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.


Be Strong and Courageous


Be Strong and Courageous

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 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.


David Cooke

Leadership Catapult


August 24th, 2016



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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.

  Worship Space

  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


Larry Osborne granted Excel Leadership Network permission to post this article

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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’re 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.






“I’d rather be respected than liked.”  Whenever I hear that statement I wonder why those are the only two options mentioned.  Sometimes parents say, “My job is to be his father, not his friend.”  I think, “Seriously, are those two mutually exclusive?”  And when I hear a boss declare, “I want my employees to fear me, not like me,” I think we must be missing something.


Likeability has fallen on hard times lately. 


I was reading through the Bible’s Book of Acts in a different version than my normal reading the other day when this verse jumped out at me.  I had thought about this idea many times, but I had never seen it written before, let alone written in the Bible:


The apostles worked many miracles and wonders among the people. All of the Lord’s followers often met in the part of the temple known as Solomon’s Porch.   No one outside their group dared join them, even though everyone liked them very much.—Acts 5:12-13 (CEV)


Did you catch that?  Everyone liked the early Christians very much.  Okay, so not everyone joined them.  Some even tried to destroy them, but they were likeable.


Don Marquis observed, "Some persons are likeable in spite of their unswerving integrity."


If we’re going to excel as leaders we cannot be people pleasers, but we must be likeable.  If we’re not likeable, sooner or later, someone who doesn’t like us will gather enough folks who don’t like us and we will not like the result—we’ll be out of business.


Dale Carnegie, in his classic book, “How To Win Friends And Influence People” reveals that getting along with your co-workers will not only improve our overall work experience, it will make us more successful. 

A study by Melinda Tamkins of Columbia University indicated that workplace effectiveness comes not so much by what or who you know but by your popularity. The study revealed: “Popular workers were seen as trustworthy, motivated, serious, decisive and hardworking and were recommended for fast-track promotion and generous pay increases. Their less-liked colleagues were perceived as arrogant, conniving and manipulative. Pay rises and promotions were ruled out regardless of their academic background or professional qualifications."

For years I’ve thought that our presidential elections have been won by the most likeable candidates among the top nominees—at least since 1968 when Richard Nixon beat the affable Hubert Humphrey.

The Gallup company went a step further.  They’ve conducted a personality poll prior to every recent presidential election and found that likeability has been the most consistent predictor of who would win since 1960!

Leadership must be likeable.  If I want to be effective leading people, I need to be effective with people.


The Top Ten Signs Nobody Likes You

10.  You remind your teacher that she forgot to give homework.

9.  Your dog refuses to be seen outside with you.

8.  Your B.S. is in B.S.

7.  Your imaginary friends keep finding excuses not to come over.

6.  You are so annoying that even your multiple personalities won't speak to you anymore.

5.  You've actually had Mormon missionaries tell you, "We've gotta get going now"

4.  You're wearing a yellow shirt with a black zig zag about halfway down

3.  You find yourself seated in a handbasket and getting warmer.

2.  You often find yourself asking, "What would Vladimir Putin do?"

1.  Randy Newman is singing, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” when he notices you in the crowd.  Then he stops.


Likeability is necessary for leadership.  But likeability isn’t necessarily a gift. 


Travis Bradbury wrote:  “In a study conducted at UCLA, subjects rated over 500 adjectives based on their perceived significance to likeability. The top-rated adjectives had nothing to do with being gregarious, intelligent, or attractive (innate characteristics). Instead, the top adjectives were sincerity, transparency, and capacity for understanding.”


Likeability is a skill set.  It can be learned, it can be developed.


So how do we get it?


Here is a great place to start:


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.—Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)


Let’s start where the early followers of Christ started—let’s ask God to forgive us and fill us with His Spirit.  The result might just be an increase in our likeability.





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Earlier this month, I spent a few days in Cuba.  It was my second journey to that island nation in the past eight months.  The first trip was eye-opening, we stayed in Havana the entire time and tried to soak in the scenes.  This second outing turned into an adventure.  My traveling buddy, Karl Roth and I had no translator or interpreter for the first two days.  The country was prepping for a visit from President Obama so somehow all of the hotels were booked.  And instead of staying close to Havana, we ventured into the center of the island for some meetings with locals there.  So we got a great behind-the scenes backstage pass to life in Cuba.

In the midst of the experience, I saw several leadership principles emerge.  Here are some things I learned from my time in the country dominated by Fidel and Raul Castro:


1.  Overreach Overwhelms

The government in Cuba controls…just about everything.  It is a lesson in the devastation of government overreach.  It doesn’t matter if you are a republicrat, A demoderm or a librarian politically, too much micro-managing from leaders squelches…just about everything.  

The more the government tries to do, the worse the government tends to do.

As I was feeling some disgust from a military regime gone too far, it suddenly hit me:  Do I do that?

Do I try to over-control, micro-manage and nit-pick so much that those who are following me are disgusted?  I don’t often get called a “control-freak” but sometimes I try to do too much myself.  And this trip to Cuba made me want to repent of not trusting others.

The Apostle Paul says that the leader’s job is to empower others:

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.  Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.—Ephesians 4:11-12 (NIV)

Am I empowering or squelching?


2.  Incentives Inspire

At the Jose Marti airport, as we readied to head home we were able to spot our Aruba Airlines aircraft pull up and unload passengers from Miami.  Unloading the bags took forever.  There were a couple dozen airport personnel (I can’t call them, “workers”) who were standing around and chatting with each other.  Every so often one would break away from the conversation to take a suitcase or two from the conveyer belt and put it on the baggage shuttle.   Then they would join back in their group.  It was amazing how little work they actually did.  I mentioned this inefficient system to my friend Karl Roth, who said, “They are communists, what are you going to do, fire them?”

Again it hit me, do I do that?  

Do I de-incentivize the people I lead?  If there are a couple dozen “workers” standing around one of our meetings or services without paying attention, it may be a lack of vision, incentives and clarity.

Paul says:  Correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

—2 Timothy 4:2 (NIV)


3.  Drivers Determine Disposition

We had scheduled a big meeting in the center of the island, but the person who came to pick us up reported that his car had broken down.  So, he rented an early nineties mini-van taxi with two taxi drivers.  The one riding shotgun was apparently there to spot the potholes, while the one driving was to make sure he hit them.  And they succeeded.  I’m pretty sure we didn’t miss any ruts on our trip.  When we arrived at our destination, we were exhausted.   

After subjecting myself to the herky-jerky driving, I had to ask, “Do I do that?’  Do I hit every pothole on my leadership journey so that those sitting in the passenger or back seat are exhausted when we stop?

Jesus didn’t promise easy street, but he did promise a restful journey:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”—Matthew 11:28-29 (NIV)


4.  Recognize Reality

Leadership guru Max Depree wrote, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

It appears that Fidel Castro strikes out on all three of Depree’s points.  Castro certainly isn’t an appreciative servant.  But perhaps worse than that, he doesn’t seem to have a good relationship with reality.  Castro has indoctrinated his people into believing their main problem is the United States and its economic sanctions on Cuba.   The reality that Castro is a murderous totalitarian dictator who abuses human rights is not apparent to the people of Cuba.  As a rebel, Fidel used firing squad executions to enforce discipline, punish disloyal followers and intimidate potential opponents.  His ruthless behavior isn’t talked about in Cuba.

It is becoming more apparent as more Cubans who have defected return with a better handle on truth.  But Castro has worked hard to make sure his constituents only hear what he wants them to hear.

Do I do that?  Do I spin what I don’t like, do I ignore hard truths, do I manipulate?  My friend, Willie Nolte is fond of saying, Facts are our friends.”  We have to face reality.

Jesus put it this way: He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does.  And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is.  Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?—Luke 12:54-56 (NIV)

And Solomon warned:  Do not pay attention to every word people say…--Ecclesiasts 7:21 (NIV)


5.  Nifty Negotiations

When Fidel Castro stood up against American presidents, Fidel seemed to come out on top.  

Dwight Eisenhower decided to play golf instead of meeting with Castro, who visited the United States in 1959.  Castro met with Vice President Richard Nixon instead.  Nixon hoped his meeting would push Castro, “in the right direction,” but Castro wasn’t persuaded.   Castro took full advantage of his 11-day stay.  He hired a public relations firm, ate hot dogs, kissed ladies like a rock star, and held babies like a politician. He even placed a wreath on George Washington’s grave. 

John F. Kennedy went up against Castro in the Bay of Pigs, which turned into a disaster for the U.S.  Kennedy may have come off as somewhat obsessed with this dictator from a tiny little island.  

In 1980 during a downturn in the Cuban economy, an uprising at the Peruvian embassy caused Castro to allow those seeking asylum to defect to the United States.  The “Mariel Boatlift” saw 125,000 Cubans get on boats at the Mariel port to immigrate to the United States.  But when they arrived in Miami, it became clear that Castro had emptied Cuban jails and mental health institutions and sent those folks to the states.  President Carter did not come out of that confrontation looking good. 

Recently President Obama has sought to open up relations with Cuba, and he traveled there last week.  But Raul Castro announced that this meant Cuba won the war.  And Fidel’s remarks about the president were not flattering.

Why does Fidel win these over-matched battles?  He is a skilled negotiator.   One of the marks of leadership is an ability to negotiate well.

Do I do that?  Do I give away too much, allow myself and my associates to be taken advantage of, and show my hand too early?

Years ago, one of my coaches encouraged me to spend a year learning how to enhance my negotiation skills.  It was an invaluable exercise.

Jesus commented:  For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.  I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.—Luke 16:8-9 (NIV)


6.  Look for Leaders

When Fidel Castro took over the island nation of Cuba in 1959, it officially became a nation of atheists. Castro’s regime would not allow the building of any new churches.

The Christians there did not let that stop them.  They meet in houses, which often limit their numbers to 30-40 people.  But instead of lamenting that large groups cannot gather, they look to plant new churches.  So, they are always looking for the next leader.

We went to meet with ten couples in Cuba, but 150-200 people showed up.  Why?  They were invited as potential leaders and planters.

Do I do that?  Am I always on the lookout for the next leader?  Or am I trying to build my kingdom.

They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas…--Acts 15:39-40 (NIV)


7.  Commitment over Conditions

How has Fidel Castro managed to reign for 65 years?  The bottom line is he refuses to give up or give in.  His commitment is clear.

Cuban Christians live with the constant tension between Romans 13: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”—Romans 13:1 (KJV) and Acts 4: “Do you think God wants us to obey you or to obey him?  We cannot keep quiet about what we have seen and heard.”—Acts 4:19-20 (CEV)

Most Cuban Christians know that they may be putting their life on the line when they serve Jesus.  And there is a revival in Cuba.  Why?  The believers there refuse to give up or give in.

John Wesley is remembered for stating:  “Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergyman or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.”

Do I do that?  Is my commitment that strong?

Jesus said:  And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.—Luke 14:27 (NIV)

My trip to Cuba was an adventure, and also an education and made me reflect on my commitment and my leadership.

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Excel Leadership Network is planning a leadership connection and training event in Phoenix later this month.  We’ll be meeting, and then attending a Spring Training game.  My family loves to go to exhibition games in Arizona.  My wife, Lori wants to make it an annual tradition.  Yes, Lori is the instigator.  She’s not a huge sports fan, but she likes the quick break, the weather--its great in March in Arizona (and in Florida too!), the relaxing atmosphere, and she knows it’s an easy sell to the boys and me because there’s baseball!


But there’s an even bigger reason we like Spring Training.  There’s an attitude in Spring Training I wish we could adopt all year long.  The Spring Training outlook is one I am trying to implement every day.  Here are some elements to the Spring Training mindset:


1.   The Good Stuff Is Magnified.


Every good thing a player does in the spring is amplified.  Every success is a first and it is celebrated.  Since the sample size is low, the stats for the hot hitters are bloated.  Batting averages like .667 and .500 are common.  Every little accomplishment is a big deal.


The Apostle Paul tells us to:


Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! …whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.—Philippians 4:4 & 8 (NLT)


That’s natural in Spring Training.  We magnify the wins and think about the good stuff.


2.  The Bad Stuff Is Minimized.


One of the great elements of the Spring Training mindset is that mistakes are no big deal.  If a pitcher gets rocked and gives up a bunch of hits, he simply explains, “I was just getting my work in.”  If he gives up two homeruns, he can say, “It’s no big deal, I was just working on my changeup…”  If a hitter strikes out twice he says, “I was working on a new approach.” 


The “Just getting my work in…” approach covers a multitude of sins.  If a ballplayer messes up in spring, it isn’t the end of the world.


The Spring Training attitude communicates that we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously.


Paul gives us similar instructions in Philippians 3:  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)


Let’s not beat ourselves up over our mistakes.  We’re just getting our work in.  Let’s forget the past and look to Jesus.  That’s the attitude I want to have.


3.  This isn’t all there is.


On our family trips to Spring Training we typically watch our team, the Angels (they must be God’s team too, right, they are Angels!) lose more games than they win.  Currently they are way down in the Cactus League standings.  They don’t sport a great record.  Bur who cares?  This is the Cactus League.  Records here are meaningless.  The Big Leagues don’t start until later.


Cactus League and Grapefruit League standings are rarely ever published.  You have to search for them.  And honestly, I couldn’t even find the standings with a “Google” search.  And it doesn’t matter.  Because this isn’t all there is.


And Paul says standings here are earth don’t count all that much either:


But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…

--Philippians 3:7 (NLT)


I want to exude an attitude where I’m not all caught up in the here and now.  I want to be more concerned with the next life, with heaven, with the real big leagues. 


4.  Keep Reproducing


In Spring Training games the stars, the starters, and the veterans play a few innings and then they come out of the game and let the rookies and prospects play.  It is great to watch the stars perform, but it is also fun to watch the newbies and think about the future.


When the rookies come in it is obvious they are not the finished product yet.  The play is sloppier and there are more errors.  Routine plays don’t seem so routine.  But the message is clear:  it’s not just about this year.  The 2016 team is important.  But the clubs are also concerned about 2017 and 2018 and 2019 and 2020.  They know that even the best ballplayers age and slow down and retire and die.  They know they need to invest in the kids, the rookies, and the future.


Paul wrote about reproduction,   Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.—Philippians 3:17 (NLT)


I want to live with that attitude that embraces reproduction.  Yes, Easter 2016 is important.  But what am I doing to train others so that Easter 2017, 2018 and 2025 are covered?


5.  Hope springs eternal.


Recently I mentioned to a friend from the Northwest that I was going to Spring Training.  He immediately jumped in, “The Seattle Mariners are looking great this year.  They are tearing up the Cactus League!”  I responded, “Spring Training games don’t count!”  He wasn’t fazed, “This is going to be the Mariners year!  I can feel it!”  I stopped him and said, “Seriously, the Mariners stink!”  He put his arm around me and “JD, you are missing the whole point of Spring Training:  Hope Springs Eternal!”


The Spring Training attitude is one of hope.  Every slate is clean.  Every team starts off undefeated.  Every fan thinks, “This is our year!  I can feel it!”


The apostle Paul declared, I can do all this through him who gives me strength.—Philippians 4:13 (NLT)


I want to live with that hope!  I want that attitude.  And we can all have it.  After all, we have all made the team!  Jesus brought us on to His team and we are all first-stringers!  


So, I’m walking with a spring in my step today.  I’m trying to love with that Spring Training mindset.  How about you?  And by the way, this is going to be the Angels’ year.  I can feel it!








A while back I got a voicemail from one of our church planters saying that the largest church in the region decided to hold an Easter service right across the street from his new church--and at the exact time.  I left a message saying something along the lines of, “That stinks, but it shouldn’t even effect you.”  And he left me a message saying, he just needed to vent and he “felt weird that feelings of competition had risen to the surface.”


Weird feelings of competition--many of us pastors and planters struggle with them.  Certainly those of us who score high on the “StrengthsFinder” for “competition” and those with Type-A personalities have them.


Competitive feelings are strange.  We know that other churches are not the competition.  Recreation and busyness and obviously, the devil--they are the competition.  But we still fight the feelings.


In 1 Samuel 24, when David is hiding from Saul in the cave, and an opportunity arises, “David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe.  Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe.”--1 Samuel 24:4-5


David is conscience-stricken, he knows he should have done it because Saul was the Lord’s anointed.  When Saul finds out he feels strange too:


“Saul asked, ‘Is that your voice, David my son?’ And he wept aloud.  ‘You are more righteous than I,’ he said. ‘You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly.’”--1 Samuel 24:16-17


Even David and Saul felt the pangs of competition with other people who were supposed to be on the same side.


At a recent church conference some of us talked about how awkward those pastor conferences can be because of the tendency to compare yourself with everyone else.  Paul said, “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves they are not wise.”--1 Corinthians 10:12


So how do we handle these feelings of competition?


I must admit I’m not sure, I struggle with this.


In our first church plant, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the competition among churches was cut throat.  It was horrible.  I took out my feelings on the softball field and made it our goal to win the church leagues.  I’d think,  “Maybe your church is better than mine, but I went three-for-four and we ten-runned you, so there!”  Hey, lighten up on me, I was a kid.


In our second church, in Benicia, CA someone from the city paid for all of us evangelical pastors to go to a conference together.  We roomed together, ate together and became good friends.  It was a small enough town that if someone left my church to go to another one, I could talk to that pastor about it.  As friends, the competition was diffused.


In my present church I tried to befriend the local pastors, but over time and with my schedule, I haven’t been able to invest that time.  So, what do I do?


In the business book called, “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Hansson there is a chapter on competitors called, “Who Cares What They Are Doing?”  That chapter really helped me.  Here’s a few excerpts:


“In the end it’s not worth paying much attention to the competition anyway.  Why not?  Because worrying about the competition quickly turns into an obsession.  What are they doing right now?  Where are they going next?  How should we react?  Every little move becomes something to be analyzed.  And that’s a terrible mind-set.  It leads to overwhelming stress and anxiety.  That state of mind is bad soil for growing anything.”


“Focus on yourself instead.  What’s going on in here is way more important than what’s going on out there.  When you spend time worrying about someone else, you can’t spend time improving yourself..  Focus on competitors too much and you wind up diluting your own vision.”


“If you’re going to be like everyone else, why are you even doing this?  If you merely replicate competitors, there’s no point to your existence.  Even if you wind up losing it is better to go down fighting for what you believe in instead of just imitating others.”


The point is clear:  Let’s embrace our own uniqueness.


When Peter asked Jesus about John’s ministry, Jesus replied, “What is that to you?  You must follow me.”--John 21:22


God has great plans for you and me, let’s embrace that, let’s follow Him, and let’s not get too worried about what the other churches in our area are doing.


By the way, my friend’s church plant wasn’t effected at all by the large church meeting right across the street.  His new church had a ton of visitors and its largest crowd ever.  And that planter actually called up the pastor of the large church to encourage him, and invite him to lunch.  Now they are friends.





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Last Thursday our family said “Hello,” to our newest member as Ava Jean Pearring was born.  Lots of family showed up at the hospital.  Ava was crying when we walked in.  Most of us were crying tears of joy at some point in the experience.  She reported for duty on the same day pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training.  That made me cry, and I’m pretty sure she is an Angels’ fan.  My son Tim was crying when his wife, Nicci, who had just delivered their fifth child, quipped, “Labor wasn’t bad…I’m ready to do that again.”


Yesterday I got to say, “Hello,” to my son, Jake and his wife, Gionna who were in from the east coast.  They had spent the weekend with Gionna’s folks in Palm Springs, but my daughter, Tricia, who was home for a few weeks from China, and I sliced out a few hours to fly south to see them.  We had a great reunion at a breakfast.  Gionna’s mother cried when they said, “Good-bye.”  We made a quick stop for ice cream, then Tricia and I took Jake and Gionna to the Ontario airport and had to say, “Good-bye” so soon after the hellos.  Tricia was crying.  She tried to hide it, but I know she was crying because I was crying.


On our drive to the west side, I wanted Tricia to meet Michele, a new team member who had spent some time in China.  We spent about twenty minutes saying, “Hello,” and “Good-bye.”  Thankfully, there was no crying.


Then Tricia and I hopped back in the car and headed to Santa Monica.  We arrived to find my daughter-in-law, Sue, busy with her two-month-old twins.  Cole was crying.  “Hello!” we whispered, not wanting to wake Jordan.  “Wow, they are so big!” Tricia sighed.  “They’ve changed so much in just two weeks!’  Sue wondered when she can say, “Good-bye” to the feed—burp—change—try-to-get-them-to-sleep—repeating rhythm that is seemingly her entire life now.  “How are you doing, Sue?”  “I’m…okay,” she admitted.  I suspect she wanted to cry.


Then Jordan started crying and the twins took turns fussing and playing.  My son, Scott showed up for a few minutes in between work appointments.  “Hello! Hello” he stated as he hugged us.  The boys were asleep when we said our good-byes to Scott, but both boys were crying when we said, “Good-bye” to Sue.


Tricia was crying too.  Her last few days had been mostly filled with good-byes.  She is headed back to her home in China, not sure if she will see her siblings, nieces and nephews before next February and her Chinese New Year break.  My wife, Lori and I promise to visit her this Fall.  I am holding out hope we can see her this summer—that hope reduces my sadness.


Tricia and I dropped off our rental car at LAX, then boarded the shuttle.  We were leaving from different terminals--mine came before hers--and I suddenly realized we were going to have to say our hasty good-byes on a bus.  I hugged her, stepped out on to the curb, gathered myself and tried not to cry.  Tricia has been flying off to China for ten years now.  I’m not sure the good-byes are getting any easier for anybody.


Life is filled with hellos and good-byes.  You welcome a baby into your life, and the next thing you know, she’s moving to China.


Ministry is essentially a series of hellos and good-byes as well.  People come into your lives, then comes the good-bye.


In his amazing book, “Preaching,” Tim Keller suggests that due to the mobility in our culture, most people will only be in a church for about two years.  That’s a lot of coming and going!


The Beatles were on to a major chunk of life:  “You say Good-bye and I say Hello.”


So how can we make the most of all these hellos and good-byes?  If they don’t get easier, can we at least get better at them?


One of the most tear-jerking passages in the Bible is the Apostle Paul’s interaction with the leaders of the Ephesian church in Acts chapter 20:


When he had finished speaking, he knelt and prayed with them.  They all cried as they embraced and kissed him good-bye.  They were sad most of all because he had said that they would never see him again. Then they escorted him down to the ship.—Acts 20:36-38 (NLT)


The first time I remember encountering these verses was when my college pastor, Jerry, read it to a group of us leaders as he announced he was leaving.  He cried through the whole thing, barely getting through the passage.


Paul was crying, but he hadn’t known the Ephesians that long:


Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day...—Acts 20:31


Paul said, “Hello” and then he said, “Good-bye.”  Did he leave any clues on how to do this well?


The Apostle’s story leads to at least four suggestions for handling good-byes and hellos well:


1.  Make the Meeting


Paul had decided to sail on past Ephesus, for he didn’t want to spend any more time in the province of Asia. He was hurrying to get to Jerusalem, if possible, in time for the Festival of Pentecost.  But when we landed at Miletus, he sent a message to the elders of the church at Ephesus, asking them to come and meet him.—Acts 20:16-17 (NLT)


Let’s not skip the hellos and good-byes.


Paul could have sailed right on by, and passed on the painful parting.  Perhaps that was his original plan.  But he decided to set a meeting instead. 


It is so much easier to skip the farewell, or not even bother with another hello.  Did Ava need me to show up on her birthday?  No, not really.  But when she is twelve and we recount to her how everyone in the family who lived within driving distance came to the hospital just to welcome her, she’ll be pretty pleased.


Did Tricia and Michele need me to introduce them?  Maybe.  It was worth the time.


I’ve slithered away from enough farewells and passed up enough introductions to realize it is best to err on the side of making the meeting.


2.  Reduce the Regrets


When they arrived he (Paul) declared, “You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now I have done the Lord’s work…  I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes.  I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus… I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.—Acts 20:19-21 and 26-27 (NLT)


A great way to deal with hellos and good-byes is to make sure what is in between the two is as useful as possible.  Paul is pretty clear that he tried to be faithful.  As much as he could, he made the most of the time he had with folks.


Tricia and I only had a couple hours with Jake and Gionna.  We tried to make them count.  I asked the pertinent questions:  “When are you having a baby, and when are you moving back closer to me!?”  And I also asked, “How can we pray for you?”  We only had a couple hours with Scott and Sue and the twins.  So we held the boys, I changed a poopy diaper (That is recorded here, I never have to do it again.) and we bought dinner.  (Gionna’s folks bought breakfast—thanks!)


Lori and I try to free up our schedule when Tricia is here—it reduces any regrets when she leaves.  Making the time we have count helps when it is over.


3.  Clarify the Call


“And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead.  But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.—Acts 20:22-24 (NLT)


Parting is such great sorrow—but when you know you really have to go, it’s a bit easier.


Lori and I struggle with our daughter living so far away, but we have peace knowing she senses she is exactly where she wants to be.


Too many people leave, not out of call, but out of dysfunction.


4.  Commence the Crying


“You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears.—Acts 20:19 (NLT)


Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.—Acts 20:31 (NLT)


Paul was crying as he told them about how much crying he’d done while he was with them.  Crying is simply a part of life and ministry. 


That famous verse that is easy to memorize, also packs a point:  “Jesus wept.”—John 11:35 (NIV)


Plan on crying.  Deal with it.  Crying is a part of life, it’s a part of family, it’s a part of ministry.  And it’s a part of baseball too.  Those who really think there’s no crying in baseball are obviously not Angel fans.


The good news is there will come a day when we don’t have to cry anymore:


God himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”—Revelation 21:3-4 (NLT)


Until then, expect hellos, expect good-byes.  And expect some tears.

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“Leaders are readers.”  Somebody said that.  It was probably someone who was trying to sell books to a crowd of leaders.  But there is some truth to it.  The best leaders are growing, they are flexible and the most common way to learn is through reading and listening to new material that will stretch us beyond where we are.


So in 2015 I set a modest goal to read 12 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 17 books in 2015.




1.  “Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great:  The Arts of Leadership and War.”


My top book from last year also had perhaps the strangest title.  Ancient Greek historian, Xenophon compiled Cyrus the Great’s memoirs of how he united the Medes and the Persians.  The leadership principles Cyrus discloses are amazing and effective.  It was a quick read, it helped me understand the history behind some Old Testament books like Ezra, and I am partial to anyone who’s middle name is, “The Great.”  (For years I made, I mean, encouraged my little sisters to address me as, “The Great” but somehow it never stuck.)


I asked members of several team s I lead to read, or at least skim tyhis book and bring their favorite principle for discussion during our regular meetings, and it was always a winner.


2.  “Give and Take” by Adam Grant.


Organizational psychologist and Wharton professor, Adam Grant looks at people through three lenses:  Are they givers, takers or matchers.  His insights on performance, the incredible benefits of generosity and even how to deal with people who are only out for themselves are incredibly helpful.  I love his take on Michael Jordan too.


3.  “The Circle Maker” by Mark Batterson.


“The Circle Maker” is now the best book I’ve ever read on prayer, surpassing, “Too Busy Not to Pray” by Bill Hybels and even, “How to Pray” by R.A. Torrey.  Batterson’s simplicity of “Dream Big, Pray Hard” helped me take my prayer life to a new level.


4.  “4 Disciplines of Execution” by Chris McChesney and Sean Covey.


The 4 Disciplines 4DX) is a comprehensive guide to goal setting that makes a difference.  We’ve been using these techniques in coaching and cohorts within our network with excellent responses and results.


5.  “Talk Like Ted:  Nine Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds” by Carmine Gallo.


Gallo examines the top “Ted Talks” and what those speeches have in common.  It ‘s a helpful guide for teaching teams and presenters.




“Leading Church Multiplication” by Tom Nebel and Steve Pike. 


It is my honor to mention this book because perhaps my friend, Tom Nebel, will now feel obligated to buy me dinner.




“Start with Why” by Simon Sinek.


There’s an eighteen minute Ted Talk with this same title that I hear is good.  And there’s a five minute version that probably is even better.  The book was a disappointment considering the acclaim Sinek’s book, “Leaders Eat Last” received.  “Start with Why” seemed to be a wordy plug for Apple products that even my friends who love Apple found tedious.  I went through this with one of the leadership teams I serve on, and after numerous requests to move on to something more valuable, we all decided to finish it just so we could brag about completing an arduous task together.


That’s my list.  What’s yours?  I’ve upped my goal for reading in 2016 so I need your suggestions. 


Feel free to send me your list of top books of 2015 at  (Only submit a “Bottom Book” if you have five top ones!)  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 Stephen A. Füssle, Lead Pastor, The Awakening Church, Maui, HI


“Mindset” by Carol S. Dweck Ph.D.

For the sake of saving space, I'm just going to give you my top pick for this year. Bill Gates recently put out an article of his top five picks. He reads 60 books a year, wow what an insatiable reader.   One of the books that I purchased off his top five list was Mindset by Carol S. Dweck Ph.D.   It has proven to be invaluable in the season and relates heavily to our identities in Christ and how that affects leadership.


Mahalo & God Bless You!


From Jason Wolfe, Lead Pastor, Life Church, Lancaster, PA


Here are my best books from 2015


1. Leadership Pain by Samuel Chand.   "If you're not bleeding, you're not leading."


2. The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth.  By John Maxwell


3. The Entrepreneur Rollercoaster.  By Darren Hardy


4. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller


5. Simply Good News by N.T. Wright


Least Favorite - "A Fellowship of Differents" by Scott McKnight.  While I loved the premise of the book (diversity and the Church) - and there are a couple great concepts in it -  the book seemed to wonder far off its focus.  Should have been less than half its length.  I forced myself to finish it (something I rarely do) hoping I'd find some gold at the end of the rainbow.  No such luck.


From John Pearson, John is the president of John Pearson Associates, Inc., a board governance and management consulting firm in San Clemente, California


Great article!


Leadership Briefs: Shaping Organizational Culture to Stretch Leadership Capacity, by Dick Daniels

TRUST: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness, by Dan Busby

The Attacker’s Advantage: Turning Uncertainty Into Breakthrough Opportunities, by Ram Charan

Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders, by Peter F. Drucker

Broken and Whole: A Leader’s Path to Spiritual Transformation, by Stephen Macchia

A Year With Peter Drucker: 52 Weeks of Coaching for Leadership Effectiveness, by Joseph A. Maciariello

Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, by John Ortberg

Breakthrough: Unleashing the Power of a Proven Plan, by Randon A. Samelson

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, by Simon Sinek

Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work, by Michael Lee Stallard, Jason Pankau, and Katharine P. Stallard


Here's a link to my list:






From David Bennett, Financial Guru and Excel Board Member


Here's the first ones that come to mind:

Books – Talk like TED, Give and Take, Lead with a Story, Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great:  The Arts of Leadership and War, 4 Disciplines of Execution


Non-leadership stuff – The 80/10/10 diet, The life changing magic of tidying up, Misbehaving, the road to serfdom


From Brian Burman, Gateway Church, Visalia, CA


Decisive:  How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, by Chip Heath and Dan heath







I felt pretty amped up as I drove to that critical meeting in June of 2014.  I had planned on making a major move, dropping a huge announcement and presenting my game-changing challenge.  About an hour out from my destination, it hit me, “Maybe I should pray about this?”  Feeling a bit guilty that I had just now thought about praying, I turned off the radio and asked, “So God, what do you want me to do?”


And then I experienced one of those fairly rare occurrences where it seemed like I heard God speak.  I don’t think it was audible, but the words, “Not now, wait, relax…” jumped out at me. 


A quietness settled over me, and instead of disrupting the meeting with my big pronouncement,

I calmly sat back, asked a few questions and did my best to relax.


That was one of the occasional incidences when it appeared that God was speaking directly to me.  They do not happen all the time and we could discuss and critique how, why and when such things transpire.  But instead, I’d like to discuss what to do when God doesn’t speak.


The ride home that day was filled with prayer, but I didn’t hear God speak.  “Now what?” was my cry for days, for weeks, and even for months.  But I didn’t pick up any special message from God.  God felt silent.


So what do we do when God appears silent?  What do we do when we pray but nothing seems to happen?  What are we supposed to do when it feels like God is on a break?


That question leads us to Christmas, because the story of the birth of Jesus emerges after God has been silent for four centuries.  There is a gap between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, and that gap is commonly referred to as, “The 400 Silent Years.”


God had been speaking through prophets, and leaders and even miracles.  But then he stopped.  The “Gone Fishin’,” “On Vacation,” “return to Sender” signs all looked like they were up. 


Facing a silence of four months was daunting for me, but 400 years?  What do we do when God is silent?




The last message we see from God before his extended silence was this:


“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives.  His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

--Malachi 4:5-6 (NLT)


Then the first thing we hear from God when he broke his silence was the angelic message to a Jewish priest named Zechariah.  The angel announces that this temple servant and his wife will have a son:


“Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.  You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.  And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God.  He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

--Luke 1:8-17 (MLT)


The first thing God said after 400 years of silence was the same thing he said before going silent.


When I don’t hear from God, I can always go back to the last time I heard from Him, and all the things He has already said quite clearly.


In the Fall of 2014 while I was waiting to hear next steps from God, I heard a radio interview of Green Bay Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.  His team had started the year on a down note, and Packer fans were beginning to panic.  Here is how Rodgers responded:  "Five letters here just for everybody out there in Packer-land: R-E-L-A-X.  Relax. We're going to be OK.


I’m not a Packer fan, not at all.  So I don’t believe God would speak through a Green Bay QB.  But I took that quip as a reminder in the silence to go back to what God has already said.




When God did break his silence, he spoke to people who were walking closely with him.


Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.--Luke 1:5-7 (NLT)


“Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”  Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!--Luke 1;28-30 (NLT)


Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man…--Matthew 1:19 (NLT)


In the Christmas story, God spoke clearly, but it appears he only spoke directly to those who were living godly lives.




Let me try to set the historical scene.  In history there have been four major world empires.  First were the Babylonians, then the Medo-Persians—the Persians and the Medes.  These two empires were predominantly eastern empires.  Then came Alexander the Great and the Greeks, which was the first western empire.  Then came the Roman Empire. 


At the close of the Old Testament, the Babylonian empire had ended, the Persians were in control, and the Jews had been allowed to move back into Jerusalem.  Then Alexander the Great conquered the world, he took over Jerusalem, he ushered in a universal language—Greek—and brought in the Western dominance.  When he died, his kingdom was divided into four chunks and two of them—the Egyptian and Syrian groups vied back and forth for control over Jerusalem.  Then in about 70 B.C. the Romans came in, conquered the world and controlled Jerusalem. 


When power shifted from the east to the west, the pagan eastern empires began deteriorating and disintegrating. Their religions had fallen upon evil days and hard times. The people became sick of the polytheism and emptiness of their pagan faiths—their religion, their so-called “gods” simply weren’t working. The Jews had gone through times of pressure and had failed in their efforts to re-establish themselves. There was a growing air of expectancy that the only hope they had left was the coming at last of the promised Messiah. In the East, the oriental empires had come to the place where the wisdom and knowledge of the past had disintegrated and they too were looking for something. When the moment came when the star arose over Bethlehem, the wise men of the East who were looking for an answer to their problems saw it immediately and came out to seek the One it pointed to.


The Apostle Paul put it this way, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…”--Galatians 4:4 (ESV)


God may have been silent during that 400-year gap, but he was also certainly busy.  In 400 years the world saw a universal language, a dominant culture, an Eastern curiosity and a tremendously expectant spirituality.  Would the good news about Jesus have been able to spread so wildly, so quickly and “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 NKJV) if Jesus had been born centuries earlier?  It sure looks like God was arranging circumstances every day, even if he wasn’t being especially chatty.


As I look back on what was happening around me, I’m amazed at how circumstances changed after that June 2014 meeting.   My “major move” probably would have resulted in a not-so-loud thud had I moved quickly.




There were 400 years of silence, but then God did speak: 


But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.—Luke 2:10-11 (NIV)


The silence, the waiting, the lack of response, the seemingly unanswered prayers—they were all worth it.  God knew what he was doing all along.

In January of 2015, after nearly eight months of asking, “What now, God?  What do you want me to do?”  It happened again.


I was out on a walk on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when I heard the words of that famed reformer, “'Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.'”  It hit me like the words of God. 


Then I read a verse from Proverbs that popped off the page:  “Be wise enough to know when…”—Proverbs 23:4 (NLT)


It was time to make my move, right? 


Not exactly.


I talked to my wife about it.  She said it was time.  I talked to my kids about it.  They all said they were excited about it.  I talked to my best godly friends, they encouraged me to move.  Then I got my inner circle of eight trusted advisers who I know follow God and have my best interest in mind.  They all agreed it was time.


I implemented the game-changing decision and have not had one second of regret since.


Does God really speak?  I am totally convinced that he does, I believe he works in that way.  But even more, I am convinced that even when God doesn’t speak, he is still at work.