aliens”.

And then came Donald Trump. Trump, love him or hate him, he has changed the political conversation in America. It is impossible to label Trump a conservative evangelical. He brags of multiple sexual conquests, belittles anyone he considers an enemy, says that he’s never asked for forgiveness and eschews any hint of humility. Trumps eternal destiny is between he and God; his non-adherence to traditional conservative religious values is obvious to anyone who looks.

Trump also strays from the norms of mainstream Republicanism. He praises the work of Planned Parenthood, he derides free trade and he has only been a registered Republican for four years. He has even supported Democrats, including Hilary Clinton, in previous elections. Republican leaders embrace him only as the presumptive nominee, very few see him as embodying traditional Republican values. Trump is many things, but he is not your momma’s Republican.

What Donald Trump provides is a chance for Evangelicals to finally distance themselves from both parties. Rather than riding along on whatever bandwagon Republican leaders put together, we can think hard about how our understanding of scripture informs our beliefs on caring for the poor, protecting the innocent and welcoming the marginalized. We can choose to compromise some values and vote Democratic, compromise other values and vote Republican or opt for  another course based on our deeply felt beliefs. This year there is no obvious choice for conservative Christians.

Hopefully, freed from the yoke of right wing politics, we can return to proclaiming the Gospel and sincerely voting our conscience. While we may disagree vehemently what that vote should be, I think we can agree neither party is a perfect fit for a conservative Christian. For that, Mr Trump, I am thankful.

User, beggar or friend?

hand-outThere are three kinds of friends. First there is the friend who you can call at 2:00 a.m. because you are taking your son to the hospital and you need someone sane to talk you through the next few minutes. You know each other’s stories and you have each other’s back. This is the kind of friend you’d lay your life on the line for. You only find this kind of friend a few times in a lifetime. Never let that friend go.

The second kind friend likes the same football team as you, and is fun to chat with over lunch. They’ll give you a ride to the airport if you need it, and you enjoy reading about their family on Facebook. You share a similar sense of humor and you’re always glad to help each other out. You have had many friends like this through the years.

The third kind of friend isn’t a friend at all. Their motivation is always what they can get from you. They only call when they have a question or a need. When you get together over coffee the conversation is about their job, their family, their life. If they think you have influence, resources or connections that will help them do what they want to do they are around. When you no longer are useful they disappear. It is always painful when you discover someone is this type of friend.

My goal in life is to avoid being, or being around, the third type of friend. Life is too short to waste on such shallow people. When I was at Saddleback I had “friends” who thought I could get them access to Rick Warren. When I was at Exponential I had “friends” who thought I could get them a platform for their book. Now I discover “friends” who think I can get them money for their ministry. I received another invitation to connect with someone recently who wants me to “partner” with their ministry. They aren’t interested in my life, my ministry or my wisdom; they just want to know how much cash I can bring to the table. When they find out my budget is already committed for the year I’m pretty sure our newly formed friendship will end.

What if we stopped using people to get ahead? What if we stopped seeing relationships as a way to advance our agenda? Let’s grab coffee. Let’s swap war stories. Let’s get to know each other’s hurts and worries. Let’s laugh together, plan together and pray together. In other words let’s be friends. And you know what? If you are my friend there’s very little I won’t do to help you.

What am I supposed to do?

Teach-Girls-End-World-PovertyI recently had a fascinating conversation with a sharp young leader. They had just returned from an amazing vacation in the Caribbean. The food, the scenery, the weather, the company; everything was perfect. They were incredibly grateful for the opportunity to enjoy this vacation of a lifetime, but one they were overwhelmed by the economic gulf between them and the people who served at the resort. The shacks, the broken down roads, and the abject poverty were heart breaking. They could not shake the disconnect of experiencing opulent luxury surrounded by crippling need. They stopped in the middle of sharing their experience, looked at me with deep sincerity and asked, “What am I supposed to do?”

Their perspective is refreshing. They aren’t mired in the guilt of having more. They aren’t caught in the misguided trap of feeling better than or worse than the people they met. They see a need and know they must act. Rather than ignoring the pain or reacting to the cause they are simply asking, “What am I supposed to do?”

I saw this look on my wife’s face when she returned from her first visit to a school for AIDS orphans in a tiny village in Kenya. Everyone on her team was moved by what they saw, but my wife knew she had to act. She could not simply send money, or make return visits, she had to make a difference. She had to answer the question, “What am I supposed to do?” She formed a board for the school, revamped their sponsorship program, revitalized the fund raising and changed the future trajectory of the school.

Every day we are inundated with need. Children in Africa, refugees in Europe, immigrants in America. It is easy to become deaf to the cry of human desperation all around us; we can’t help everyone. But we can help some. Jesus didn’t heal all blindness, but he gave sight to the blind man on the road to Jericho. He didn’t restore every crippled limb, but he healed the lame man by the pool of Bethesda. He didn’t raise everyone from the dead, but he brought the widow’s son back to life. Rather than being callous or overwhelmed Jesus always cared for the one in front of him.

Imagine the impact, as we see needs both overwhelming and insignificant, if we asked that simple question, “What am I suppose to do?” You may decide to sponsor a child, or start a ministry, or volunteer at food bank. You may decide to raise money, or start a prayer chain, or tutor a middle schooler. The reality is that we can all do something in Jesus’ name, and together our force for good is overwhelming.

What AM I supposed to do?

10 Hidden Secrets of Multisite Churches

if-youre-afraid-of-multi-site-church-this-is-the-book-for-you0When we started down the multisite road at Seacoast Church 15 years ago we had no idea what we were doing. There were no books on multisite and very few models to learn from. Today there are over 8000 multisite churches across the country, dozens of multisite consultants and several books specifically written for churches considering becoming one church in multiple locations. Even with all of the available information, however, there are some hidden multisite secrets almost no on talks about. Here are my top ten:

  1. Boring in-person preaching is lethally boring on video

    I have been told video teaching won’t work in the the Northeast, the Northwest, the West Coast, in England, in Europe and in India. Although I’ve seen successful video teaching examples in each of these contexts what I’ve come to realize is that bad video teaching doesn’t work anywhere. When a church tells me video teaching won’t work in their context I often suspect the problem isn’t the video.

  2. Multisite won’t make a stagnant church grow

    Many years ago Larry Osborne said, “Multisite isn’t an engine for growth, it is a response to growth.” A church that isn’t experiencing numerical growth almost never  begins growing by launching a second campus. After the excitement settles down the church will be the same size it was before, but its expenses will be much higher.

  3. Great preaching and great worship grow a campus

    No matter what model you pick nothing grows a campus like great preaching and great music. Most campuses that struggle to grow are lacking in one or both of these areas. I’m not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing, its just a thing.

  4. IMAG and video teaching are two completely different things

    Sometimes church will add IMAG (Big screens in the auditorium to project video of what is going on on the stage) to “prepare the congregation for video teaching.” This is similar to buying a puppy to get ready to have a baby. Its just not the same.

  5. Convincing people to leave a comfortable building to attend at a rundown middle school is really hard

    People don’t want to go to church in a school, theater or community center. They like a permanent building they don’t have to set up and tear down. It is a mistake to underestimate how hard it will be to convince people to switch from a worship center to a cafetorium.

  6. Ministries on a large campus are different than ministries on a small campus

    It is very different to do children’s ministry for 500 kids than for 50 or 5. Not everything that a larger church does scales well to a smaller context, so many ministries have to rethink their “non-negotiables”.

  7. A campus pastor has two jobs; develop leaders and energize volunteers

    A campus pastor who can develop leaders and energize volunteers will grow a healthy campus; anything else a campus pastor focuses on is a distraction. If he can’t develop  leaders and energize volunteers morale at his campus will suffer and he’ll constantly look to the mothership to bail him out.

  8. Half of the people who help start a new campus eventually go back

    People who are fired up about starting something new, reaching a new part of a city or following a new leader get tired of setting up and tearing down. They miss their friends at the original campus. Their kids miss the shiny classrooms and great teachers. Campus pastors need to know that many of these pioneers will eventually migrate back, and that’s ok. The goal is to have enough new people from the community to more than make up the difference.

  9. Adding new campuses is hardest on children’s ministry

    The most volunteer intensive ministry is always children’s ministry, and adding a new campus always means losing some of their best leaders. The children’s minister at the new campus has to instantly replicate what took years, even decades, to develop at the original site. Children’s ministry needs lots of TLC when new campuses are launched.

  10. Multisite impacts everything

    Unlike other ministries multisite impacts everything a church does. Every budget decision and every ministry initiative is now viewed through the lens of how it impacts every campus. Multisite is always complicated.

I still am a strong believer in multisite as a means of multiplication in the Kingdom. I have seen the incredible synergy of one church in many locations, and in the right circumstances I have seen the explosive growth that follows. It is important, however, to go in with your eyes wide-open to the hidden challenges.



Saying Goodbye to a Dream

960x0I had a dream for many years. It doesn’t matter what the dream was, its mine not yours. I always thought this dream would happen, it was just a matter of time. Several times it felt like I was at the edge of the dream being fulfilled only to see it fall away like dust. Soon I was 40, then 45, then 50 and the dream never materialized. The hardest part was this wasn’t something I just passively hoped for, I did everything I knew to do to work toward the dream. And it wasn’t a pipe dream, many trusted friends and mentors confirmed that they believed the dream was in my wheelhouse, something I was wired up to do. I finally realized, however, the time for this particular dream was over. I don’t know why it never happened, but it was time to move on.
 “Sorry for the tears, never thought it would happen.”
And then on Sunday afternoon I caught the final few holes of the Shell Houston Open (SHO). The SHO is a relatively minor tournament, Its basically a tune-up for The Masters, the Super Bowl of golf tournaments, which is played the week after the SHO. When I tuned in Jim Herman, an unknown journeyman, trailed seasoned pro Henrick Stenson by one stroke with three holes to play. Herman had no chance against a player like Stenson. But then he did the unthinkable, he chipped in from the rough on the 16th hole, a birdie that put him ahead by one stroke. Keeping his nerves in check he parred the final two holes to win his first PGA Tour tournament at the age of 38. No one wins their first tournament at 38, the top golfers seldom win at 38. When an interviewer asked him afterwards how it felt to win and qualify to play in The Masters next week he teared up. “Sorry for the tears,” he said, “[I] never thought it would happen.”
 “Give me my mountain.”
Herman reminded of Caleb who dreamed of a home with a mountain view. He walked faithfully by Joshua’s side for more than 40 years, but his dream never came to fruition. Finally, at the age of 80, Caleb went to Joshua and said, “I’m as fit as I was when we spied out the land all those years ago. I’ve done what I’ve been asked, I’ve fought by your side, now give me my mountain.” Well past the age when men make new starts Caleb marched to his mountain and saw the fulfillment of his dream.
So if 38 isn’t too old to win your first golf tournament and 80 isn’t too old to build your dream home, maybe 54 is too young to abandon a dream? Maybe I gave up too soon.
 What dream have you given up on?
What about you? What dream have you given up on? What did you think God would do in your life by now? Maybe its too soon to give up. Maybe God is still at work and isn’t concerned about your timetable. Maybe you should continue preparing for the dream instead of hanging it up and moving on. It may be delusional to think that it could still happen, but Jim Herman never thought he’d be teeing off Thursday at Augusta National either.

Why people doubt your leadership

Matthew 28:16, 17 (NIV) Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
doubtThese eleven men spent three years, 24/7, with Jesus. They saw him feed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. They were there when he gave sight to blind men, cleansed lepers and set demon possessed people free. All eleven stood at Lazarus’ tomb as the stone was rolled back and a dead man walked out. A few days before they saw Jesus’ body hanging lifeless on a Roman cross, but before the weekend was over Jesus walked out of a sealed tomb and joined them for lunch. And in spite of all they had experienced some of them doubted. How is that possible?
 Doubt is baked deep in the heart of all of us
It is possible because doubt is baked deep in the heart of all of us. Adam and Eve hung out with God in the garden, but they doubted his warning about the tree. Moses met God face to face, but doubted God’s instructions on getting water. John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin, but he doubted Jesus was the Messiah. Doubt is a part of the human condition.
It is reassuring to know that doubt is something we all struggle with. Sometimes I find myself preaching on faith and struggling with doubt at the same time. I feel like the man who said to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” I used to hope having enough faith obliterated doubt. Now I understand that faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive. I can be honest about my doubt without destroying others’ faith. I can stand on the mountain worshipping while I struggle with doubt.
 Evidence doesn’t always overcome doubt
I have also come to understand that evidence doesn’t always overcome doubt. The men standing on the mountain with Jesus had more evidence of his divinity than anyone who’s ever lived, and yet they doubted. That is why arguing with 21st century skeptics is often fruitless. Atheists like Richard Dawkins Christopher Hitchens challenge us to prove there is a God, and laugh when we join the debate. Faith isn’t something based on irrefutable evidence; faith is confidence in what we hope for, evidence of things we cannot see or prove. I love to study apologetics, but skeptics are seldom converted through argument, they are more likely to be overwhelmed by love.
 There is a leadership element to doubt
There is a leadership element to doubt as well. It is a challenge to be a confident leader when the people you lead doubt your ability, your vision, or your heart. So we read countless leadership books and blogs that convince us the reason people doubt us is we suck as leaders. While that may be true, it is more likely people doubt our leadership because people doubt leaders. If the disciples of Jesus, the Son of the Almighty God of the universe, doubted his leadership there’s a pretty good chance the people we lead will doubt us as well. If we want to lead a team without doubt we should probably buy a dogsled.
The amazing thing about this story is that these eleven men, doubters and all, left that Galilean mountain and started the most transformational movement the world has ever seen. God seems to always do incredible things through people who doubt. Abraham, Moses, David, Peter and Saul all doubted God and doubted themselves, and God used them anyway. I doubt you and I are up to something great, but what if we gave it a try anyway? To quote the famous doubter Jonathan,
“Perhaps God will act on our behalf.”