Curious about Excel’s Discovery Center events? Read about this powerful experience from an insider - JD Pearring’s wife, Lori.
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 AndyKlumper@live.com
Meet the Kwak family, planting a church in Compton, CA.
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.
BEST BOOKS OF 2017
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.
HERE ARE MY TOP THREE:
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 JDPearring@gmail.com. We will add your ideas and try to keep the article updated.
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, http://www.missioalliance.org/not-use-word-orthodox-thinking-faithfulness-mission/
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.
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.
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.
HERE IS MY TOP THREE LIST:
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 JDPearring@gmail.com. We will add your ideas and try keep the article updated.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
“Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20, ESV)
Any great work of God is going to be much greater than what we are capable of accomplishing alone. To stand on the front side of the vision and the task is to be overwhelmed with what is before us. But God has a word to those he calls to do extraordinary things. "Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God...is with you." These were David's words to Solomon his son when passing on the task of building the temple.
A young man was given a daunting task. Be strong and courageous and do it. It should remind us to turn back to an earlier time in history. To turn back to the time of Moses who was given a daunting task and stood on the bank of a river looking into the fulfillment of the promise but knowing he would not cross over. But standing right next to him was another man, Moses' assistant who had been walking with him. Joshua looked across the river to the promise and his heart was slightly stirred. There would be a voice from heaven that would speak to him about the insurmountable task ahead of God's people that lay across that river. "I command you - be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord our God is with you wherever you go."
These are the words God spoke to Joshua when the mantle of leadership was laid upon his shoulders at the death of Moses. Joshua was going to be the one leading them into the promised land.
When God repeats himself, it is wise to pay attention because it is a clue we are getting a glimpse at the character of God. Such is the case here. God is the God who gives overwhelming tasks to ordinary people. And then he says, "Be strong and courageous and do it! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God - I AM - with you. Wherever you go. Do it." No matter the task. He is - I AM - is enough.
Are you standing at the threshold of a great dream or task? Is it overwhelming to even consider what might be ahead of you? You are in good company. When David gave Solomon the task and the blessing to build the temple, Solomon didn’t move.
It took Solomon 4 years to start (1 Kings 6:1). He spent the next 7 years building the temple (1 Kings 6:38). It took him an additional 13 years to finish building his own house (1 Kings 7:1). 20 years after he started he was done building (1 Kings 9:10).
“Be strong and courageous and do it.”
Two small words from God make all the difference in the face of the insurmountable. They can set you apart from the vast majority of people in the world. Do it.
Do you need to restore your marriage? Do it.
Do you need to build a building? Do it.
Do you need to establish a ministry? Do it.
Do you need to love your child? Do it.
Do you need to conquer an addiction? Do it.
Do you need to run a marathon? Do it.
Every day wake up…and do it.
God is always going to do his part. “…for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you…”
Are you going to do your part? Do it.
August 24th, 2016
Recently several of the leading church pastors and leaders within the Excel Leadership Network spent a day with Larry Osborne, noted author, gifted leader, innovative thinker and long-time pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, California. Here are some of the insights our leaders gleaned from the time:
“Larry Osborne differentiated tasks vs. roles with eye opening clarity. My common approach with volunteers and staff alike are to create job descriptions and roles for them. But for many high-powered volunteers, Larry simply stated that all they need is a task to accomplish. ‘Be quick to give tasks and slow to create roles,” he added. And in regards to staffing, “Hire to functions, rather than an org chart.’”
—Brian Burman, Gateway Church, Visalia
“One of the parts of his training that hit home for me was when Larry challenged us to ‘Count Who, Not How Many!’ It’s more important to know who you are reaching than how many you are reaching. It’s more important to know who’s leaving than how many are leaving. It’s just as important to know who’s connecting in groups than how many are connecting in groups. Numbers lie. Stories tell the truth. If we can know the WHO & WHY behind the HOW MANY, we can more easily make course corrections and adjustments along the way.”—Chris Hall: Catalyst, Santa Paula, CA
“A few general over-arching things I loved: Larry leads this Giga-church and yet still talks like a pastor not some fortune 500 CEO. He loves his people, loves seeing the light go on for Jesus, pushes against high-browed teaching that would serve to make him look smart, instead opting for practical insights about God…In terms of the specific thing I take home…His discussion of our people coming from three basic profession backgrounds and how to relate to them uniquely was wonderful.
Regulatory: bankers, HR, school administrators, lawyers, government // These people think in policy and institute lots of it…for better or worse.
Manufacturing: inventors, contractors, landscapers, etc // These people think in metrics, measurables and clearly defined goals to achieve.
Sales/Marketing: pastors, salespeople, creatives, etc // These people think of how to inspire others to do stuff and work largely on vibe and culture.
“Being reminded that as our churches grow our boards and staff will likely have fewer people wired for Sales/Marketing and need/attract some Regulatory and Manufacturing types means we need to talk and lead a bit differently.”—Stu Streeter: Disciples Church, Folsom, CA
“We can't outgrow our DNA. If you're healthy, you grow to the full-size of your DNA… and the way you grow beyond that is either through steroids (which will harm you) or you have to step away and let someone else grow it beyond your talent capacity. Some of us will only ever be x-sized-churches... And that's ok because that's our DNA from God! Let’s celebrate the increase and maximizing that God allowed us to mature to. His Church will keep growing, not necessarily ours. So, what can we do to help grow His Church? Help other churches to reach their max. We care about the churches overseas and out of state, but we don’t show that we care for the church across the street. The way we show unity is not necessarily doing things with other churches and praying together, but by blessing other churches in our area and never speaking ill of them.”—Eric Gamero: Calvary Lighthouse United, Cooper City, FL
“What I found encouraging and thought provoking was the discussion about discovering your church's DNA and understanding that nothing continues to grow forever. It is important to not use this as an excuse for not pursing Kingdom growth. We need to have a Kingdom mindset that seeks to bless the Greater church in our community and rejoice in the Kingdom's growth as much as our individual growth.
Don't opt for using steroids to try and grow because they will kill you. The application for our ministry is to be praying for and looking at ways we can bless other churches. There is a church plant in our community I plan on reaching out to see if we can help them in some way.”—David Cooke: Cold Springs Community Church, Placerville, CA
“Some HITS for me were:
1. Lead your church in a way that not only do you have margin in your personal life but you also have margin in your church. Opportunities will come along and unless there’s a cushion of margin, we’ll miss them. Margin is what will send you to the next level.
2. Use the language of experimentation but don’t actually experiment. Use the word “TRY” when rolling out a new initiative. That way if it fails you’ll look more like a daring scientist and less like a “full of BS” talker.
3. Lastly, and this one was such a good reminder for me. Larry said, “People will know what’s important by what the important people do.” It took that to mean if I want something to be a major focus in my church, I have to put energy behind it.”—Andy Ziegenfuss: Passion Church Blue Ask, Ohio
“Another emphasis that I needed to hear was: "Don't over-communicate in hopes of getting buy-in.
You don't need buy-in, you need permission. Larry and his leaders let people know they were going to TRY (experiment) with a "Video-Cafe" and asked for people to respond if interested.
73 of 3000 responded.
That's 73 "yes" votes, and 2,927 "no" votes.
But he emphasized: Don't count NO votes...
73 yes votes was enough votes to "try" the experiment.
If you over-communicate and it fails - it's a huge loss.
If you over-communicate and it works - you become a god.
If you get permission from a few and it works - you're a innovative thinker.
If you get permission from a few and it fails - no harm done.”—Brian Becker: The Hope City Church, Portland, OR
“The most significant thing for me was the discussion on Road Blocks and Rockets. Here are my notes:
What are the Road Blocks?
Churches have 4 tires that are road blocks or cinch points.
Children’s Space - is not judged by attenders but by your guests. (crying moms, preschools, etc)
Parking - no guests know.
Decision Making Process - leadership
You never want to solve a problem that is bigger than your tightest problem.
What are the rockets?
Rockets are opportunity. They are different in every environment.
Ride the rocket that God has put in your lap.
The opportunities come when God puts them in our lap. We ride those opportunities.
Often your rocket is going to be a person. Who is God bringing us right now? That is a rocket?
People do ministry. Where did God give me a rocket guy?
A lot of us are driven by the voices in our head and not the Spirit of God.
There are too many movement starters that are projecting their gifts on others.”—Paul Taylor: Rivers Crossing Community Church, Mason, OH
“My biggest take away was the importance of understanding road blocks and the need for multiple opportunities in this day and age. That was huge!”—Joey Furjanic: The Block Church, Philadelphia, PA
“My take away was in seeing the value of being an ‘P’—Perceiver (Play it by ear) or ‘A’ Adapter on theMeyersBriggs test. I need to schedule time on my calendar time to take advantage of opportunities that come my way. I see how this is hurting me/my business and it gave me a softer approach to ‘A's with better understanding.”—David Bennett—Excel Leadership Network
“I appreciated hearing the drip method to create subliminal interest in small groups. Great input.” (Larry remarked that his church doesn’t tell people to join small groups, they ‘drip’ the idea throughout sermons and all ministries—expecting people to attend groups.)—Ed Kemp: Gateway Church, Visalia, CA
“I think one of the most valuable things I learned was in the small group session.
Small group leaders need not be great teachers but rather need to lead a discussion where everyone has a chance to talk and the discussion is about Jesus.
It's that simple. In fact having a great teacher lead a small group is difficult because the teacher wants to teach content and can miss opportunities for people to discuss life.”—Tim Pearring: Journey Church, Elk Grove, CA
“1. Count Faces not Numbers - To me this is the difference between building an organization vs building a church. I've been challenged to figure out ways to implement this so that we know who is coming for the first, second, third time and who is falling through the cracks.
2. Get to three services as quickly as possible. - To which he followed it up with we need to offer as many times and styles as possible to reach as many people as possible. I appreciated how he challenged us to have a culture of reproduction of leaders to be able to pull this off well.
3. Tribal by choice = 2 Time Slots - People will give you two time slots a week, leaders will give you 3. I've really been challenged to look through what we offer our people throughout the week that may be good but is distracting from the mission, vision and values of Crossridge.”—Joel White: Crossridge Church, Sherwood, OR
“The top three statements by Larry that hit me were:
‘Don’t start anything without an exit strategy in mind.’
‘There are two types of people: Goal-oriented and problem-solvers.’
‘Policies are de-motivators, have as few as possible.’”
--JD Pearring, Excel Leadership Network
We had a great time with Larry and are especially grateful for his efforts in building into other leaders.
Do you want to get in on the next event like this? Become one of Excel’s “Leading” churches” For more information, contact JD Pearring at JDPearring@gmail.com
Larry Osborne granted Excel Leadership Network permission to post this article
Last summer my sister visited from out of town, so I invited her to stay with us. Donald Trump had just said something and Hilary Clinton had just done something so I brought up the topic of politics with my sister. She started to talk and I immediately got a sick feeling inside. We disagreed on just about everything. We ended up talking way past midnight. There were really no solutions or resolutions. And there seemed to be, maybe for the first time in our relationship, some sort of wedge between us.
I didn’t sleep very well that night. One question kept popping up in my head, how important is politics? Should politics be able to tear us apart? What role should politics play in our lives?
A few months ago my sister had a birthday, and I happened to be in her town, so I took her out to dinner. We were in the middle of this seemingly endless election season, so the topic of politics came up again, and amazingly, my sister started in again and she still didn’t agree with my wise, well-thought-out, obviously correct political views. Again the question came, what role should politics play?
It’s a relevant question. This election is dominating the news. Our country is more polarized than ever. The media is getting great ratings pushing the frenzy and it is easy to get caught up in it, it is easy to get angry at all those ignorant people that don’t believe exactly like I do. But let’s take a step back. I don’t care if you are a Republicrat, a Demoderm or a Librarian, step back. Maybe you’re a Trump guy, a never-Trump person, maybe you’re feeling the “Bern” or think it’s time for a woman to have a turn. Maybe you just want to see some chaos at the conventions. Maybe your candidate is out, and you’re a little defeated. Or maybe you just don’t care, you were for Marco Rubio just because you love Rubio’s tacos. How important is politics? How important should it be in our lives? What role should politics play?
Let’s look at one story from the life and teachings of Jesus for an answer:
Watching for their opportunity, the leaders sent spies pretending to be honest men. They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus.—Luke 20:20 (NLT)
In a parallel passage, Matthew explains that the religious leaders were setting a trap for Jesus. They wanted to embarrass him, ruin him and render him ineffective.
Then the Pharisees met together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. They sent some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to meet with him.—Matthew 22:15-16 (NLT)
The story continued:
“Teacher,” they said, “we know that you speak and teach what is right and are not influenced by what others think. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” He saw through their trickery and said, “Show me a Roman coin. Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” So they failed to trap him by what he said in front of the people. Instead, they were amazed by his answer, and they became silent.—Matthew 20:21-26 (NLT)
The religious leaders were afraid of Jesus, they were insecure, thinking he was going to take their jobs. So they tried to trap him.
Did you see that? Did you notice how they tried to ensnare Jesus? This passage gives us some clarity. Politics can be a trap!
The topic of politics can embarrass us, ruin us and render us ineffective if we are not careful. Let’s be very careful that we do not walk right into a trap because someone is out to get us. Let’s be wary. Political posts on Facebook or Twitter can be like stepping into a trap—even the ones that begin with, “I don’t usually post my political views, but…” Watch out! It might be, it could be, it probably is…a trap. Let’s think twice about what we say to a sister, it can be a trap. Let’s not get tricked, politics can be a trap!
"How many politically-correct people does it take to screw in a light-bulb?"
"Look, I don't know, but that's not funny."
Jesus concludes with:
“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”—Luke 20:25 (NLT)
We tend to stop there, but Jesus’ statement begs two questions:
Question #1. What are we supposed to give to God?
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.”—Matthew 22:37-38 (NLT)
Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and says that God gets all our love, all our heart, all our soul, all our mind.
We’re supposed to give God everything.
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.—Luke 12:31 (NLT)
Question #2. What are we supposed to give the government?
Let me make some suggestions based on New Testament teachings:
On their arrival in Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple tax came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” Peter replied. Then he went into the house. But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Peter? Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?” “They tax the people they have conquered,” Peter replied. “Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free! However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”
—Matthew 17:24-27 (NLT)
Why does a slight tax increase cost you two hundred dollars and a substantial tax cut save you 30 cents?
“Everybody should pay their taxes with a smile,” said Bob. “I tried it but they wanted cash.”
I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.—1 Timothy 2:1 (N:LT)
Maybe the government is in sad shape because we’re not praying.
Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.
Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live. That’s also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders.—Romans 13:1-7 (The Message)
We need to be responsible citizens. If you are into politics, if you’re a political junkie, fine—don’t get trapped—be responsible. If you don’t care all that much, fine—be responsible.
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.—Romans 13:7 (ESV)
Jay Leno quipped, “If God wanted us to vote he would have given us better candidates.”
We still need to honor the office, and honor the person.
Here is the Big Challenge: Avoid the Political Trap this week.
I was sitting in a restaurant talking to my sister about politics and the tension was mounting. Was this difference in our political views going to ruin our relationship?
Suddenly my sister’s phone started beeping and ringing and buzzing. She picked it up and screamed, “Yes! Yes!” “What’s up?” I asked. She yelled, “The Rams are moving back to LA!”
We both shouted, then we hugged. I was an LA Rams fan as a kid, she stuck with the Rams even after their move to St. Louis. We were both ecstatic. As she drove me to the airport she kept saying, “I can’t believe it, the Rams are moving back to LA!”
How important is politics? I had my answer. I hugged her good-bye and concluded, “It doesn’t matter who wins the election, the important thing is the Rams are moving back to LA!”
I need to treat my political views like I treat my football views. I have my team. And if someone roots for the 49ers or the Raiders or the Steelers or the Broncos or even the Seahawks, we can kid, we can agree to disagree, I can let them be wrong and it is not really a big deal.
I’ve got my political views, but if someone roots for another party or view or team, I can accept them and let them be wrong. But I need to be careful not to let that ruin my relationships, my reputation or more—I need to be careful. Politics can be a trap.
It actually happened to me once. When I was a student at UCLA, I spent the night at my sister’s house in Manhattan Beach. I got up super early to make my shift stocking shelves at the Ralph’s grocery store in Century City before going to class. Driving north on the surprisingly traffic-free 405, a Jackson Browne song was blasting on the radio when the big event took place: I ran out of gas to the tune of, “Running on Empty.”
“Running on empty, running blind, looking into the sun but I’m running behind.”—Jackson Browne
Running on empty is something I’ve done a lot of in my life. One of my college friends told me it took him a while to face the fact that if he was going to ride in my car he needed to accept that I didn’t mind running out of gas. I asked him how many times have I run out of gas with him in the car? He said, “Let’s just say more than once.”
I’ve been financially challenged, paying my way through college, graduate school, starting churches, having kids—for years I didn’t want to die with too much gas in the car, (That would be poor stewardship!) Pushing an old beater, or taking a walk with a gas can is good exercise.
Years ago I bought Lori a 1966 Mustang coupe for her birthday. It’s a great car, but we have never been able to get the gas gauge to work. I cannot tell you the number of times we ran out of gas in that car—AAA might have a record. It’s simple math, fill it up, add 150 miles and re-fuel before you hit that number on the odometer. We still managed to be running on empty and running blind.
We don’t drive that car anymore. Actually it’s for sale! (Make me an offer!) We’ve matured. I’ve grown to the point where I realize I don’t need the stress or the angst of running down the road on empty.
I still slip into running on empty in other ways though. Physically sometimes I push it too hard, travel too much, and sleep too little. Financially, we’ve set up our emergency fund so we’re not facing too much month with too little money too often. But it still happens every once in a while. Relationally I can get disconnected from friends, family, even my wife if I’m not intentional about it.
And spiritually, I think a lot of us end up running on empty.
Jackson Browne may have been on to it when he wrote:
Everyone I know, everywhere I go
People need some reason to believe
I don't know about anyone but me…
Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too
Are you running on empty?
Most of us really want to do what we were meant to do spiritually. We were made for a purpose. We were created to influence the people that God has strategically, sovereignly, even supernaturally put into our lives.
But a lot of us are just exhausted. Life gets crazy. Work, marriage, kids, kids’ activities, kid’s sports, there’s an election I’m trying to keep up on, extended family stuff, and if there is ever a crisis, or even a mini-crisis, we catch ourselves running on empty.
How can we keep from running out of gas?
One story from the life and teaching of Jesus gives us some insight. In Mark chapter 9 Jesus had just taken Peter, James and John up on a mountain where he was transfigured—this was a picture of heaven with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. It was an incredible spiritual high, a vision of the future, a powerful moment. They came down the mountain and ran into powerlessness.
As they approached the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and some scribes arguing with them. The whole crowd was very surprised to see Jesus and ran to welcome him.
He asked the scribes, “What are you arguing about with them?” A man in the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you. He has a spirit that won’t let him talk. Whenever it brings on a seizure, it throws him to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes stiff. So I asked your disciples to drive the spirit out, but they didn’t have the power.”—Mark 9:14-18 (ISV)
Jesus’ disciples didn’t have the power. They were running on empty. And this obviously annoyed Jesus.
Jesus told them, “You unbelieving generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him to me!”—Mark 9:19 (ISV)
Jesus had just experienced heaven, and then he came to earth only to see his disciples in the midst of a failure.
So they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into convulsions. He fell on the ground and kept rolling around and foaming at the mouth. Then Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” He said, “Since he was a child. The spirit has often thrown him into fire and into water to destroy him. But if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us!” Jesus told him, “‘If you are able?’—Mark 9:20-23 (ISV)
Again Jesus seems perturbed, “If you are able?” Are you kidding me? It is almost as if he is saying, “Casting out demons is beginner work. My disciples should have been able to handle this kids’ stuff!”
Jesus told him, “‘If you are able?’ Everything is possible for the person who believes!”
With tears flowing, the child’s father at once cried out, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!”—Mark 9:23-24 (ISV)
When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that won’t let him talk or hear—I command you to come out of him and never enter him again!” The spirit screamed, shook the child violently, and came out. The boy was like a corpse, and many said that he was dead. But Jesus took his hand and helped him up, and he stood up.—Mark 9:25-27
The disciples can’t perform the exorcism, so Jesus steps in and immediately cures the boy.
When Jesus came home, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive the spirit out?”—Mark 9:28
Great question: Why didn’t we have the power? Why were we so empty? How to we make sure this doesn’t happen again? Jesus gives a surprising answer:
He told them, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”—Mark 9:14-29 (ISV)
Jesus concludes that the key to tapping into His power is prayer and fasting.
The way to never be empty is to empty ourselves. That is so counter-intuitive. We are never empty if we empty ourselves. We need to be prayed up and fasted up in order to be filled up.
Prayer is powerful.
The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.—James 5:16 (TMV)
Fasting is powerful.
Dan Allendar put it this way: “Fasting from any nourishment, activity, involvement or pursuit—for any season—sets the stage for God to appear. Fasting is not a tool to pry wisdom out of God's hands or to force needed insight about a decision. Fasting is not a tool for gaining discipline or developing piety (whatever that might be). Instead, fasting is the bulimic act of ridding ourselves of our fullness to attune our senses to the mysteries that swirl in and around us."
One prescription to fill up our spiritual tanks involves prayer and fasting.
I think we get tripped up on this. Many of us have been led to believe that we have to pray for an hour every day in order for it to count. So, we rarely pray. It seems like too much. But check this out. How long does The Lord’s prayer take? Maybe a minute…When Jesus was asked by his followers, “Teach us to pray…” he started with a one-minute prayer.
Pray for an hour if you’d like, pray all night sometimes. But start with a minute, or two or five.
What about fasting? How long should we fast? One of our roadblocks is the first example we think of is Jesus fasting forty days and forty nights. That’s beyond the reach of…everyone. And Jesus only did that one time that we know of. Twenty five times the Bible mentions fasting, and only once was it for forty days.
How about starting by fasting for a meal? Or dessert? Or a snack?
Our primary strategy for starting new churches comes from Acts 13:
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
We spot church planters, set them up for success, send them out and support them. And we’ve started over a hundred churches over the past few years all over North America.
The most important phrase in this passage is, “The Holy Spirit said…” That is really cool. God showed up.
But you can’t orchestrate that, right? You can’t arrange for the Holy Spirit to speak. Or maybe you can. This passage gives us a hint at what we can do to encourage the Holy Spirit to show up, and it gives us the hint twice: The people fasted and prayed.
This year I decided to get intentional about it. I’ve made a commitment, and I’m asking the people on our leadership team, advisory team, all the church planters and every supporter to fast and pray during one meal a week seeking the Holy Spirit to show up in our network.
One meal a week. Anybody can do that.
I ran out of gas to the song, “Running on Empty.” I was actually able to coast off of the freeway right into a gas station. I remember pumping the gas with a huge smile on my face.
When we run out of gas spiritually it isn’t always without consequences. Maybe others are counting on us—like the poor man coming to the disciples with his troubled son. If I’m out of gas it might mean bad news for myself and others, so I need to get and stay filled up.
The good news is, when we run out of gas spiritually God has a filling station that we can coast into no matter where we are. He’s available and he wants to fill us up.