Considering The Year That Was

Yesterday, I mentioned that Michael Hyatt challenged readers to consider several questions about 2009. I figured I’d give the exercise a shot. I found the exercise to be really helpful and I’m glad to have done it.

So, for what it’s worth, here are my answers:

1. If the last year were a movie of your life, what would the genre be? Drama, romance, adventure, comedy, tragedy, or a combination?

This year’s been a combination of things. Some tragedy, lots of drama, a bit of comedy… but a lot of joy at the end of it all.  We shared with our families this year that while it’s been a crazy one, we wouldn’t trade it for anything because of how much more aware we’ve become of God through our difficulties.

2. What were the two or three major themes that kept recurring? These can be single words or phrases. For me, they were:

  • Humility (my need for and lack of)
  • Patience (my need to grow in)
  • Repentance (continuing to build a lifestyle of)

3. What did you accomplish this past year that you are the most proud of? These can be in any area of your life—spiritual, relational, vocational physical, etc. Be as specific as possible.

  • Being a part of developing The Difference is Jesus.com and having the opportunity to craft gospel-centered communication for an organization I love.
  • Starting this blog has allowed me to improve as a writer and find a channel for much of what’s rattling around my head
  • Read through the entirety of the Bible
  • Preached my first sermon

4. What do you feel you should have been acknowledged for but weren’t?

There’s a few things that come to mind, but the majority relate to my being prideful. A few are legitimate, but not appropriate to be shared publicly.

5. What disappointments or regrets did you experience this past year? As leaders, we naturally have high expectations of ourselves and others. Where did you let yourself down? Where did you let others down?

  • Being too quick to speak and lacking grace in my language
  • Inconsistency in prayer

6. What was missing from last year as you look back? Again, look at each major area of your life. Don’t focus now on having to do anything about it. For now, just list each item.

  • Gentleness in speech when I would have been better served to speak gently
  • Patience
  • More time in prayer individually and within groups about life and work

7. What were the major life-lessons you learned this past year? Boil this down to a few short, pithy statements.

  • God is sometimes most obviously present in the midst of suffering
  • God may have good things in store for us, but we might have to go through hell to get them

2009 is done. That chapter is closed.

On to the next one.

Book Review: Leading with Love

Title: Leading with Love
Author: Alexander Strauch
Publisher: Lewis & Roth Publishers

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have a prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:1-7)

We’ve all been to a wedding where the apostle Paul’s exposition on love has been the Scripture passage of choice (in fact, I’m pretty sure it was read at ours). But as often as it’s used in that context, pastor & author Alexander Strauch reminds us in Leading with Love that these words are not simply poetry:

They are divine commands.

In this book, Strauch shows readers the “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31b), as he reminds us that we can do all things, but if they are done without love, they are worthless. “Love is indispensible to you and your ministry,” he writes on page 3. Love for God and love for people are to be our motivation. [Read more...]

What do you appreciate about your pastor?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how undervalued pastors can be.

Pastors have a hard job. A packed schedule of family obligations, weddings, funerals, couseling and all the other things that come with shepherding the flock God has entrusted to them.

On top of that, they have to deal with a disheartening number of books & speakers who suggest the office of elder/pastor is unbiblical. People taking offense to something they say (perhaps because it points out their sin or it’s a legitimately poor choice of words) and trash them, and on and on it goes…

It’s easy to see why Paul wrote, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17, emphasis mine).

There’s the big issue: Elders who rule well (in short, leading people in the example of our ultimate leader, Jesus) are worthy of “double honor.” In the context of the passage, it is talking about financial compensation—but it’s also talking about respect.

And that’s something I wonder if we’d do well to think about for a few minutes.

What do you appreciate about your pastor?

Have you ever had an opportunity to think about it? Honestly, it’s not something that’s often at the top of my things to consider list, but it really is important.

But it’s really worth considering. [Read more...]

Book Review-It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It

Title: It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It
Author: Craig Groeschel
Publisher: Zondervan

Have you ever seen a church or a ministry that just seemed to have “it?” There’s huge numerical growth, lots of people becoming Christians, crazy innovation… Whatever the reasons, there’s something really special going on.

And you may not know what “it” is, but you know it when you see it.

Craig Groeschel doesn’t try to tell the readers of his latest book, It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It, what “it” is—he readily admits that he doesn’t know. But he does offers some practical insight into what it means to be a ministry with “it” primarily from his experience as the pastor of LifeChurch.tv.

The Good

There’s a lot to like in this book, particularly Groeschel’s  candor. He’s extremely open about his failures in ministry,  particularly when it comes to getting distracted by the things that really don’t matter.

I believed we needed our own building and all the other things real churches have—like a sports ministry, concerts, conferences and our own church van. I thought those important elements would give us it. Then we’d be a real church. Little did I realize, we already had it. God was doing something very special. Lost people were being found. Found people were growing. The church was spiritually vibrant. All without any of the things I thought necessary (pp. 61-62).

He goes on to say that eventually the church accumulated all those things he dreamed of—the building, the sports ministry, the conferences & concerts. Even the church van! “Then one day I realized that everything I’d always wanted was slowing killing everything we already had. Our church had it and we didn’t know it,” he writes on page 62. Programming that didn’t align with the vision of the church nearly ended it.

The Great

Perhaps my favorite chapter in the book is all about a kingdom-mindset. Too often, there’s a temptation to see other ministries and churches as competition, and rather than rejoice in their success, we make snarky comments (and sometimes accuse them of not being “real” Christians because they don’t do things like we do). It’s a divisive and heartbreaking attitude. [Read more...]

God likes Leaders and Preaching

define-church

Yesterday I started working on a definition of the church. After working through a popular passage that’s gained a popular understanding as being about fellowship, we came to the following partial definition:

A church is a community of disciples who practice church discipline, guided by the teaching of Scripture, under the authority of Jesus Christ.

Because it’s incomplete, let’s take a look at another couple aspects that will flesh out this definition:

Leadership and Preaching.

Leadership is not popular—and yet a lot of people kind of want to be one. A great many of us (including yours truly) have authority issues… unless we’re the folks in authority. There are also other folks who simply refuse to submit to any authority whatsoever; who want a “flat” church where ever opinion is equally valid and valuable and no one can really hold you accountable for any sin.

But did you know God really likes leaders? He likes authority in His Church, shepherding His people into holiness.

And He gave them to us as a gift.

Check out Ephesians 4:11-14: [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Chip and Dan Heath

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heath_brosIn the final post summarizing my take-aways from the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, I want to take a quick look at Chip & Dan Heath’s session: Switch.

The Heaths, authors of Made to Stick and the upcoming Switch (available in early 2010!), address the question, “Why is change sometimes so hard, and other times so easy?”

Any sort of successful change, say the Heaths, “requires convincing the organization that change is the right thing.” Once we’ve done that, we move on to the next issue: Identifying what is working. The Heaths suggest that we first “look for the bright spots—the things that show that success is possible. Find what works and duplicate those things… Bright spots are proof that people are capable of solving their problems.” [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Kiva, Coffee, and Bono

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jessicaflannery_2_smallJessica Jackley, Kiva

The micro-lending phenomenon that is Kiva.org intrigues me a great deal, because I’ve honestly never been sure how exactly it works and if it’s really making a difference in the lives of people. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that it’s cofounder, Jessica Jackley, was part of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. If you don’t know, Kiva‘s mission is connecting people through lending to aleviate poverty. By providing microfinancing to entrepreneurs in developing nations, those entrepreneurs have the funding they need to make their business a success.

It’s a very interesting concept, because it’s very different from what we typically see. It’s not about aleviating poverty for people, it’s equipping people to do it themselves. I am very much a believer in development vs. aid (in the sense that we just throw cash at a problem and hope it goes away), and it’s refreshing to see that, so far in Kiva‘s case, it’s working really well. To date, more than 48 million dollars have been loaned through Kiva by ordinary people, and so far, 98.6% of this has been paid back in full. The secret, Jackley believes, is trust. “When you’re trust-based, you can get a lot more done. We believe if people are treated like we trust them, they most likely will [follow through.]” What Kivaand Jackley have seen so far is that entrepreneurs really are following through. Parents, now with a thriving small business, can buy clothes and pay their childrens’ school fees. It’s lead to improved health and better living conditions. It’s very exciting stuff.

Jackley is definitely a young lady who believes in the innate goodness of people—and that people actually want to give sacrificially (“It’s where a lot of our joy comes from,” says Jackley). I really have no comment on that point, sufficed to say that she has a very charitable attitude, and that it’s wonderful that Kiva‘s experiencing such phenomenal success.

What I see in something like Kiva is a great potential for those of us here in the developed world to love our neighbor in an exceedingly practical way, and one that we might not have otherwise.

andrew-rugasiraAndrew Rugasira, Good African Coffee

Andrew Rugasira’s session was Thinking Forward: Aid vs. Trade. The Founder and CEO of Good African Coffee, Rugasira, a graduate of the University of London (where he received an honors degree in Law & Economics from the School of Oriental and African studies), is incredibly passionate about seeing Africa taking a strong position in the world economy. He wants to change the perspective the world holds about Africa. And that means ending changing our mindset from aid to trade. Because, as Rugasira believes, handouts don’t develop people and nations.

“There is no country in the world that was developed by handouts—so why is Africa different? Africans are looking for the same opportunities as an American, English [or] Indian entrepreneur. [We're] not looking for a handout.”

The statistics are startling. Between 1970 and 2000, Africa received $400 billion in aid. And during that time, the GDP dropped and conditions worsened. Rather than making the situation better, it actually made it worse. 

“[Aid] creates a culture of dependency. It undermines the  integrity and dignity of recipient countries,” says Rugasira.

“Integrity is being truthful about what you need to do to get out of a situation.” Aid (in the sense that Rugasira is speaking of) completely undermines this. “People have lost faith in themselves. [They believe] that they can’t do anything. That help only comes from outside… [And we want] the opportunity to bring quality products to the market and help Africans help themselves.”

Rugasira’s message is refreshing. I often struggle with the question of how much good are we really doing by doling out billions of dollars a year in foreign aid. When some countries have as much as 40 percent of their budget coming from aid, you know there’s something wrong with the system. I think aid in the sense of emergency, life saving assistance is incredibly important and necessary, which is why I’m grateful for organizations like the Red Cross, World Vision and several others. But I think it’s necessary that we look to assisting the poor around the world develop the skills required to not only aleviate poverty, but transform their society. That’s why it’s good that organizations like Good African Coffee and even Compassion exist.

bonoBono

We all know who Bono is, love him or hate him. And depending on the church, you won’t be the least bit surprised to hear at least one or two U2 songs in the worship set.

Honestly, for Bono’s part of the Summit, I’m not sure even how necessary it was. It didn’t really add anything except a bit of Bono. There was one great line thrown out in his interview with Bill Hybels, though, so perhaps that’s the reason he was there. In speaking about the Church’s sudden ramp up to assist the poor, particularly with HIV/AIDS treatment, Bono said, “As a person who’s really giving off about the Church, you have completely ruined it for me, because the Church has done incredible things, and… I’m taken aback. I think we referred to it [the Church] as the sleeping giant, but I didn’t know the giant could run that fast. And there’s no doubt in my mind that had the church not woken up on the issue of AIDS, we would not have two million Africans on retro-viral drugs. That simply would not have happened.”

That was a nice, albeit backhanded, encouragement, I suppose. It was enjoyable to see Bill Hybels get a few digs in at Bono for not being involved in a local church.

And that is my big take-away from Bono’s session at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

Up the (Willow) Creek: Wess Stafford

Willow-Creek
wess-staffordWess Stafford is the president of Compassion International. For those who don’t know, Compassion works through the local church in developing countries to share the gospel while providing for the needs of children living in poverty. It’s also an organization I’m privileged to work for (out of the Canadian office). For literally the entire time I’ve been at Compassion, I’ve always heard people tell me how much I need to hear Wess speak, and how I really need to read his book. So for me, it was very interesting to see Wess speak at Willow Creek during his session, Leveraging Your Past.

In this session, Wess addressed the question of how do we leverage the pain and hurt in our lives for the ministry?

If anyone’s not heard his story before, it’s heartbreaking. The son of missionaries serving in Africa, Stafford, along with the children of several other missionaries serving on the continent, suffered horrific physical, mental, and spiritual abuse. As he put it, “We were little sinners in the hands of an angry god.” [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Dave Gibbons

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david-gibbonsDave Gibbons is the founding pastor of Newsong Church, a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-site, multi-continent church based out of Irvine, California, and the author of The Monkey and the Fish. His session, Thinking Forward: Third Culture Leadership, addressed developing a church that’s contrarian—one that embodies the Great Commandments to love God and love our neighbor.

Gibbons is a charming, charismatic speaker, and I was extremely interested in what he had to say about becoming a “third culture leader.”

What is a third culture leader?

According to Gibbons, it’s a leader with “a mindset and will to love, live and serve, even in the midst of pain and discomfort.” To love people, especially when it’s hard. Because it’s easy to love people who are like us, but “it’s beautiful if we love someone whose unlovable.” And we need to change our focus to loving the unlovable. To focus on the misfits, rather than the masses. Because, Gibbons contends, “it’s the misfits that lead a movement.” [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Harvey Carey

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harveyHarvey Carey is the Founder and Senior Pastor of the Citadel of Faith Covenant Church in Detroit, Michigan. Citadel of Faith is the fastest-growing multicultural church in the region. Carey’s lecture, Against All Odds, was, personally, one of the brightest spots of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

Carey brought a very different flavor than everything that had come before. He preached, and he did it with passion and style.

It was awesome. In fact, along with Keller, Carey was one of the brightest spots for me in the entire conference.

Carey shared the story of starting Citadel of Faith and the challenges that he faced. Planting in the “poorest zip code of the poorest city of the poorest state” in the United States doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. Yet his church has seen phenomenal success, growing to 800 members in six years.

More importantly, the people are active in seeking both the redemption of their community and reconciliation between Caucasians and African-Americans. Ironically, because white people were returning to the neighborhood, nine churches called Carey to task, informing him that they were “going to collectively come against you.”  When faced with this level of opposition, Carey believes that you know that “God is getting ready to show up.” [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Tim Keller

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tim-kellerTim Keller is the extraordinarily gifted pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, and author of The Reason for God, The Prodigal God, and the upcoming Counterfeit Gods. I’ve greatly benefited from Keller’s writing and was looking forward to hearing what he had to say.

Keller’s session, Leading People to the Prodigal God, was in large part a summary of The Prodigal God. This is by no means a bad thing, because the book is excellent.

“The thing that shocks ministers is the high level of spiritual deadness in congregations,” said Keller. A tiny amount of people do anything, as far as service and giving are concerned. There’s a great deal of back-biting, and territorial attitudes within ministry.

“Spiritual vitality is still the big problem.” It’s a problem because people are trying to be their own savior.

“There are two ways to be your own savior. One is by being very, very, very bad [and just doing whatever you want]. The other is by being very, very, very good.”

This seemed to catch the crowd’s attention—the reality that those who are outwardly obedient may be just as hopelessly lost as those who openly reject and mock the gospel. “The ‘good’ boy [in Luke 15:11-32] is lost not in spite of his goodness, but because of it.” He’s lost because he’s trusting in his performance to give him right standing with his father. [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Gary Hamel

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Gary Hamel is one of the world’s most influential business thinkers and was the second speaker at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Overall, I think he had some really great points, particularly in terms of seizing the opportunities that exist in the current economic climate.

“In an environment of increasing change, [one that is] less and less about extrapolating the past, you’re either moving forward or you’re falling behind,” said Hamel during his session.

To unceasingly fall behind is to embrace entropy as an organization.

This is a very profound statement. As leaders focus on the opportunities that are presented by shifts in the global marketplace and culture, there is a great opportunity for positive change, provided that one resists the temptation to become convinced by denial—to believe that everything’s fine and if we just ride things out, we’ll get back to the old normal.

Hamel presented the audience with a continuum of the cycle of change: [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Bill Hybels at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit

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I’m at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit this week (Forest City Community Church here in London is one of the satellite locations), and I thought it’d be fun to share some nuggets from the summit with y’all. I don’t know if I’ll be writing about every session, but I will start with the first, featuring Bill Hybels.

Hybels is actually quite an engaging speaker. Very passionate and obviously loves the church. Say what you will about the whole seeker sensitive, smoke machine, laser light show scene he’s associated with, but he really cares about the health of the church and people meeting Jesus.

His talk centered around leading in the new reality—how do we navigate the waters of ministry after being slammed by the “rogue wave” of the recession. Great encouragement from Hybels: The recession gives the church the opportunity to truly be the church to each other and the community, what he calls “the Acts 2 dream.”

“There is nothing like the church when the church is working right. Nothing like it in the world!” exclaims Hybels (to which I say a hearty “Amen!”).

What I think Hybels brought to the table was something extremely important for leaders to be considering in engaging the new reality: Is my organization up to the task? And am I? [Read more...]

Book Review: The Heart of Mentoring

Recommended: Mentoring is more than technique—it’s a passion for developing people.

You want to invest in the lives of others, but… how? That is the question at the center of The Heart of Mentoring by David A. Stoddard (with Robert J. Tamasy).

In ten fast-paced chapters, Stoddard makes it clear that mentoring is not about technique, goals or curriculum. It is about relationship and a passion for developing others on a professional and personal level, as illustrated in ten principles for effective mentoring.

According to Stoddard, effective mentors…

1. …understand that living is about giving
2. …see mentoring as a process that requires perseverance
3. …open their world to their mentoring partners
4. …help mentoring partners find their passion
5. …are comforters who share the load
6. …help turn personal values into practice
7. …model character
8. …affirm the value of spirituality
9. …recognize that Mentoring + Reproduction = Legacy
10. …go for it!

With insight from his own experiences as both a mentor and mentoring partner, Stoddard explains each principle, letting readers into his world as he shares his successes and failures as a mentor. [Read more...]