Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Overcoming the Doubters in Your Life

It happened again.  Tim Tebow was instrumental in winning another game as quarterback for the Denver Broncos Sunday afternoon.  It’s ironic because he has been doubted every step of the way by every critic imaginable.  They say his arm angle isn’t correct when throwing the ball, his feet are too jumpy in the pocket, and he takes too long to get rid of the ball.   Yet he keeps on winning. 

I guess he never received the memo that he is supposed to lose.

The criticism directed at this guy’s lack of ability as quarterback and his commitment as a Christian never stops.  How does he respond?  By never spewing venom himself or arguing about his qualifications.  He just keeps winning.


Doubters.  They benefit us in some ways.  They become landmarks of our perseverance. 

  • I’ve heard them my entire life starting when became a believer at 24 years old.  People told me I wouldn’t last six months.  I did. 
  • When Renae and I decided to get married, her pastor said it was not God’s will.  It was. 
  • When I felt called into the ministry some of my friends thought I had become misguided.  I wasn’t. 
  • After I entered the ministry a lot of self-appointed "advisors" offered me their free advice that I was too young to be a pastor.  I just lived by I Timothy 4:12 anyway and outlasted them.
  • When I asked permission to start a new church in Santa Rosa County my denominational officials said no and treated me very roughly.  After I caught one of them in a lie and confronted him about it, he said, “As long as I am the presbyter of this district, there will be no new churches in this area.”  God had other plans.  
  • After I finally made the decision to plant Pace Community Church, preachers all over the place predicted our doom.  One pastor even got on local television and claimed we were not a real church!  Yet here we are.
  • When I outlined the vision to our fledging congregation stating that we were looking for at least twenty acres of land for a future campus, someone laughed out loud.  They thought I was telling a joke.  I wasn’t.  We ended up buying twenty-five acres of land instead.
  • During our ten year hiccup certain people actually worked to destroy me and my reputation, and they did so with deliberate intent and malice of forethought.  God was my Shield.

Doubters do us a big favor.  They remind us that we need God every step of the way.  And in some ways they propel us to achieve greater success than we would’ve achieved otherwise.  Yes, they become landmarks of our perseverance.

Believe me, I wish everyone was an encourager.  That would be great.  But it’s not reality.  There will always be someone to throw cold water on your dreams.  Don’t fight them.  Don’t seek their approval.  You don’t need it anyway.  Just trust God and keep winning, one play at a time.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Mind Dump - November 27, 2011

Solid day.  The weather was really bad and holiday travel is in full swing, but we had solid attendance and solid giving.

The music was well done.  The last song, “When I Think About the Lord” was a home run.

The trumpet was a nice added feature too.

Matt Lewis was on acoustic guitar today.  He’s a college student from our church currently attending FSU and was home for Thanksgiving.  It was good to have him on stage.

I especially enjoyed the offertory, “Remember Mercy.”  It’s a scripture song from Habakkuk 3.2, almost verbatim.  It was effective in setting up the message.

A special thanks to Renae for working on that song and pulling it together with her team.

There are a lot of nice comments on Facebook today about the service today.  Thanks everyone.

I have really enjoyed the series on the book of Habakkuk.  Although it was only three weeks long, it was very insightful for me.  I learned a lot about the content of the book, about God and His sovereignty, and about myself.

The chalkboard illustration seemed to be very effective in helping us in self-evaluation and discovering the maturity of our faith.

Someone said to me today, “We have been taught.”

The book of Habakkuk is easy to overlook.  It’s small; only three chapters long, and is among the Minor Prophets.  But its content is very powerful and insightful.  This book has impacted me on a deeper level.

A warm house, kids running around, and magnets on the refrigerator – that equals a pretty good life.

A good church family rates pretty high up there too.

Renae and I going to look for carpet tomorrow.  This expense could not have come at a more inconvenient time – i.e., just before Christmas.  But we’re tired of walking on unfinished concrete, so we’ll bite the bullet.

My Jack Russell puppies are now six weeks old.  Take them to the vet tomorrow for their next treatment.  In two weeks we’ll begin letting them go.  They are beautiful pups and we’re going to miss them.

The news channels are reporting that Black Friday was a recording breaking shopping event.  Consumers spent $52.4 BILLON on stuff.  Yes, that’s $52.4 with a “B.”  That’s up more than 16% than last year.  Hopefully this is a sign of a turn-around in the economy.  Yet, it still underscores the point that we can always find money for the things that are most important to us.

The month of December at PCC will several offer holiday events.  I’m looking forward to every one of them.

We are still in our evaluation process.  Next year, 2012, will experience significant improvements in some areas of our church.  I’m very excited about the possibilities of the future.

We are going to simplify.  When we simplify, it means we will intensify what remains.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Personal Stuff & PCC Stuff

Wednesday night Renae and I, along with Sidney Gill, and James & Dottie Wheelus from PCC, attended the Annual Inter-Faith Thanksgiving Service at Milton First Assembly of God Church.  About eight churches from the community were represented.  It was a good event.  A few pictures are posted below.  Afterwards, we met with Rob and Marty Hadding (from Christ Church) for coffee and pie at Village Inn.  It was a great evening.

Thanksgiving Day was filled with two family events.  We enjoyed lots of food and lively conversation.  With a new grandson added to the mix, there was plenty new joy added to this annual family gathering.  I do hope your Thanksgiving Day was as replenishing as ours.

Today was Black Friday, the day of year when retailers are luring shoppers with “door-buster” specials.  This morning as I watched the network news, I could hardly believe the stories.  People are out of control – getting into shouting matches and fistfights just for consumer items that are nowhere close to necessities.  What insanity.

Renae and I avoided the crowds and went fishing instead.  The weather was fabulous and it was a great day to be on the water.

All of this has added up to make me very eager to remind you of our upcoming weekend services at PCC.  This Sunday concludes our series on the book of Habakkuk – Grappling With God and Growing in Faith.  This message will help recalibrate us back to True North.  The music will be moving too.  Invite, better yet, bring a guest with you to services this weekend.

December is going to be an exciting month of extra-curricular activities at PCC.  Exciting changes are coming in January too.

Some of PCC’s best days are just around the corner.

Black Friday Fishing....

Instead of spending our day in town fighting traffic and the shopping crowds, Renae and I decided to get on the water.  The weather was fabulous.  We caught two Red Fish.  I caught one 19" and she caught this 24 incher. 

Community Thanksgiving Service


Community Thanksgiving Service


Children's Workers Appreciation Event


Children's Workers Appreciation Event


Aftermath of a Flooded House


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Seek Permission, Not Buy - In

Leaders and leadership teams can easily get sidetracked by the endless pursuit of buy-in.  The reason for this is we are looking for a way to get everyone on board.  It’s seldom needed.  Buy-in is overrated.  Most of the time, we don’t need buy-in from everyone as much as we need permission.

Buy-in is usually defined as having the support of most, in not all, of the key stakeholders and virtually all of the congregation.  It takes a lot of time to get and it’s incredibly elusive.

Permission, on the other hand, is relatively easy to acquire, even from those who think your idea is loony and bound to fail.  That’s because permission simply means, “I’ll let you try it,” as opposed to buy-in which means, “I’ll back your play.”

We’ve made a lot of changes at PCC over the years.  These decisions are most often made out of necessity or because of a new faith-based initiative we believe God is leading us towards.  Some have worked.  Some have tanked.  Yet, we have a remarkably healthy church for all its ups and downs and we are still incredibly flexible.

Frankly, if I had believed the buy-in myth I’d still be lobbying trying to convince everyone to move out of the High School, to buy 25 acres of land, to enter a three-years pledge campaign, to hiring staff, to upgrading systems, add infitim.  But since all I asked for was permission to try, I got the okay.  And whether it worked or not, I owned it.

Another advantage of not worrying too much about buy-in is that it make failure more palatable.  Permission not only gets things up and running much faster; it also makes it much easier to close up shop when a great idea proves to be a dumb idea.  Since nobody thought it would work in the first place, few chips are lost, and most people will let you try something else again next time.

But if everyone is pumped up and the buy-in is broad, failure becomes a big deal.  The more that a new program, ministry direction, or innovation has been pushed, sold, and championed, the higher the cost in credibility if it fails to fly.  And the greater the resistance the next time you want to try something new or different.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Mind Dump - November 20, 2011

In a lot of ways today was a good day.  Though attendance was slightly lower – due to holiday travel, I think – there was a real good feeling in the house.

The acoustic music was perfect.  It was well planned and well executed.  Plus it felt different, and it was a good feeling.  Felicia Haefner/Tharp put together the team, selected the music, and led worship with acoustic guitar.  Also serving on this team were Jennifer Tharp (vocals and keyboard), Ester Moe (vocals), Ashley Capps (vocal), Gary Moe (acoustic guitar) and Wade Colon (on Ashiko, an African drum).  Click the picture for an enlarged view. 

Renae asked Felicia to handle the song service today for a couple of reasons:  (1) Many of our regular band members were away (2) She knew it would be good to offer something different, and, (3) Developing and deploying other worship leaders & teams makes PCC a healthier church.

Today was a game changer for us.

A lot of people really seemed to get something out of the message too.

How about Habakkuk 2:3 from the Living Bible? These things I plan won't happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day.

Man, a lot of things in that chapter really ministered to me … especially the importance of waiting, developing patience, and living by faith.

The just shall live by faith… (v.4b).  That phrase is the key to the book of Habakkuk.  In fact it is so important that it is repeated three times in the NT.  And if you are student of church history, you might be interested to know that it was also instrumental in bringing about the Protestant reformation.

In all my years as a believer hearing thousands of sermons, I have never heard a message series on the book of Habakkuk.  Not once.

I met a first-time guest today.  He attended second service and came on the invitiaon of two of our members.  In fact, these men have been inviting this man for over an year, and today he came.  I had the chance to talk with him and I'm glad to say that this guest has a totally positive experience.  He talked about all the compontents that made today's service so meaningful.  But what stood out to him the most was the plain, practical, understandable teaching of the Bible.  He said, "I'm Catholic.  But when I attend services they don't teach the Bible, they just tell me what I'm supposed to believe."  I responded, "We do the opposite.  We teach the Bible and allow people to navigate their way through their faith journey developing their belief-system as they go."  He seemed to appreciate that.

It means something when you don't force-feed people. 

In the last few months I have stabbed my toe with a pitch fork and had two plumbing disasters in my home, both of which flooded the house and ruined the carpet.  I’m not near the accident-prone buffoon that I must appear to be.

I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving this Thursday.

I’m cooking the turkey.  I'm also preparing oven-baked jalapeño poppers and crab cakes.

I like to cook.  One of my most enjoyable pleasures at this stage in life is to spend time with Renae in the kitchen preparing dishes and cooking together.  Something happens to me on a deeper level, and it feels good.  We both even have our own set of chef knives - and btw, mine are always sharper than hers.  :-)

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving.  It is the least commercialized of them all. There’s no pressure and no presents to buy.  It’s about family, food, friends, fellowship, and football.  It reminds me to be thankful as a Christian and as an American.

Renae and I have accepted a dinner invitation on Monday night.  Looking forward to it.  Tuesday is open.  Wednesday afternoon I’ll start cooking (for Thanksgiving), and that evening we’re attending the Community Thanksgiving Service at Milton First Assembly of God Church.  Thursday is turkey day.  Friday (if the weather cooperates) I might put my boat in the water for some fishing time.

I watched the movie “Cliffhanger” this afternoon.  Sylvester Stallone took care of business.

I have resumed jogging.  For now, there is no hip pain.  That's a good thing.

There are some nice comments on Facebook about today’s service. 

We are still in the evaluation process at PCC.  According to Jesus in John 15:8 God is GLORIFIED when we BEAR MUCH FRUIT.  As a church, and as His disciples, that is our goal – God’s glory and bearing much fruit.  Consequently, we are striving to be effective, not simply busy.

This much we are certain of: we do not want to simply slide into 2012 under the assumption that we will be doing the same thing we did in 2011 and expecting different results.  That’s an assumption we cannot afford.  Changes are in our near future.

I’m very encouraged about PCC.  We have a lot of strengths – quality music, quality programming, quality systems, a high number of volunteers, sacrificial servants, Bible classes, exceptional leaders, congregational diversity, differing gifts, and more.  But our greatest strength is our family environment, harmonious relationships, and strong friendships.  PCC really does feel like an extended family in many ways.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Family - Four Generations

My mother, my wife, my son, my grandson.  Thanks Butch H. for the pic!

Friday Info

1.  This Sunday we will be in chapter two of Habakkuk.  The message title is:  In God’s Time, Not Our Time.”  This chapter teaches us the necessity of having patience, and trusting the Sovereignty of God while we wait.  It is sure to be a word of encouragement and instruction for us all.

2.  This Sunday’s music will be acoustic.  About half the band is away due to Thanksgiving and holiday travel, so instead of a normal musical presentation we’re featuring acoustic guitar and ashiko (drum).  You’re really going to enjoy it.

3.  We had another flooding disaster at my house yesterday.  A water line busted beneath the toilet and water filled half the house.  The water-pressure was so high that it sprayed the ceiling.  It was a mess.  A special thank you to everyone who came over and helped bail water and pull carpet.

4.  The church building is filled with our regular Friday volunteers right now.  We are having lunch together and having face-time with one another.  These people get the building clean and ready for Sunday services every week and we value them highly.

5.  Next Thursday and Friday the church offices will be closed. 

6.  FYI, next Wednesday night, there is an Annual Community Thanksgiving Service at Milton First Assembly of God Church, where Fred Rogers is pastor.  The service time is 7:00 PM.   This is an opportunity for believers from all churches to congregate and give thanks to God for the grace and mercy He has shown to His people.  The evening will feature special music, testimonies, and a special offering to be received for a local charity.  The church is located 6163 Dogwood Drive (north Milton on the bypass road).  Their phone number is 623-2854.  Renae and I are planning to attend.
7.  Our grandson, Nolan, is doing much better.  We are thankful to God, and thank you too for your prayers in our behalf.

8.  Christmas day falls on a Sunday this year.  We WILL be having service that day.  ONLY ONE service:  9:00 AM.

Unity – The One Thing that Can’t be Left to Chance (Part 3)

Respect and Friendship

The second component of a unified and healthy ministry team (of staff, board, etc) is respect and friendship.  That doesn’t mean that everyone has to be best friends.  But it does mean that we must get along well enough to avoid miscommunication, stereotyping, and personality conflicts that so easily get in the way when it’s time to tackle a tough or difficult issue.

Yet I have found that many boards (and even some church staffs) are filled with strangers.  They may know one another’s name and have a casual acquaintance, but that’s about it.

At PCC we’ve always been pretty close to one another throughout our church family, including those on our senior staff.  When one of us is experiencing a family crisis (sickness, death, terminal parents, marital stress, wayward children, etc), the rest of us know about it.  We share the information with each other.  Personal information.  Consequently, our relationships are not superficial – they get beneath the surface.  This goes a long way in building unity among us, even with our differences.

Concentrating on developing camaraderie has paid rich dividends to me personally, as well as to the overall health of PCC’s leadership.  It has made serving on a church staff an enjoyable experience.  Instead of having a hard time getting people to serve, we have a hard time getting people to leave.

It has also radically changed the dynamic of our staff/board meetings.  Friends and strangers  have very different patterns of relating to one another.  Friends are vulnerable, while strangers hold their cards close to the vest; friends tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt, while strangers are cautious and suspicious; and when it comes to dicey issues, friends debate, while strangers argue.

Philosophical Unity

The third component of a healthy and unified teams is agreement on our philosophy of ministry.  Simply put, it means having a basic agreement about our priorities and methods.

Philosophical unity is harder to develop than doctrinal unity or sincere friendships because sit can take a long time to hammer out a consensus.  In our case, it took several years before I could honestly say that we were all headed in the same direction and in agreement as to the best path to get there.

But once we were in agreement, everything became easier.  We no longer had to go back to square one on every issue or with every new leader or staff hire.  We’d already established our basic direction and how we would get there.  With that done, about 90% of our decisions were made.

Just as with doctrinal unity, philosophical unity doesn’t mean that everyone has to think alike.  It’s not a casting for clones or even unanimity we’re after; there’s plenty of room for differing perspectives.  But if we’re going to work together effectively, we have to be reading off the same sheet of music.  Otherwise, we’ll be like a small ensemble to which everyone brings their own favorite arrangement.  The resulting sounds will be chaos and noise, not music.

If you think about it, most church fights aren’t over theology or even ministry goals; they’re over priorities and methodology.  When two people get in an argument over how to spend money (whether to use it for local outreach or use it for foreign missions) they’re arguing over priorities.  When two people debate the merits of a choir verses guitars and sub-woofers, they’re arguing over methods.  Both want to worship the Lord; they just disagree on the best way to go about it.  Usually it boils down to personal preference.

That’s why developing and nourishing a shared philosophy of ministry is one of the most important things a pastor, board, and staff can do to maintain unity.


Making unity a top priority has paid huge dividends for us.  While we haven’t been conflict free over the years, PCC has experienced long-term unity for most of that time.  And it makes our church attractive to newcomers.

A few months ago I asked a new member who had been involved in other churches over the years why she and her husband had settled at PCC.

“There were two reasons,” she said.  “First, I appreciated the lack of pressure to join.  And second, we’ve never been in such a harmonious church.  Usually, after you’ve been around for a while, when you get together in smaller groups, you hear people complaining about the board, the pastor, the staff, or something.  We’ve never heard that here.”

Perhaps that’s why the apostle Paul said, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  Apparently, he too, believed that unity is one of those things that shouldn’t be left to chance.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Unity – The One Thing that Can’t be Left to Chance (Part 2)

Defining & Developing Unity

So what does unity look like?  Unfortunately, unity can be hard to define.  It’s a vague term.  Does it mean total agreement on doctrinal minutia?  How close do our relationships need to be?  Does unity mean that we have to be best friends?  Do we have to share Thanksgiving dinner together?

Eventually I settled on three irreducible minimums that defined what I was looking for in unity.  They are:  (1) Doctrinal unity… (2) Respect and friendship…. (3) Agreement on our philosophy of ministry.

Doctrinal Unity

My personal experience is that doctrinal unity is the first component of a unified and healthy leadership team.  By doctrinal unity, I mean agreement with our church’s statement of faith, not necessarily total theological uniformity or agreement over politics.

Every church has an irreducible theological minimum.  For some it is a lengthy detailed document.  For others, it’s a few brief statements.  Either way, for the sake of integrity, it is important that those in leadership honestly adhere to it.

But after that, it’s wide open.  I mean, if Jesus put Simon the Zealot (an insurrectionist who hated the Roman occupiers) on the same ministry team as Matthew the tax collector (a collaborator with the Romans) and then made them to room and eat together, I’m pretty sure that we can have people who possess strong differences on hot-button issues of our day serving on the same staff team and still march together under the banner of unity.

In fact, unity that insists on uniformity isn’t unity at all.  It’s a cheap counterfeit.  Genuine Biblical unity is found in the midst of real and passionate differences that we set aside in the recognition that they are not near as important as the King and mission we serve.

Let’s be honest and admit it.  Our (Christian) hot-button issues constantly change.  One decade’s battleground is another decade’s yawn.  In previous years at PCC we have navigated our way through the passionate differences between charismatics and cessationists, pre-tribbers and post-tribbers, and those who imbibe against those who saw any use of alcohol as a dangerous sellout.  Yet, today’s battles tend to be found in other realms:  politics, the environment, or the finer points of theology.  In other decades it was over music. 

So how can we allow for this kind of diversity (in one church) without blowing everything up?  The key is to determine ahead of time the things we WON’T fight over and then make it crystal clear to everyone that those issues are off limits.

For instance, at PCC our leaders understand that Jesus’ return is going to happen exactly the way that God has ordained it to happen (regardless of our personal views).  They also know that we are not a political organization.  We do not take public stands on candidates or propositions.  Our leaders also know that we have a high view of Scriptures and obedience to God, but arguments over progressive sanctification verses instantaneous sanctification are off-limits.   And the list goes on.

That doesn’t mean that our senior leaders and staff aren’t free to have strong opinions about theses matters.  It simply means they can’t try to force everyone (or this church) to bend into their mold.  It’s okay if they see something as an important issue.  But it is NOT okay if they treat it as an issue so important that they will divide this church and fight over it.  The thing that unites us more than anything else is our sense of mission; specifically, the Great Commission.

Making it clear what we will fight over and wont’ fight over saves us a lot of grief.  In nearly every theological issue tussle I’ve been involved in, the battle hasn’t been over something spelled out in the church’s doctrinal statement.  It’s been over a peripheral issue that someone felt should have been an essential issue.

If we don’t spell out ahead of time what we wont’ fight over, sooner or later someone will add their favorite doctrine or political issue to the list of essentials and then wage war on all those who disagree.  I guarantee it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Unity - The One Thing That Can't be Left to Chance

Good leadership teams stick together.  That’s their defining trait.  When faced with differing agendas and clashing perspectives that every team must work through, mature teams know how to deal with the issues at hand and still come out united in purpose, with a genuine camaraderie undamaged by strong differences.  In other words, good leadership teams are not only productive; they are healthy too.

Why is unity so difficult to achieve?  To begin with, there is our sin nature.  It messes everything up.  Add to that our differing backgrounds, biases, blind spots, and passions.  We all come to the table with a different set of eyes, which often causes us to see the same things differently.

In addition, most leadership teams are saddled with traditions, policies, ministry methods, and organizational structures that were designed for a previous generation.  Yet as every leader knows, it’s not easy to change deeply entrenched traditions, no matter how stupid or outdated they may be.

The result is board conflict, staff conflict, turf battles, independently operating ministry silos, and splintered congregations – the stuff of ministry legend and gallows humor.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  It really is possible to get everyone on the same page and keep them there.

LET ME SHARE A TRUE STORY.  It’s a miracle that I ever got saved.  I mean it. Though I wasn’t raised in church, I knew enough about church to see its dark side.  The petty squabbles, acrimonious debates, and highly visible church splits taking place in the community were enough to sour my attitude and repel me from Christianity.  Even after I got saved, I found it totally out of the question for God to call me (of all people) into the ministry.  I’m still not sure why I didn’t pull a Jonah.

When I eventually entered the ministry I was prepared.  Or so I thought.  I had spent a few years learning the Bible, memorizing scriptures, taking Bible courses, studying systematic theology, and witnessing to lost people every chance I got.  I was deeply spiritual and felt I had gained all the information that I would ever need to be a pastor in the ministry.  I was extremely pleased with myself.

I must have been smoking something.

My perception changed very quickly after I actually became a pastor.  It didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t prepared for this at all.  The gaps in my training were not Biblical or theological.  My gaps were in the areas of leadership, exercising authority, and learning how to deal with people.

In all my years of theological training I was never taught about the different forms of church government, how to hire the right people, or remove people who needed to be removed.  There was never a class on how to build a unified staff or church board.  There were no classes on how to set salaries, conduct performance reviews, or write job descriptions.  Although the scriptures taught me the attitude and grace I was to have when interacting with people, I was at a loss regarding the practical aspects of leading a team.

Six months in at my first church I was embroiled in controversy.  A few key leaders and I were having trouble seeing eye-to-eye on anything.  Squabbles were happening in the choir.  A women’s group was fighting over their flower fund.  Marathon board meetings and tense business meeting were the norm.  Old members were leaving as fast as new members could be added.  Then there were the troublemakers in the church who were making my life a living hell.  Attendance was slipping, offerings dropped off, and very little was being accomplished for the kingdom.  I lay awake at night wondering how it would all end.  Falling on my sword seemed like a good option.

Fortunately, it didn’t end in disaster.  With God’s help I began to learn the skills that were needed to fill my ministry gaps.  Along the way I learned a lot of lessons; lessons that have been implemented at PCC.  But none was more important than this simple truth:  A unified and healthy leadership team doesn’t just happen.  It has to be a priority.

The Importance of Unity

I don’t think it is a coincidence that Jesus predicted church growth (Matthew 16:18) but prayed for unity among the believers (John 17).  If taken for granted, unity quickly disappears.  Unity is the one thing that cannot be left to chance.

From Aaron and Miriam’s harsh criticism of Moses, to Paul and Barnabas’ heated argument and eventual split over John Mark, God’s leaders have a hard time getting along.  It’s nothing new.

But I thought we would be different.   I assumed that as long as I put good people on the team and we stayed focused on the Lord, harmony would naturally follow.  I was wrong.  If you would have told me to slow down and focus some of my energy on camaraderie and building unity, I would have chided you for your inward focus.  We had a world to conquer and disciples to make and there just wasn’t the time to focus on getting together for a hand-holding party.  Again I was wrong.

One of the best moves I have ever made was to focus my attention on maintaining unity among our leadership team (in previous churches, as well as PCC).  It is one of my most important leadership priorities, far ahead of other worthy goals – including evangelism, church growth, community outreach, developing internal systems, in-house ministries, and congregational care – because without unity on the primary leadership team, everything else falls apart.

But unity doesn’t just happen.  I (we) have to work at it day after day, because if we don’t, it quickly slips away.  And once it does, it doesn’t matter how clear our vision is or how gifted the pastor is.  When the foundation rots, it’s not long until the whole house collapses.

It All Starts with the Leadership Team

When it comes to building healthy and unified ministry teams, it all starts with the senior leadership.  As they go, so goes the rest of the church.

If the senior staff and leadership is a war zone, it doesn’t matter what kind of revival you’re having in the pews.  If the infighting continues, it won’t be long until a Coup d'état (hostile takeover) will be attempted or a split occurs. I guarantee it.

As a pastor it is my job to help move people along towards spiritual maturity and to make sure we are fulfilling both halves of the Great Commission:  leading people to Christ and nurturing them to full obedience.  I used to think that could be accomplished by putting together challenging sermons, forming great small groups, and visiting the sick.  I still consider these things to be important.  But now I realize I was leaving out a vital first step:  creating an environment of unity, which means removing divisions, turf battles, and the bitterness that sabotages the work of the Holy Spirit.

Defining & Developing Unity

So what does unity look like?  Unfortunately, unity can be hard to define.  It’s a vague term.  Does it mean total agreement on doctrinal minutia?  How close do our relationships need to be?  Does unity mean that we have to be best friends?  Do we have to share Thanksgiving dinner together?

Eventually I settled on three irreducible minimums that defined what I was looking for in unity.  They are essential to the success of PCC.  They are:  (1) Doctrinal unity… (2) Respect and friendship…. (3) Agreement on our philosophy of ministry.

I’ll write about these in a day or so.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Mind Dump – November 13, 2011

Incredible.  That single word sums up the day.

I could go down the regular list of Sunday-Mind-Dump-bullet-points and talk about the good music, exceptional volunteers, the message, they way people pitched in, the newcomers and guests who attended, and all the things that make our services so significant – the things I mention every week.  But today was different.  It was totally a God-thing.

God was doing some stuff.  Something deep.

The comments on Facebook tell the story.

LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy (Habakkuk 3:2).

Friday, November 11, 2011

New Message Series Begins This Sunday

Habakkuk – Grappling with God & Growing in Faith

Have you ever wondered why life is so unfair?  The prophet Habakkuk provides insight to that question for us.  This tiny book of the Bible teaches us the sovereignty of God and how to have faith when experiencing a crisis of belief. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Evaluations and Conclusions About the State of Our Church

This is the time of year that we evaluate.  It’s usually a challenging time because many of our beloved programs come under intense scrutiny and some even end up on the chopping block to be discontinued.

We have been raising questions in our weekly staff meetings about the effectiveness of our current ministries and taking a hard look at the programming we offer.  We’ve been reviewing data, evaluating results, noticing trends, and even doing a little speculating.  It’s been an impassioned discussion at times.  It has also been an honest dialogue about the state of our church.  We recognize that most things are working well and others are not.  Throughout this process we have been gaining clarity and focus.  While this is still a work in process, here are a few observations.

I.  The Facts…

Fact # 1.  There has been a diminishing level of interest in many of the programs or ministries that we offer beyond Sunday.  The evidence is clear and the numbers tell the story.  Participation is weak.  Only a small portion of our people engage in these ministries (both in the past and currently).  Few sign up, and of those who do even fewer actually show up.  This has been a continuous trend for a long time.  Possible reasons for this:  (1) These ministries have simply run their course and lost effectiveness.  (2)  Our people are not interested in them.  (3)  Our people are too busy to be involved in them, or, (4) Our people simply don’t need them because the Sunday morning worship services, along with their personal devotions at home, are sufficient for their spiritual needs. 

In light of this, it is reasonable for us to ask whether the dedication of time, money, people, and energy is worth the effort.  Either way, it’s time for us to simplify/reduce/eliminate what is not working and focus our energies elsewhere.  It is conceivable that “the church” does not have to do everything for people.

Fact # 2.  Overall attendance in the weekend services has plateaued, growth has stalled, and in some instances attendance has even dropped a little.  

Fact # 3.  Second service still lacks the necessary critical mass to grow any farther.  I have come to acknowledge this fact, and we are all in agreement.  In spite of all the improvements we have made and the dedication of so many people to make Sundays successful, we still have an “A” service and a “B” service… and it still feels like it.  I don’t like that.  Given this reality, we are also asking ourselves whether the dedication of time, money, people, and energy towards the second service is worth the effort.

Fact # 4.  A lot of newcomers are not returning after visiting.  I realize that our church is not for everybody and I’m okay with that.  On the other hand, we should be keeping more than we are.  I think we are dropping the ball with our first-and-second-time guests.  There is a gigantic shortcoming in this area of our church. 

Fact # 5.  The front of our building looks tired.  The flowerbeds are neglected.  The patio appears neglected.  The atrium is dull and boring.

II. The Fix….

We are working on possible solutions.  While this is still a work in process too, here are a few ideas we are kicking around.

1.  Instead of relying upon programming, we should offer newcomers and members next step opportunities that are highly relational.  We should be thinking in terms of organic relationships more than a programming emphasis.

2.  Newcomers don’t want to be “assimilated” or pressured into deeper involvement too soon.  Initially, they may not care about our membership covenants, vision, small groups, core values, theology, or Bible classes.  What they do care about is whether or not we can help them address their needs.  Once people become regular attenders they will eventually ask the question, “What's next?”  At that time they will be ready for a “next step” towards Bible classes or volunteering, etc. 

3.  We should provide the best shepherding care we can offer.  While we are not responsible “for” people and the choices they make or have made, we are responsible “to” them in some measure.

4.  We need to train and deploy a cadre of hosts in our Sunday morning environment for the single purpose of hospitality and conversational engagement, and/or train our members to break from their holy huddles to engage newcomers.

5.  We will improve our First Impressions Ministry from top-to-bottom and put some of our best effort and energy into this area.
In Summary….

A main principle in church effectiveness is to let dying programs die, and to put those that are terminally ill out of their misery. Call in Dr. Kevorkian, the suicide doctor, if you have to. But whatever you do, do not let a dying program linger. It will only drain resources, cost more money, sap energy, and demoralize workers.  It doesn’t matter how beloved it is to some, if it’s not working it has to go.

Cutting our losses is easier said than done. Few of us are anxious to admit our mistakes or when something is not working.  So when a program, ministry, or service fails to live up to its expectations, we tend to hang on. No one wants to preside over the death of a once-thriving area. That sounds too much like failure or spiritual retreat.  But if we need to do it, we will.

We are not finished.  Cuts are sure to come.  We are still talking, evaluating, and brainstorming so we can be completely thorough and make informed, intelligent, and faith-based decisions. 

Whatever decisions we arrive at, it is for the long term benefit of our church.  Our goal is to be as healthy a church as we can possibly be and to bring honor to God by much fruitfulness.  

We'll keep you informed as things progress.