Tag Archives: vision

Church that Defies Conventional Wisdom

And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. Genesis 6:13-14

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

When it comes to building churches, there is no shortage of conventional wisdom. And in matters of church growth, church finances, and (alas) church conflict, the “church world” is loaded with advice and counsel. Moreover, add to that the wisdom of the secular world about how to build a corporation or how to lead an army or how to have a winning team (much of which wisdom gets imposed on church leadership), and you could fill a library with all the ways that it makes sense to build a church.

But God is not impressed with our conventional wisdom…never has been. At a time when the world had never even seen rain before and over a project schedule of some 100 years or so, God had Noah build an ark. On dry land. In the middle of a wilderness. There was absolutely nothing conventional about it. In fact, Noah was surely considered to be a crazy old drunk by pretty much anyone who knew him during this time, and his “project” was 100 years of sheer nonsense.

So, as I consider how incredibly closely Noah had to be walking with the Lord in order to rightly understand his assignment and to then fulfill it, I am captivated by the thought of just one church, one local body of believers, equally sold out and tuned in to God. Can …

The Best Laid Plans

Thursday Re-mix:

When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.  1 Corinthians 15:37-38

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—  1 Corinthians 15:51

TransformationI am no visionary.  I am the first to admit it.  I am envious of those who are visionaries.  I’m pretty quick to admit that as well.  I am impressed with the leader who says, “This is what we will look like in 5 years.”  I very much believe there are people like that…leaders who know exactly what they want to achieve and who know how to cast a laser-like vision to make sure their people make it happen.  So when that leader gets to that 5-year mark and is able to look back and say, “This is exactly where I said we would be in five years, and lo and behold, we did it…” I am impressed and awed.  And if it is a spiritual venture, like a church, I am a little bit sad.

I am sad because that picture seems to leave little room for God’s transforming activity.  You see, there may be some things about the God of the Bible which are predictable, but there is very little about His creative side which lends itself to even the best plans of men.  When God gets involved in something, huge, unpredictable transformations occur…things that are not a part of anyone’s strategic plan.  If we are planning correctly in the church, all we are really doing is structuring so as to enable the organization to respond quickly and efficiently …

Corporate Prayer as a Means of Focus

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. John 5:19

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. Mark 1:35

camera lensIf your church is anything at all like mine, there is a pretty limitless supply of human needs and desperation within a 5 mile radius of it in any direction. There are single moms struggling to make ends meet, there is poverty and homelessness, there are drug addicts and prostitutes, there are sick people and broken people…lots of reminders all around us that we live in a broken world. I wonder if all that brokenness causes you to lose sleep at night, trying to discern what needs are your church’s to meet and what ones are not?

You cannot meet them all. And even if you could, it is probably not God’s assignment for your church to meet them all. He is funny that way. Like a tornado which touches down on one house and leaves the one next to it standing, God’s assignments for us often have us meeting needs in one person (or one family or one group), without meeting the needs of scores of others all around them.

That was the disciples’ experience with Jesus in John, chapter 5 at the pool at Bethesda. A pool surrounded by a “multitude” of crippled and lame people. The disciples followed Jesus to the pool, watched him heal one man, and then watched him leave all the others behind. I don’t know about you, but that would have troubled me a great deal! …

Creating a Culture of Bible Study

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17

Bible StudyAfter some 40 years of studying the Bible and some 25 (or so) years of teaching it, I can safely say I am more thirsty for it today than ever before. My prayer is that God will keep me ever more thirsty for it my whole life. So far, so good.

Today’s post begins a Summer Tuesday series on Spiritual disciplines which church leaders should be practicing and fostering. These are valuable habits in making and growing disciples…routines about which the church should be intentional. You should be teaching these disciplines and, in some cases, you should have a system in place for insuring their practice in the lives of your congregants. The first of these disciplines is Bible Study.

At my church, we call it our Re:Verse system. We all study the same passage all week long, meditating on it each morning, reading our pastors’ daily devotional thoughts on it. We study it again in our Sunday morning Bible Study groups, and we hear a sermon on the same passage in any of our Sunday morning worship services. Lastly, in the following week, we look back at the passage in our small accountability groups, gently pressing the truths from that passage into one another. Of course, the details of the system are not the point. Having the system in the first place is the point. It is important that a church’s structure and programming and culture all hold Bible study as a high value. Few spiritual disciplines will have a bigger impact on our people.

But getting our people to study the Bible …

“The Lord Always Before Me”

Tuesday Re-mix:

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Psalm 16:8

I recently read a blog post by a prominent leader in the evangelical world.  It was a post about “Rules of Thumb” for healthy churches.  The rules were all about the proper acreage for church property, the number of parking spaces per attendance, the maximum occupancy for buildings, maximum debt payment budgeted, and so on.  You get the picture.  It broke my heart.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image15608205I know this leader/blogger to be a godly man and a well-respected leader.  I absolutely do not question that.  To his credit, his own comments to that post state that he regrets using the words “healthy churches” in his title, as if these various metrics have anything to do with church health.  I respect that, and am so glad he made that correction.  I had actually written my own comment to the effect that he should have entitled the post “Ten Things You as a Church Leader Should NOT be Obsessing About”.  I refrained.  Maybe I shouldn’t have refrained.

Two observations here:

1. I believe our pastors and ministers and rectors and priests often do obsess about the wrong things…I believe church leaders today are easily swayed from “setting the Lord always before us”;

2.  I believe that is our own fault for allowing them, even encouraging them, to do that.

Don’t you think “I have set the Lord always before me” is a comment about focus?  I do.  I think it means always, always, always helping us stay focused on the Head of the church (Jesus) and what He desires and what Honors Him and what His kingdom requires.  I think it means, when the rest of the world is focused on …

Compelling Vision

Tuesday Re-mix:

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?  Mark 8:17-18

Where there is no vision, the people perish… Proverbs 29:18

I sometimes wonder if we in the church are guilty at times of confusing “leadership vision” with “ambition”?

It seems to me we place a great deal of pressure on our shepherds with regard to “vision”. We expect even our newest pastor to have a 5-year plan for where we are headed just as soon as we get him in the office.  I have even heard of one pastor search team asking a prospective candidate what his “five-year vision” is for their church.  Oh my!  How would he know that?  In fact, I would be wary of anyone who claimed to know before he had even set foot among the congregation.

Pastoral vision (i.e., leadership vision for the church), it seems to me, has much less to do with entrepreneurial foresight and ambitious goals and much more to do with actually seeing what God has been doing and what He is doing right now in the life of a congregation.  It is not so much casting my eyes out on the vast horizon before us as it is casting my eyes across the lives of the people I am leading and understanding what God is doing there.

Jesus did not shame his disciples for not being smarter venture capitalists or for not having keen insights into the trends of the day.  He did not rebuke them for failing to see what was coming or even for not anticipating the needs of the …

Walking Slowly Through the Crowd

Tuesday Re-mix:

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask,‘Who touched me?’ ” Mark 5:25-31


I have listened to so many John Maxwell talks and have read so many of his books, I do not even remember now where I heard or read some of the best leadership advice I’ve ever heard/read from him: “walk slowly through the crowds”.  It is outstanding leadership counsel because genuine leadership is, after all, entirely dependent upon relationships and people skills.  It is perfect for ME, because I get so narrowly focused sometimes (maybe especially on Sunday mornings) that I can walk right past hundreds of friends without even smiling or acknowledging them!  I am still working on this.  🙂

It is a challenge, isn’t it?  It is especially challenging when we get focused on the task at hand, on the ministry ahead, even on the relationships in front of us…but there are still people all around us who are hoping for our attention as well.  It is a delicate balance between competency for the task at hand and …

Good-sized Vision v. God-sized Vision

Tuesday Re-mix –

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Acts 1:6

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:8

For both churches and individuals, there is a difference between a good-sized vision and a God-sized vision.  Which do you have?  Great story about this in Acts 1.

I am thinking this had to be a disturbing and frightening scenario for the disciples who, for almost three years, had awakened each morning and simply allowed Jesus to set the agenda for the day.  The only thing he asked of them was that they follow him.  It was an easy arrangement, one that led them through amazing and miraculous moments and obviously changed them forever.  Now, Jesus was leaving them and telling them “you guys take it from here…go and do this ministry!”

“Wait.  What?”

With this, the most significant revolution this world has ever known or will ever know was begun.  The church was born.  Your local body of believers and my local body of believers (and every local church around the world) all call ourselves followers…soldiers in this revolution.  But the question this passage raises in my mind is this: am I an Acts 1:6 follower or an Acts 1:8 follower?  Additionally, which is my church?

These disciples had an impressive vision…one found in scripture and supported by nothing short of a promise from God: they envisioned an Israel no longer under Rome’s thumb nor its puppet governors…an Israel who once again was on top of the world, boasting strength and numbers and the support of the sovereign …

A Spirituality of Fundraising

Tuesday Re-mix –

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

This year has been a huge transitional year for our ministry, Christian Unity Ministries. We will always remember 2013 as the year we transitioned from a small, church consultation ministry operated by Blake and a few of his friends in their spare time to a full-fledged, global non-profit organization with a paid staff and active arms operating in churches and denominational entities all over the world. Last year’s budget: approximately $75,000. The 2013 budget: approximately $350,000. That, my friends, is a God-sized transition!

One of the most painful transitions, it seems, is the one going on in me…the transition toward becoming the visionary leader this new organization now requires. And, just to get very specific here for purposes of this post, I am thinking primarily about the transition into becoming a leader in matters of money and fundraising. Anyone who knows me very well at all, knows that I have simply never been very passionate about fundraising. I have long recognized the eternal truth that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And so, it has always been easier for me to just avoid talking (or thinking) about money rather than having to delve into any theology concerning …

The Pastor Your People Love

Tuesday Re-mix –

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.  
Psalm 27:4

gaze-upon-the-lordI think I am a pretty good supporter of my pastor…I try to do the things he asks and I try not to do things I know he would frown upon…but he is going to HATE this post.  And that makes me happy.   I have learned a great deal about “shepherding” from watching my pastor.  In fact, in my work with conflicted congregations, there have been many times when I wished young pastors could just sit with my pastor for a few days and learn the balance between humility and authority, between assertive and quiet, between empowering and disciplining.  My pastor has shaped how I see many of the difficult issues pastors face today.

I am meditating this week on the 27th Psalm, and it made me consider what kind of leader David must have been in order to say these things.  Amazing and gifted in so many ways, but at the end of the day, he just loved God and wanted to spend “all the days of his life…gazing upon the beauty of the Lord.”  Those “mighty men” of his probably followed him for lots of reasons, but surely none more compelling than this.  He was a mighty warrior, a passionate leader, a visionary King, a loyal friend, and the quintessential complicated, flawed hero…lovable for so many reasons.  But all those qualities and characteristics of David boiled down to a shepherd boy who loved God above all else…”this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of

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