Church Planter Highlights: North Elevation Church


Church Planter Highlights: North Elevation Church

North Elevation Church in Mansfield, TX

Cory Smithee, Lead Pastor

North Elevation Church’s core values can be summed up simply through the 3R’s: Restoring fallen people, Resolving conflict between individuals and families & Refocusing the church on its primary mission. The heart of this church is to bring hope one person at a time. And to help people connect with God so that they may reach their full potential. 

NEC’s Local Investments:

-      Metroplex Women’s Clinic 

-      Mansfield Church’s for The City

-      Mansfield Caring Place 

-      Gathering Hope 



Church Planter Highlights: TCAL


Church Planter Highlights: TCAL

TCAL Church in Mansfield, TX

Paul Mints, Lead Pastor

TCAL is a beautiful, racially diverse church, and it’s leadership is committed to multiplying & planting churches locally and globally. 

TCAL partners with members who have been called to launch non-profit ministries, as well as partnering with many local ministries that serve the under-resourced and families in crisis.

TCAL’s Local Investments:

-      Bridges Safehouse

-      Freedom House

-      Mansfied Mission Center

-      Chick House for Single Women

-      Noggin Education Foundation (serving under-resourced children)



Church Planter Highlights:Remedy Church


Church Planter Highlights:Remedy Church

Remedy Church in Waxahachie, TX

Aaron Clayton, Lead Pastor
The goal of Remedy Church is to see many missional communities, or spiritual families of around 20-40, doing regular life together, being transformed by the gospel, and living out the mission of God. 

Remedy Church’s Local Investments:

-       Texas Baptist Home for Children: We serve their staff consistently, help train parents, and participate in family and fundraising events.

-       The local YMCA: Our current Sunday gathering location, we also partner with the Y to create events that serve local families and reach kids. 

-       Picnic in the Park: This free 4 of July event is an official city event, and we partner with the city to offer entertainment and connection to thousands each year.

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Preaching The Other Way: The Foreward


Preaching The Other Way: The Foreward

When I first heard J.D. Pearring preach, it wasn’t in the most conducive environment to receive the heart of his message. It was just before my wife, Farrah, and I were going to receive our results from a four-day church planter’s assessment called Discovery Center. If you’ve never been assessed, picture The Voice, Survivor, and a dose of American Ninja Warrior thrown in (or that’s what it felt like from an intensity standpoint at least). We were waiting for results that would potentially shape our future (think red light, yellow light, green light—and we really wanted a green light!) and we had to sit through an agonizing message from the guy who might tell you, “You are not cut out to plant a church.” From the moment J.D. began to speak, my attention was captured, and within minutes my heart was moved. By the way, those are critical factors in a great preacher’s ability to move someone; they have to be captivating and motivating, not just educating. JD was both. I’ve heard him give that same message more than twenty times since joining the Discovery Center staff over ten years ago. Every time I hear it, I receive something new. I am captivated again. I am determined to grow in my own preaching as I serve the church we planted, Rivers Crossing Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. J.D. Pearring has the credibility to write a book on preaching because he’s got tenure, yes, but more so because he’s an incredible preacher. I have been preaching for more than two decades, and I’ve seen the Church try to do everything to attract people, often minimizing the importance of preaching in the health and growth of a local church. Some have gone as far to say that preaching is dead. Preaching is ineffective. Preaching has lost its impact on culture. Mark Twain, when he was aging and sick, famously said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Well, I think the reports of preaching’s death are greatly exaggerated. Preaching, and preaching with excellence, is one of the most powerful tools that God has given the church to reach the lost, grow disciples, and equip the saints. In a Pew Research Center’s study1 on why people choose a church, 83% of the people say that the quality of the sermon was the most important factor in choosing a church. More than feeling welcomed. More than the style of services, kid’s programs, and location. Preaching. Without a doubt the quality of your preaching matters. J.D. has discovered what I believe is the missing ingredient in many pulpits: more than one ingredient! Someone needs to say it and I pray that some church boards read this and support their pastor. So many churches are dominated by one burned-out pastor who is preaching forty-eight to fifty Sunday mornings a year, not to mention Sunday nights and a mid-week Bible study. Your preaching will be better when you have a preaching team. A team for feedback. A team for preparation. A team to prevent burnout. A team for fresh perspective. A team to reflect the Scriptures’ example. I love what J.D. says: “Everyone – even preachers – need a push. Why team teaching? Teaching in a team concept gives everyone a push and helps everyone improve. If we are not on a team, we may stifle our own growth.” Don’t stifle your growth. Let J.D. push you to grow as a preacher and push you to develop a team if you don’t have one. At Rivers Crossing, we have greatly benefitted from the principles that J.D. shares in Preaching the Other Way. You will gain insight into the practical how-tos of team teaching as well as fresh ideas if you are already implementing many of these principles in your context. His chapters on the bench, women, and training time are gold. J.D.’s wisdom is priceless, but the case studies at the end of each chapter deliver where it counts: practical application and real-world implementation. I can’t wait to see this book benefit not only your preaching, but the kingdom of God. Start preaching the other way. Today. 

- Paul Taylor

Lead Pastor,  Rivers Crossing Community Church






Groucho Marx joked, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Garrison Keillor quipped, “A book is a gift you can open again and again.”

Mark Twain noted, “The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can’t.”

And Rick Warren said, “Every profession has its tools. You can’t be a doctor without a stethoscope. You can’t be a carpenter without a hammer and a saw. The minister’s tools are his books. We’re in the feeding, leading, and communicating business. Reading helps us do that more effectively.”

Leaders tend to be readers. The best leaders are consistently reading, growing, learning and stretching to be all God wants them to be.

In 2018 I set goals to read a certain number of books—I find if I don’t make it a goal, I don’t make it. “Audible” became one of my new best friends this past year—I highly recommend it! I also decided to subscribe to “Blinkist” and blink through 52 books through that website this past year. I’m not sure I liked it, I may look for a different book summary plan in 2019 But I’m glad I met my reading goals.


1. “Godforsaken: Bad Things Happen. Is there a God who cares? Yes. Here’s proof.”

by Dinesh D'Souza

This is the best explanation for the problem of evil that I’ve ever seen—and it is written from a scientific perspective.

2. “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful” by Marshall Goldsmith

Goldsmith works through twenty possible blind spots that successful people may have—these blind spots may be keeping them from getting to the next level. Ouch.

3. “Spirit-Filled Jesus” by Mark Driscoll

If Jesus needed help, we all do. Spirit-Filled Jesus explores the role of the Holy Spirit in and through the life of Jesus, revealing aspects of His life that have not been examined before and helping you see how this applies to you.

4. “Republicans Buy Sneakers Too” by Clay Travis

This book outlines how politics is ruining sports, and just about everything else.

That’s my list. What’s yours?

Feel free to send me your list of top books of 2018 at We will add your ideas and try to keep the article updated.

Happy Reading!

Here are some of the “Best Books” sent in by contributors:

Jim Jessup, William Jessup University, Rocklin, CA

1. Preaching the Other Way: How to Develop a Teaching Team in Your Church by JD Pearring . There is a reason why I listed Jim’s pick first!

Willie Nolte, Mission Lead for Transformation Ministries, Covina, CA

“The Power of Moments,” by Chip and Dan Heath.

Chris Hall, Lead Pastor, Catalyst Church, Santa Paula, CA

“The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

Alan Adler, Transformation Ministries, Covina, CA

“Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World” by Andy Stanley

Ivan Villalta, Pastor, Ttorre de Alabanza, Duarte, CA

1. “The Power of Moments,” by Chip and Dan Heath.

2. “Leading the Other Way: How to Change the Church Planting World” by JD Pearring

3. “The Externally Focused Church” by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson

David Bennett, Financial Guru and Excel Board Member

“The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship by Shaunti Feldhahn

David Saenz, Lead Pastor, Experience Church, Poway, CA

“Don't Miss It: Parent Every Week Like It Counts” by Reggie Joiner and Kristen Ivy

Tiffany Saenz, Poway, CA

“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth

Edson Martinez, Ministerios Transformacion, Tijuana, Mexico

“The Last Arrow: Save Nothing for the Next Life” by Erwin Raphael McManus

Jim Lennon, Lead Pastor, Inspire Church, Sun City West, AZ

“Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication” by Andy Stanley

Bryon Scott, Lead Pastor, Engage Church, Lemon Grove, CA

“Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith” by Shane Hipps

Chan Kwak, Lead Pastor, One Church LA, Los Angeles, CA

“The Master's Plan for the Church” by John F MacArthur

Le Selah, Lead Pastor Rebirth Church, Hollywood, CA

1. “Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus” by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison

2. “Leading the Other Way: How to Change the Church Planting World” by JD Pearring

3. “The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World” by Peter Scazzero

Stu Streeter, Lead Pastor, Disciples Church, Folsom, CA

Canoeing The Mountains” by Tod Bolsinger. I loved the historical parallels between the uncharted challenges faced by Lewis & Clark and the unknown obstacles church leaders will face as we navigate our post-Christian culture. As a history nerd and a ministry geek, Tod fed me well with this book.

David Cooke, Lead Pastor Cold Spring Community Church, Placerville, CA

“Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.” By Brené Brown

Geoff Wells, Excel Board Member, Elk Grove, CA

“Godforsaken: Bad Things Happen. Is there a God who cares? Yes. Here’s proof.”

by Dinesh D'Souza

Chris Finchum, Lead Pastor, CityWalk Church, Yuba City, CA

“The Last Arrow: Save Nothing for the Next Life” by Erwin Raphael McManus

John Cassidy, Lead Pastor, Hope Community Church, Citrus Heights, CA

“Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World” by Andy Stanley

Rick Weber, NorCal NAB, Roseville, CA

“The Pursuit of God” by A. W. Tozer

Esther Tress, Pastor, Cold Springs Community Church, Placerville, CA

“Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God” by Dallas Willard

Nick Campagna, Pastor of Next Generation Ministry, Cold Springs Church, Placerville, CA

“Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience” by Mark Sayers

Jake MacGregor, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Lodi, CA

“Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace” by Robert Farrar Capon

Kent Carlson, VP NAB Churches, Folsom, CA

“The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ” by Fleming Rutledge

Charles Stevens, Lead Pastor, New Life Ministries, Sacramento, CA

“Letters to the Church” by Francis Chan

Banning Liebscher, Lead Pastor, Jesus Culture, Folsom, CA

“Rooted: The Hidden Places Where God Develops You” by Banning Liebscher

I couldn’t read what I wrote down for Banning, so I put his book in, I hear it is excellent!

Eric Von Schoonhoven, Lead Pastor, The Bridge Church, Glendale, AZ

“Deep and Wide” by Andy Stanley

Stephen Füssle Lead Pastor at The Awakening Church Maui, Hawaii

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It Kindle Edition by Chris Voss & Tahl Raz


2018 Excel Planters: The Klumper Family


2018 Excel Planters: The Klumper Family

The Table Church

The Klump Family in Seaside, Oregon

In 2016, Andy and Ashlee Klumper moved to Seaside, Oregon with their kids Rikelle (12), Lydia (10), Kennadee (8), and Jobee (5) to launch The Table Church. The vision for The Table Church is to restore health and hope in their community by following Jesus. Andy says, “My hope is for our community to find their way, by way of Christ – allowing Him to heal, redeem, restore, and revive every area of life.” 

Two years into their plant, they partnered with Excel Leadership Network in 2018 to gain access to support and heart-care. Andy says, “We are so empowered by the heart of Excel, and my wife and I are thankful to be a part of God’s great work.”

Here are a few ways you can pray for this church plant in Seaside and the Klumper family:

-      For their family to continue to steer the course and not “substitute the  the good for the great”

-      For their health and strength as a family

-      For their family to continue to grow their roots deep down into scripture and God’s leading


To send a note of encouragement to the Klumper  family, email



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During the first Sunday in February I did what many if not most Americans do on the first Sunday in February, I watched the Super Bowl.  This year Nick Foles quarterbacked an almost flawless game and his Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots.  Remarkably, just several weeks before the big game, Nick Foles found himself on the bench.  Carson Wentz was the Eagle’s starting quarterback, but he was injured in mid-December and deemed unable to play for the rest of the season.  So Foles came off the bench and surprised everyone.

Maybe it should not have been such a surprise.  After all, Foles’ opposing quarterback, Tom Brady started his illustrious, “Greatest of all time” NFL career on the bench.  He wasn’t put into the lineup until the starting QB, Drew Bledsoe had a season-ending injury.

I suspect that there are amazing players on everyone’s bench—even your church’s.  Actually, this is more than a hunch:  I predict that there are incredibly talented players on your organization’s bench.

Just a few days ago, I met with several folks from our church for our teaching training time.  As is our custom, we had scheduled two people to each give a ten-minute presentation.  One of them stood up and astonished us with her skill.  She was clear, she had a prop that actually worked well, she made a great point, she got us to rethink a familiar Biblical story, she engaged and she finished under the ten-minute time table.  Our team sat silently, it was a jaw-dropping speech.

“How many times have you given that talk before?” I asked.  It was so good that it had to be something she’s worked on for years.  “This is the first time,” she explained.  “I started working on it a few weeks ago for this meeting.”

Stupidly, I was stunned.  Stupidly--because there are incredibly talented people on your team and on ours.  I should have anticipated it.

Pastors can easily slip into becoming like Jeff Fisher.  Fisher was a long-time football coach in the NFL.  He holds the record for the most losses as a head coach—165 in the regular season.  He had to be good enough to stick around so long to lose that many games.  (He actually won 173!)  In Fisher’s last two seasons he had three quarterbacks:  Nick Foles—Fisher cut him, then he became the Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl; Case Keenam—Fisher benched him, then Keenam led his new team to the NFC Championship game; and Jared Goff—Fisher got zero wins out of Goff, who then became the NFL’s most improved player under a new coach.

If we are not careful we can completely miss the incredibly talented players on our teams and even on our bench.

Recently I was with a group of church planting leaders for some meetings in Houston, Texas.  The facilitators brought in a retired woman, a former business leader to speak to us.  She came down off the stage and worked the crowd like an exceptional comedian, politician and motivational speaker all rolled into one.  It was an amazing display of encouragement and verbal talent.  After her talk there was a short time available for questions and answers.  One of the first questions was, “Wow, you are a great communicator, do you speak regularly at your church?”  That question seemed to shake this woman.  She paused, leaned over and whispered, “Oh no, my pastor doesn’t know about my speaking ability.  He would never have me on stage at church.  My role is to be a greeter—once a month.”

Stupidly, I was stunned.  There are incredibly talented people on the bench on your organization or church.

Then Todd Wilson took the stage and made this observation:  “In every church there are talented people and their pastor has no idea what to do with them.”

Have you ever noticed how the disciples of Jesus solved problems in the Bible’s book of Acts?  For sure, they always prayed.  Prayer was a given.  And they often asked for a miracle in their prayers.

But there is another solution they typically went to next:  The Bench.  Many of the early churches dilemmas were solved with the bench.

Judas betrayed Jesus and his team.  What do you do with a problem like that?  The Apostles went to the bench.

The widows were not getting enough food.  What do you do with a problem like that?  The Apostles went to the bench.  They chose men like Stephen and Phillip.

Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people.—Acts 6:8 (NLT)

Stephen wasn’t even on the leadership team, he was on the bench.  The first martyr in the Christian Church came off the bench.

Philip opened the doors for Christianity to spread in Samaria and Ethiopia. 

Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah.  Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did.  Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed.  So there was great joy in that city.

—Acts 8:5-8 (NLT)

In Acts chapter 15 Paul and Barnabas have a disagreement about the bench.  The dispute becomes so charge that they part ways.  What do you do with a problem like that?  Paul and Barnabas went to the bench.

Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus.  Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care.  Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.--Acts 15:40-41 (NLT)

Mark and Silas turned out to be two pretty good players.  There were incredibly talented people on the early church’s bench.

The early church solved betrayal issues, discord problems and relational struggles with the bench.  I suspect we can too.

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Groucho Marx quipped, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

That’s not a bad way to live.  The best leaders are consistently reading, growing, learning and stretching to be all God wants them to be.

Dr. Seuss once wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

And Oscar Wilde added, “It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.”

In 2017 I set a goal to read 17 books.  And by “read” I meant finish, get all the way through, not simply “retinize.”  I’m gratified to admit that my reading goal was one of the goals I actually achieved.  I finished 22 books in 2017.



1.  “The Art of the Pitch:  Persuasion and Presentation Skills that Win” by Peter Coughter

Peter Coughter is an advertising pitch man.  He claims “everything is a presentation,” then he delivers incredible insights on presenting, speaking and winning.  This was a great book, especially for those of us who speak regularly.

2.  “Essentialism:  The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown

“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”  That’s one of the sobering opening lines of this book by leadership consultant Greg McKeown.  The main thrust of the book is to explore, eliminate and execute in order to live a more meaningful life. 

3.  “Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday has “Ego is the Enemy” tattooed on his right forearm.  He unfolds how ego has destroyed so many people, yet many others have overcome it:  “Most of us aren’t ‘egomaniacs,’ but ego is there at the root of almost every conceivable problem and obstacle, from why we can’t win to why we need to win all the time and at the expense of others. From why we don’t have what we want to why having what we want doesn’t seem to make us feel any better.”

That’s my list.  What’s yours?  I’ve changed my reading goals for 2018.  I want to read 12 books all the way through—one per month.  But I also subscribed to a nonfiction book summary service, so I can get through more material without the compulsive need to digest every word.  If you have a book summary product you would recommend, please let me know! 

Feel free to send me your list of top books of 2017 at    We will add your ideas and try to keep the article updated.

Happy Reading!


Here are some of the “Best Books” sent in by contributors:

Brian Burman, Gateway Church, Visalia, CA & Excel Leadership Coaching

1. Leading the Other Way by JD Pearring - let’s go change the church planting world!

(I guess I owe Brian lunch for picking this one!—JD)

2. How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge by Clay Scroggins - the huge majority of leaders are not the one in charge, but you can lead from any chair. Great insights and practical suggestions to take your staff and volunteers through.

3. Teams That Thrive by Ryan Hartwig & Warren Bird - the disciplines in this book will help you and your team rethink your leadership structure and strategy, how you interact, and redefine your win.


John Pearson, Management consultant and Coach (John’s picks are always amazing)

1.  The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

2.  The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, by Chris Whipple

3.  Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols, by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez


Reads John’s Tope Ten list here:


Stu Streeter, Lead Pastor, Disciples Church, Folsom, CA

My best book of 2017 was Eugene Peterson’s “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” it’s a collection of some of his sermons and I found it beautiful, encouraging and inspiring. A close runner up was “The Way of the Dragon or The Way of The Lamb,” by Goggin & Strobel.

My favorite article was probably this one, by Dr. David Fitch,


Chris Hall, Lead Pastor, Catalyst Church, Santa Paula, CA

1. “Canoeing The Mountains” by Tod Bolsinger.  I loved the historical parallels between the uncharted challenges faced by Lewis & Clark and the unknown obstacles church leaders will face as we navigate our post-Christian culture.   As a history nerd and a ministry geek, Tod fed me well with this book.

2. “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.  As a child of the 80’s that loved video games, TV, movies, and music, I thought it was totally rad.  I listened to it on Audible and didn’t want to take my headphones out until it was done!


Mike Pate Executive Director Transformation Ministries Camping

1.  The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Wow!  You could apply this book and revolutionize your speaking, your customer’s experiences, your parenting, etc, etc, etc.  Just bought a copy for my pastor.

2.  Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom by Dan Busby and John Pearson

So powerful and ‘ready to apply’ ideas to transform your board meetings into meaningful, purposeful experiences for all involved!  If you serve on ANY board, buy this!

3.  “No Excuses!  The Power of Self-Discipline by Brian Tracy

This was published in 2010.  It’s a short read and simple (but life changing if applied).  All other success principles are irrelevant if you don’t develop self-discipline!  “Self-discipline is the ability to do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.”


David Bennett, Financial Guru and Excel Board Member

1. “Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday

2. “The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph  by Ryan Holiday

3. “Grit:  The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth


Lori Pearring, Marriage and Family Therapist

“Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts” by Dr. Les and Leslie Parrott, is a premarital online tool as well as a book and workbooks for each person. It is valuable not just for pre-marrieds, but also for couples who have been married for decades and want to understand themselves and each other better.  The online SYMBIS tool is powerful as a reflection of both spouses and a great stepping stone to deeper understanding and intimacy =))).


David Cooke, Lead Pastor Cold Spring Community Church, Placerville, CA

1. The Cure - What if God Isn’t Who You Think He Is and Neither Are You - Lynch, McNicol and Thrall - The best and most challenging book on grace I have read. It contained some major perspective-shifting ideas about Jesus, love and living out of grace that are still messing with me.

2. Essentialism - Greg McKeown. This book made me drill down to figure out what is really essential for me. Really helpful in this season of life to clarify what is essential to me (I have 5) and what the essentials of my essentials are.

3. Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation - Daniel J Siegel, M.D. - Coaching is a passion (and an essential!) and coaching is about transformation. Siegel looks at how advances in neuroscience help us understand how the brain works, affecting our emotions and affecting our choices. A very hopeful book about how we have the power to choose to change with practical ways to begin applying the insights.


Ben Finney, Teaching Pastor, Journey Church, Elk Grove, CA

I really enjoyed reading Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the sequel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. It has a unique but relatable insight into society and the human condition, delivered in a Monty Python-style satire and sci-fi setting. Fun stuff!


Karl Roth, Lead Pastor, Flipside Church, Madera Ranchos, CA

1.  Leaders Eat Last; Simon Synek

2.  The Book of Jewish Values; Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

3.  The ONE Thing; Gary Keller


Joel White, Lead Pastor, Crossridge Church, Sherwood, Oregon

1. Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall.  Probably the best book on forgiveness i’ve ever read.  His biblical look on forgiveness takes it to a level our culture often rejects.

2. Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Such a great read and challenge for us to say no to good things in order for us to say yes to what we want to go big on.

3.  Goliath Must Fall by Louie Giglio.  A great look at the story of David and Goliath and how Jesus has defeated sin in our lives and we need to claim that victory.





One of the common issues church planters face is when and how to assemble a church leadership team. 

The church plant needs some sort of leadership team as it emerges beyond the planter calling all the shots.  But, since it is new, the warning in the Bible must be heard:  “Never be in a hurry about appointing a church leader.”--1 Timothy 5:22 (NLT)

I have observed and unfortunately personally experienced a good deal of pain in watching new churches try to maneuver the first steps of church life with leadership teams. 

In our first church plant one of the most supportive people in our church seemed to change dramatically the moment he became an “elder.”  The “power” may have gone to his head and he turned sour.  When the youth pastor’s daughter beat up this leader’s son (maybe he had it coming!) it became even more ugly.  Anyway, I had to push him to resign and it was not a pleasant time. 

In our second plant, one leader lost his job and spiraled into a seemingly temporary insanity.  Marriage, family and relational problems ensued and he refused to step down from leadership nicely.  I had to redo our whole leadership structure to get him off the team.

Both of those situations caused me great grief, but more importantly, they caused our plants to get a bit off task. 

I wish my experience was rare.  But it happens in many, if not most, church plants.  Someone on the team tries to take over the church, triangulate conflict, or just cause problems.  This seems to be a common strategy of our spiritual enemy.  He goes after the planter’s marriage first, and if that doesn’t work, the leadership team becomes the prime target.

So what’s a new church to do?

Here’s a strategy from my friend Tom Nebel that really works:  Implement multiple leadership team phases before a formal board is chosen.

The idea is to have short, clear time frame and purposeful teams with a clear “changing-of-the-guard” built in at the end.

In our third plant we started with a small “First Preview Leadership Team.”  The function of that team was to help us make wise decisions and to get us to and through our first preview service.  Then we progressed to a “Launch Leadership Team” that led us to launch.  We launched at Easter so we moved to a “Summer Advisory Team” that helped us maneuver the summer.  Then we had a “Grand Opening Leadership Team” that got us through our Grand Opening.  We moved to a one-year “Transitional Advisory Group”--our “Tag Team” that served for a year, and we renewed it for another year.  For years we’ve had a “Vision Alignment Team”--our VAT Team that keeps us on mission.  And now we are moving to an “ABC Team”--a leadership team that provides Advice, Brakes and Crisis management.

We intentionally avoid church-sounding names in our leadership teams.  That term “Elder” seems to come with a lot of baggage these days.  I’m not sure it communicates its Biblical meaning of servant leadership.  We don’t use “Deacon” or “Presbyter” either for similar reasons.

The clear ending time for the team is key.  Early on we purposely had team members who we knew had to leave after the time ram was finished--church planting inters, for example.  The shorter term of service seems to reinforce a servant attitude and it provides a natural opportunity to move folks off the team who don’t fit.

This approach also allowed us to use leaders from outside the church.  In our second plant, we moved to this approach and had two leaders from other churches serve as advisors for a couple years.  Their fresh eyes helped us immensely.

The multi-phase approach doesn’t eliminate leadership friction.  We have had to move people off of our leadership team without their full acceptance.  But it provides a natural opportunity and makes those tough conversations a little bit easier.

The Bible tells us that when it comes to leaders:  “They must first be tested…”--1 Timothy 3:10 (NLT)  This multi-phase approach gives new churches an opportunity to do just that.



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A few years ago I jumped at an opportunity to do something I hadn’t done before, or since:  I attended Dodger Stadium two nights in a row.  The Dodgers were hosting the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  One night I went and sat in the lower section—field level, the other night I sat much higher up in in the fourth level.  It soon became apparent that there are actually two versions, two variations, two varieties of Dodger Stadium.

The lower level is predictable, unchanging and safe.  It’s the same now as it was in 1962 when the Angels played there.  The upper level is unpredictable, constantly changing and even a bit dangerous.  Nothing is like it was in 1962.

With lower level tickets, you tend to get “Preferred Parking.”  Everything is laid out neatly, you bypass the traffic, park close and follow the clear signs to your section.  Upper level seats tend to come with, “General” parking.  General is a Latin word that means, “In a different county.”  The parking space is typically further away from the stadium than the freeway off ramp, you have to walk up 142 steps, unless you can find the escalator which is especially designed to be moving the opposite direction than the direction you want to go.  It seems like down is up, and up is down.   Nothing is neatly laid out.  Most folks seem pretty confused.

On the lower level they warn you gently about batted balls being hit into the stands.  On the upper level they do not warn you about anything.  If you are wearing the garb of another team, you will be heckled.  If you wear a Giants or Padres cap, you might be beaten—so you better be on the alert at all times.

On the lower level, it’s the same people every time—season ticket holders.  Everyone feels privileged because they paid good money—big money--for the experience.  In the upper levels, it’s a different crowd every time, nothing belongs to you, so you just might feel disenfranchised.  And chances are somebody gave you the ticket.

In the lower level, everyone looks the same.  In the upper level, diversity reigns.

In the lower level everything is in English.  One orders a “Dodger Dog” and a Blue Moon, which comes with the orange slice.  In the upper level, not much is in English.  There’s a good amount of Spanish and other languages that are difficult to decipher.  In the upper level your order nachos, the Vietnamese rice bowl with peanut sauce or the latest tuna poke bowl.

In the lower level, you watch the game.  In the upper level, you watch the crowd.

In the lower level, the bathrooms are spotless and clearly marked.  Pleasant bathroom attendants make you feel special.  In the upper deck you are not sure which bathroom to use, so you just hold it.

In the lower field level you can see everything.  In the upper level you are fortunate if you can see the sky.

In the lower level it appears that there are no broken people.  In the upper level, most people are broken.

In the lower level, the values are universal, and Christianity is the dominant culture.  In the upper level, there are competing values and Christianity means little.

When it comes to the church planting world, when it comes to ministry and spiritual leadership, we no longer live in a lower level environment.  Christian leaders must recognize that the world has changed and is changing. 

Consultant Bill Easum says, “It’s not a ‘National Park’ world any more, it’s a ‘Jungle’ out there.” 

It’s not 1962, it’s 2017.  Unless we are flexible, nimble and alert, we may end up with an experience that is negative for everyone.

One last contrast:  In the lower level, you can go alone.  In the upper level, you probably won’t make it if you are on your own.

That’s why Excel Leadership Network exists.

We exist to help.  When I sat in the lower level, I showed up by myself and met some people there.  When I sat in the upper deck, I had my wise nephew—one who attends dozens of games each year—accompany me.

At Excel our philosophy of ministry comes from Acts 13.  The church in Antioch was enjoying its lower-level status when the Holy Spirit spoke, “Set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work I have for them.”—Acts 13:2 (NIV)

The church kept fasting and praying and sent the two church planters out into an upper-deck world. 

And they supported them.  As leaders, the world may be changing, unpredictable and even confusing.  But if we support each other, we can have a great time and make a big impact.

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P.J. O’Rourke quipped, “Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”


That’s not a bad way to live.  The best leaders are consistently reading, growing, learning and stretching to be all God wants them to be.


Henry David Thoreau added, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”


In 2016 I set a goal to read 16 books.  And by “read” I meant finish, get all the way through, not simply “retinize.”  I’m gratified to admit that my reading goal was one of the goals I actually achieved.  I finished 22 books in 2016.




1.  “Canoeing the Mountains:  Christian Leadership in Unchartered Territory” by Tod Bolsinger


Tod Bolsinger, Vice President for vocation and formation and assistant professor of practical theology at Fuller Seminary compares Christian leadership today with the journey of Lewis and Clark.  He says the world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you.  This was a great book, a real winner.


2.  “The One Thing:  The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” by Gary Keller


Gary Keller, a successful entrepreneur and real estate salesman asks, “What’s the ONE Thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”  He debunks multi-tasking and takes the Pareto principle further than we’d expect.


3.  “Unoffendable:  Now Just One Change Can Make All fo Life Better” by Brant Hansen.


Radio personality Brant Hansen says, “Being offended is a tiring business.  Letting things go gives you energy.  Another quote from the book:  “Forfeiting our right to anger makes us deny ourselves, and makes us others-centered. When we start living this way, it changes everything. Actually, it’s not even “forfeiting” a right, because the right doesn’t exist. We’re told to forgive, and that means anger has to go, whether we’ve decided our own anger is “righteous” or not.” 




“Confessions of a Homeless Catholic” by my brother, John Pearring.  The forward is fantastic!  John now owes me dinner.


That’s my list.  What’s yours?  I’ve upped my goal for reading in 2017 so I need your suggestions. 


Feel free to send me your list of top books of 2016 at    We will add your ideas and try keep the article updated.


Happy Reading!


Here are some of the “Best Books” sent in by contributors:


From Alan Adler, Excel Network Administration Specialist


“The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg


From David Bennett, Excel Leadership Network Board


“Canoeing the Mountains:  Christian Leadership in Unchartered Territory” by Tod Bolsinger


“Influence” by Robert B. Cialdini


“Grit” by Angela Duckworth


“The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson


Tim Pearring, Lead Pastor, Journey Church, Elk Grove, CA:
"The E-Myth:  Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber

From Brian Harrington, Entrepreneur, Political Operative, Creative Consultant, Film Producer

“Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday

From John Pearson, Management Consultant Extraordinaire

“The One Thing:  The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” by Gary Keller

Check out John’s Top Ten books on his blog at:

From Rachel Prentice, Worship Director, Journey Church

“Chasing the Dragon” by Jackie Pullinger





My parents rarely fought.  I can count the number of times my Mom and Dad had an argument in front of me on one hand, and I would not need to use all of my fingers.  They didn’t have many conflicts, but the ones they had held a few things in common: 

1.     They tended center around food.  One time my dad went off about how the ham needed to be sliced thinner, and he wouldn’t drop it.  Another time, the argument was over gravy.  It was too runny or too lumpy or something.

 2.     Their battles were not really about food.  The food fight was just an excuse to vent obvious underlying stress that they couldn’t verbalize well.

 3.     Their arguments always took place during the holidays.

 What is it about Christmas time that causes so many of us to get stressed out, crabby - downright Scroogish and Grinchy?  Why is the Christmas season so hard on us?

Andrew Greeley saw it when he said, "For some people, Christmas is the worst time of the year.  Suicide rates go up, more people die from 'natural causes,' marriages fall apart, psychiatrists' patients suffer regressions, religious communities are torn asunder, new family feuds are begun, and many alcoholics venture forth on Technicolor binges. God rest you merry gentlemen, indeed." Andrew Greely

 Christmas can be a difficult, conflict-filled time.  Perhaps our folks got extra cranky at Christmas and those memories come rushing back.  Maybe there’s been a divorce in the family and the distressing task of dealing with ex-in-laws, step-parents, step-children, step-monsters, new boy-friends and separations comes back.  Or maybe we’re made miserable by good old Uncle Rudeness or Aunt Judgemental, who only get worse around the holiday table.

 But why?  Why is Christmas so difficult?

I believe that the vast majority of Christmas stress can be attributed to two issues:

1.      Expectations.

 At Christmas time our expectations tend to go right through the roof. We often become very unrealistic.

“Christmas is a time when you get homesick - even when you're home.”  Carol Nelson

“Isn't it funny that at Christmas something in you gets so lonely for -  I don't know what exactly - but it's something that you don't mind so much not having at other times." Kate L. Bosher

 Lynn Cable, a psychologist from Eugene Oregon, was asked by USA Today why people go crazy over toys like Furby, Elmo and Hatchimals at Christmas.  She answered, “More than any other time of the year, parents desire that things be exactly right.  (Although they may not be able to control everything) they can at least make sure they get this one particular toy.  Christmas multiplies the effects of everything:  happiness, sadness, disappointment.  There is an emotional intensity that we don’t see at any other time.”

 Christmas is the time when many, if not most of us, set unrealistic expectations that hold very little chance of being fulfilled.

 Which leads to the second issue:

2.      Disappointment

It’s the most disappointing time of the year.

In an article published in Psychology Today, Nick Luxmoore wrote, “With all its nostalgia and expectation, looking backwards and looking forwards, Christmas raises an important issue for young people.... Why does the exciting world that I remember seem so disappointing nowadays? Why are my presents no longer as surprising as they were? Why are other people so irritating? Why do our family routines seem so predictable?”

Expectations are very high at Christmas—especially for our family.  And honestly, that makes sense.  After all, these are the people who are supposed to love us.  They are mostly required to treat us well.  They are our first relationships, we expect unconditional love.  And inevitably, we are disappointed. 

Luxmoore continues, “When we talk about ‘Christmas', we talk unconsciously about parents and parenting because, young or old, our experience of Christmas is inevitably bound up with the parents and the childhood that we remember, with the world as it used to be. For most of us, those memories seem warm and straightforward compared to the harsher and more complicated realities with which we now grapple. Christmas confronts us with the disappointment of life as it is compared with life as we remember it, and life as we see it portrayed in the jingling, jangling adverts.”—Nick Luxmoore

The secular Christmas season pushes us toward disappointment, which is ironic, because Christmas is actually about the exact opposite. 

How can we deal with disappointment and darkness and despair at Christmas?

"Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever." Isaiah 9:1 (NLT)

 The prophet Isaiah wrote around 700 B.C., primarily to the southern kingdom of the Jews, called Judah.  They had been messing up primarily with idol worship, taking advantage of the poor and clear disobedience of God’s laws.  At that time Assyria and Israel (the Northern kingdom) were threatening to destroy Judah.  Isaiah had a vision from God in chapter 6, and he said, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among people of unclean lips.”  He has an experience of forgiveness, and then God asks, “Who will go for me, whom can I send as a messenger?”  And Isaiah answers, “Here am I, send me.”

In chapter 7, Ahaz, the king of Judah, fully expects his people to be wiped off the face of the earth.  He knows they deserve it, he sees two larger nations closing in and he figures this will be the end of the Jews, of the promise of a savior.  But God offers a sign that he will not totally destroy them:

"All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’)." Isaiah 7:14 (NLT)

God will send a savior, but first there will be punishment.  Disappointment doesn’t have to last forever.  Back to chapter 9:

 "Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land… will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles… will be filled with glory. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.  For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.  You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors, dividing the plunder…The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned.  They will be fuel for the fire.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders.

And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!" Isaiah 9:1-7 (NLT)

 Life is disappointing, darkness and despair abound.  But disappointment won’t last forever.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel.  The wars will end, and there will be rejoicing.

For God will send a savior to us, who will rule in fairness and justice for all eternity.  You won’t be saying, “He is not my candidate.”  He will not be crooked or deplorable.  He will called wonderful, counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, and prince of peace.

Christmas time lends itself to unmet expectations and disappointment, but the Christmas child changes that:

 1.  Jesus Exceeds Expectations

 Talk about high expectations!  Wonderful, mighty, a prince?

Everything you’ve ever dreamed a leader could be—everything you’ve ever wanted from your relationships--Jesus is and will be for you. Your Savior will forever be perfectly father-like in the way he protects and leads you. In Jesus, you have perfection.

"He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity." Isaiah 9:7 (NLT)

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

We can never over-expect from God.  He will always deliver.  Expect God to always come through.

2.  Jesus Doesn’t Disappoint.

“His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.” Isaiah 9:7 (NLT)

 “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 (NIV)

You might think that God has let you down. Llife can be disappointing, but this is like the first inning.  God has all eternity to come through. I don’t know about you, but when we open presents on Christmas Day in our house, we don’t typically give the kids the best gifts first.  We start with things like socks, and pajamas and other clothes.  We keep the really special gifts for later.  The kids might be tempted to feel a little disappointed, but then we break out the good stuff. God never promised to settle all of our problems immediately.  He has eternity to work.  Expect God to always come through—unexpectedly!

So, how can we handle the stress at Christmas?

1.  Focus on the Savior, not the season.

There is a famous Christmas painting by Brughel called “The Nativity.”  It shows all the hustle and bustle--all the commotion--of the time with the census and the traveling going on   Shoppers and merchants and people.  And off in the bottom right corner, there’s a woman riding on a donkey pulled by a young man.  If you don’t look carefully, you’ll miss it.

 Often we get so caught up in the season, we miss the Savior.  We usually place our expectations on Christmas time, instead of the Christmas child.  Let’s change that this year.


2.  Remember memories are made in the mistakes.

We all get disappointed, but often the blunders and mishaps are the best moments and memories.  One Christmas, my 1966 Mustang accidently escaped and drove smack into the neighbor’s house.  That’s one of my favorite memories—hilarious!  One year, I coughed so hard I passed out and smacked my head on the coffee table.  I talked about it at church, and Sharon Wells insisted her husband Geoff go get his cough looked at.  The doctors didn’t seem to be too concerned with his cough, but did find an aggressive form of cancer that they would have missed otherwise, and now he is cancer-free.  God used my annoying whooping cough in some small way to help save my friend’s life—funny stuff!  One year on Christmas, Sunday our church got served with a lawsuit by the International Bank of Evil (or whatever their name was.)  So they sued us, we lost, they got a huge judgement.  And then they proceeded to go out of business.  The bank that took over for them went out of business too -comedy!

When something goes wrong this season, lighten up.  If we’re going to look back and laugh about it someday, we might as well laugh about it now.

3.  Relieve someone else’s disappointment.

The quickest way to get over our own disappointment is to get our focus off of our own stuff and go find someone to serve, someone to give to, and someone to share the Savior with.

Here’s The Big Challenge:  Let’s take an “Expectation Inventory” this Christmas week.   Are my expectations out of whack?  Am I pretty much guaranteeing my own disappointment?  Or are my expectations placed on the One who does immeasurably more than all we ask of imagine?





I have a confession to make.  For several years I actually preached 53 times per year (every Sunday and Christmas Eve.)  My typical pattern was speaking 48-50 Sundays a year.  I was very careful about letting the pulpit go.  Too careful, too controlling. 


I have since repented.  I moved from speaking all the time, to speaking 40 times per year.  Then a few years ago, I reduced my sermons to 26 –or less-times per year.  And when I turned the Lead Pastor position over to my son, and moved to serving as a Teaching Team Coach, I also moved to teaching only about once per month.  No more hoarding the pulpit.  Preaching less has actually been one of the best gifts I could have given to myself—and my church.


Of course I used to have the usual excuses for not letting others speak:


·      “I’m really good at preaching.”  I think I’m a gifted preacher.  That reminds me of the old story of the pastor driving home from church one day.  He asked his wife, who was riding in the passenger seat, “Honey, how many truly great preachers do you think there are these days?”  She responded, “One less than you think, dear.”


In actuality I discovered that when I speak less, I do a better job.  As great as I thought I was at speaking, I’ve become better by not facing the task every single Sunday.


·      “There’s no one else in our church who can speak effectively.”  Sure there is.  We now have a teaching team of five capable speakers.  We call it our pitching rotation.  I’m the lead dog, the ace, if you will.  But we have four others who can start and a couple more in the bullpen.  Once I actually started looking for other teachers, it became clear that they were out there.  I don’t have a monopoly on the speaking gifts in my church.


·      “Other people are not trained in preaching.”  So, train them.  We meet regularly for training in preaching.  Together we’ve gone through Andy Stanley’s “Communicating for a Change” and  Haddon Robinson’s classic, “Biblical Preaching”  and Eugene Lowry’s, “The Homiletical Plot.”  Wediscussed, “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder and “Talk Like Ted” by Carmine Gallo, “Dying to Preach” by Steven Smith “Preaching” by Tim Keller and another book with that same title by Fred Craddock.  “Saving Eutychus” by Gary Millar is up next.  We also meet in between services to tweak the message for the next service.  We open ourselves up to feedback from others who are in the game.  These strategies have really improved all of us in speaking.


·      “The church will suffer if I’m not speaking.”  Really?  We’ve used a couple of approaches in expanding our rotation.  One approach has been to ask potential speakers to do five minutes during a Sunday sermon.  Or one point.  I can open up, do the introduction, set the need, and then have them do their five minutes.  Then I can come back up and tie things together, recover the message, if necessary.  The five minute approach gets someone else exposure. 


Plus, we’ve used “T” Sundays to train our speakers.  I like to rate Sundays or weekends on an A, B, C…grading.  “A” Sundays are the awesome days, like Easter,  Christmas Sunday and Christmas Eve, maybe a time or two in the Fall or Spring—those rare, natural high-attendance days.  “B” stands for better days.  The good Fall, Spring or first-of-the-year days when people might be more open to attending church.  “C” stands for crappy.  Let’s face it, there are some down days in ministry—summer, early December—times when church-going isn’t the first thing on people’s minds.  And then “D” stands for disaster.  You know the “D” Sundays—Memorial and Labor Day Sundays, the Sunday after Christmas, the two Sundays sandwiching the 4th of July (I think July 5 is the worst ever day for church because everybody in our culture I up late the night before celebrating.)


A few years ago we made a switch.  We changed “D” to “T” for training Sundays.  We now use those terrible days to get other people experienced in ministry.  So, if only twelve people are coming anyway, let the rookie speak—they will take it seriously, and if it is a disaster, no problem—no one was there to see it!


·      “There’s someone who wants to preach, but isn’t gifted.”  Okay, why not just be honest and tell them they aren’t gifted.  I don’t have to personally reserve the pulpit to keep them happy.  If they get mad and leave, fine.  Let them go mess up another church. 


·      “Preaching is my main job as the Lead Pastor.”  Yes it is important, but leadership development might actually be more important because someday the Lead Pastor won’t be there anymore.  The Apostle Paul put it this way, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”—2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV)


·      “Guest speakers just don’t get the culture of our church.”  Of course they don’t, so train speakers from within.  Give someone 5 minutes or a “T” Sunday.


·      “I’m just insecure.”  Well, get over it.  See a counselor, deal with it, or simply lighten up.  It’s not about you or me anyway.  Let’s make sure we protect our people—as much as we can—from our own issues as leaders.


So, I’d like to encourage you to join me as a now “Recovering” pulpit-hoarder.  Let’s give the next generation a chance.  And if you are scheduled to speak on Memorial Day or Labor Day weekend (“T” Sundays) there’s plenty of time to ask someone else in your church to join the rotation.





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My wife, Lori and I decided to go see our daughter Tricia for Thanksgiving.  So we snuck out during the first service at church on Sunday and drove two hours to the San Francisco airport.  We parked in the long-term lot, took the shuttle to the international terminal and checked in for a flight to Shanghai, China.  The twelve-and-a-half-hour flight left us with a long layover before our next stop in China, so we checked into an airport hotel for a nap.  Then it was off to the next stop.  When we arrived, we tried to transfer for still another flight, but after standing in line, we were told we had to go outside beyond security and re-enter in another terminal.  As I stopped to get my jacket out of my bag, a group of twenty-something Chinese men rushed past us.  One of them said, “We have to go outside, we made the same mistake, follow us.”


So we followed.  It turned out we were headed to the same destination.  “What are you doing here?” Chi, the best English-speaker asked.  “We are going to visit our daughter,” we answered.  “Your daughter lives in the middle of nowhere?” Chi responded.  All I could say was, “Tell me about it.”


When we got to the next terminal there were still several hours before our flight, so Chi invited us to join his crew for lunch.  Chi and Solo spoke English, the rest of the group—blue jacket, green jacket, brown jacket, the Taiwanese fellow who was freezing in the cold and a half dozen others got a kick out of watching me try to eat noodles with chopsticks.  (Lori is a pro at them.)  The young men work for CCTV, a Chinese government owned network, and they said they were headed to a remote part of the country to shoot some commercials.  The collection of camera equipment they were lugging around seemed to confirm that.   


I couldn’t help but wonder why God allowed us to run into this ensemble of perhaps, “angels unawares.”  I figured we could have maneuvered our way to our next stop on our own, so maybe we were there to help them on their spiritual journey.  “Are you a Christian,” I inquired, and Chi gave me perhaps the most honest answer ever, “Sometimes,” he admitted. 


Chi told us how he’d spent six months in the states riding a bicycle from New York to San Diego.  Friendly Americans gave him money, food and places to stay throughout his journey, so he wanted to return the favor with someone visiting his country.  He insisted that they buy lunch.


We finished the meal, then Chi escorted us to our check-in counter and through security.  I suspect we could have managed without them, but Lori felt much more comfortable to have some new friends looking out for us.  Once through the security check, Chi announced, “We’re going for a smoke, would you like one?”  We politely declined, told them we would see them at the gate, and parted ways.


As Lori and I sat apart from our new comrades at the gate, we smiled and waved, but that seemed to be the end of our partnership.  Until Chi came over to report that our plane was delayed.  A snowstorm in the city where our flight was originating had grounded it for a while.  The Chi came back a few minutes later with a huge smile on his face.  “The flight has been canceled without reason or excuse, but don’t worry, we will look for Plan B.”


Chi discovered that a high-speed train could make the trip in just three hours, but we would have to rush to have any hopes of making it.  So we jogged to the oversized baggage booth to pick up their bags—and ours.  I’m not sure we would have ever retrieved them without Chi and his men.


We then hustled to the airport train station, all of us carrying as many bags and camera gear as we could handle—we had to get tickets to ride to the high-speed depot.  When we got to the counter it was cash only.  Surprisingly, I was the only one with enough Chinese currency, so I bought tickets for the entire party.  We scurried to make it through train security, but two of the camera poles were too large, and after quite a bit of arguing with the lady in charge of not letting large poles on the train, green jacket took them elsewhere.  We managed to get on the train headed to the other train--green jacket made it back in time as well--but it was clear we would miss the last high-speed ride of the night.  “Not to worry,” Chi explained.  “There is a low-speed train we can catch.  It will only take six-hours.”  “Only six hours?” I sighed.


When we arrived at the depot, Chi stated that we needed to split into two groups.  Chi, blue jacket (their money man) and I would go purchase tickets, the rest of the assembly would order some food and find a place to sit.


After a long wait, the three of us made it to the front of the line, only to have the computer at the ticket counter suddenly fail.  They called their best tech person over.  She unplugged and then re-plugged-in the computer several times before it came back on.  We got tickets, were informed that our train was an hour late, “more or less,” then we headed back to the group.  


They were sitting in a fast-food joint called Dico’s—kind of the Chinese equivalent of McDonalds.  Lori had ordered me a chicken sandwich, which didn’t appear to actually contain anything resembling chicken.  But it was a warm place on a frigid night, and we were all able to relax a bit.  As Chi, blue jacket and I settled the bill for the train rides, I sensed that we might actually be relaxing a bit too long.  Suddenly Chi stood up and declared we needed to go, so we hurried with all of the gear to the gate.  At security my briefcase fell and spilled all over—twice. 


We rushed upstairs to train platform only to find that we missed it.  Would we make it to our daughter’s place for Thanksgiving?  Suddenly I had this eerie feeling that we were actually living out the plot from “Trains, Planes and Automobiles.”  What’s worse is as I looked around, all I saw were thin people, and I realized that I was not only living out the movie, I was the John Candy character!


“Welcome to my country,” Chi chuckled.  “Let’s see if we can exchange tickets for the next train.”  So, again, Chi, blue jacket and I left the rest to get in the long line for tickets.  When we finally reached the front, the computer system amazingly went down again.  They called the same tech person over, and again she started unplugging the computer and plugging it back in.  “Welcome to China!” Chi joked.  I wasn’t sure if we would make it, but I was starting to feel pretty good about my own technical skills.  They must’ve unplugged the deal twenty times before it came back on.  We got tickets, then hustled upstairs again. 


We had to run with all the bags and camera stuff, seemingly dropping every piece at least once before retrieving them again.  When we finally got to the train, the conductor wouldn’t let us on—Lori and I had tickets for another car.  That didn’t stop us, we stepped on the plane, and staked out our seats—rather, our sleeping compartment.


It was fairly comfortable, although smoking was allowed, maybe even encouraged.  It actually seemed mandatory!


We got a few hours of sleep before the conductor woke us up because our stop was approaching.  Brown jacket took me aside, told me that he had been here two weeks before and it was bitterly cold.  Then he grabbed my arm and warned, “Be careful these days.”  What was that supposed to mean?


When we arrived at the train stop on Wednesday morning, somewhere south of Inner Mongolia (but you could see it from there!) Tricia, a student friend and an older gentleman were there to meet us.  It was worth the trip to hug my daughter.  I hugged her friend, then the older gentleman shouted, “Papa, and cried as he gave me a huge belly hug.”  “Who is he?’ I asked Tricia.  “He’s just the driver,” she said.


I tried to give Chi some money to take his entourage out for a drink on me, but he loudly refused.  “This is my country,” he shouted.  “We take care of our guests.”  It was a bittersweet good-by. 


We jumped in the car, took a twenty minute ride and the driver dropped us off.  “Just a fifteen minute walk from here,” Tricia explained.  It was freezing out as we dragged our bags to her place, then we discovered Tricia lives on the top floor of a six-story walkup.  We dragged ourselves and our stuff up the steps.  When we finally got to her place, out of breath, over fifty hours after we’d left, all I could think to say was, “Do not tell me you can’t get here from there!”


I’d had a lot of time to think how easy it is to give up, to stop, to go back, to think we will never get there.  But giving up, stopping and going back are not really options.  We need to keep going.


And we need people to help us keep going. I wouldn’t say the trip was fun, but it was fun going through it with Lori.  It was fun going through it with a dozen new friends, who had taken us under their wings and took responsibility to get us to where we were going.


I thought of the need for partners.  I thought of the need for a network.  I thought of the need for a coach or coaches, people who we think we might not need, but then we realize we would be lost without luggage if it wasn’t for them.  We need people to help us make sure our destination is correct, our attitude is in check, and our burdens are shared.  We need people to remind us when we miss the mark, “Not to worry, we will look for Plan B.”  We need people to help us make sure we are getting some rest and some relaxation and something to eat.  We need people to remind us that it’s not a big deal if the trip costs twice as much money and takes three times as long as we expected.  And we need people whose hug is worth all the effort of a fifty hour excursion.


Wherever you are going, whatever your goal, guess what?  You can get there from here.

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Our twin 10-month-old grandsons were over a couple weeks ago.  I was spinning Cole in a living room chair while his brother, Jordan watched.  When I stopped the swirling, Cole crawled to the side of the chair and I moved into a position to catch him if he slipped.  Suddenly Cole inexplicably dove off of the chair like a skydiver.  I awkwardly lunged and caught him by his left foot just before his head would have hit the ground.  Cole was fine, but the maneuver strained my right hamstring muscle.  That warm warning in the back of my leg turned to a shooting pain when I tried to regain my balance.  I handed Cole off to his father and fell back on the couch in distress. 


As I lay there grabbing the back of my aching hamstring, I noticed my grandsons playing happily with their dad.  I suspected Cole had no idea that I was hurting.  Those twin boys knew nothing about the sacrifices their parents have made since they came along—the personal time commitments, the new financial obligations, the lack of sleep, the trips to the store to pick up diapers, ointment, plus other various and sundry baby items—not to mention the agony of childbirth.  I doubted the boys had any clue to the expenses their parents incurred by uprooting their lives in southern California to move north—closer to family, including both sets of grandparents.


Speaking of grandparents, Jordan and Cole have no understanding that grandparents pay a price too. 


Allan Frome said, “Being grandparents sufficiently removes us from the responsibilities so that we can be friends.”


And Robert Brault added, “To become a grandparent is to enjoy one of the few pleasures in life for which the consequences have already been paid.”


Both Frome and Brault are way off.  Yes, grand-parenting is… well, it is grand.  But there is a responsibility and a cost to grand-parenting.  That day I was feeling it in the back of my leg.  Typically I feel the pain a little bit higher—in the wallet.


Someone said being a grandfather is like being a left-handed relief pitching specialist.  You don’t have to pitch the entire game, you just come out of the bullpen every so often and pitch to a batter or two.  I love coming into the game to help my kids with their kids.  But there is a cost.  I limped around for a couple weeks, and I was okay with that, each twinge reminded me of the blessings and privileges I have in my family.  But it does hurt.


Similarly, parenting a church—being the mother church who sends out people and money to get a new work started--carries a cost.  Grand-parenting a church—acting as the sending agency or denominational group the helps a church to get started—carries some costs too.  Reproduction is expensive, for everyone involved.


“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.  They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him.  What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.—Acts 20:35-38 (NIV)


Often church planters miss this.  As church entrepreneurs we can get so caught up in playing our game that we don’t realize the sacrifice that others before us paid, or are paying, or continue to pay.  We expect the money and support to come like a child expects his parents to meet his or her needs, unaware of the sacrifice.  Those involved in helping to start churches are glad to do it, and do not expect any accolades.  But let’s not forget that reproduction is expensive, costly, even painful, but very well worth it.


Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.—Psalm 126:5 (NIV)


Jordan and Cole were over again the other day.  It was their parent’s anniversary so we had the boys overnight.  Cole must like me because he insisted on getting up before the crack of dawn to spend time with me.  It cost me sleep and warmth and the comfort of my bed.  Changing his diaper was no fun.  But being part of his life, of new life, of a new generation is way well worth the price.