Month: October 2009

Are people seeing anything at church?

When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. Acts 8:6 NIV

Can we transform our cities simply by attracting a crowd of people to a building once a week to hear a well-prepared, inspiring talk from a professional minister?  Of course we can’t! But that seems to be the focus of most pastors, including myself. Notice the crowds in Samaria were listening to Philip give an inspiring talk, but they only paid close attention because of the miraculous signs that also happened at the gatherings.

I am convinced that we must pray for the miraculous if we want to see real transformation in our cities and in our country.  I really believe in teaching correct theology and explaining Scripture in creative and compelling ways. But our preaching is not enough. God’s power must be on display if we want to win over skeptics, atheists and agnostics.  I don’t mind intellectual debates, but it is much easier to tell someone about Jesus after they have been miraculously healed of some disease.

I know many people believe God’s power is not available to us today as it was in the day of Philip, but I do. The number of stories told by Jesus, Paul and Peter that involve the intervention of heaven into the affairs of men on the earth are too numerous to ignore.  The original recipe of church involved the spice of the miraculous and I am ready to add it back to the mixing bowl.

Let’s be sensible and let’s follow sound doctrine. Let’s commit to being “weird free” and not allow our behavior to distract people from their gaze on Jesus.  Let’s aggressively pray for people to be healed and set free from bondages. 

I believe America today is not much different than Samaria, Corinth or Ephesus.  They needed the Gospel and we need the Gospel. I am convinced that people will listen closely to us as they did Philip if we will speak the plain truth in compelling ways and allow the miraculous to happen among us. Let’s pray for people to both hear the Gospel and to see the Gospel.

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Do you want to be famous?

Do you want to be famous? Do you have a secret desire for everyone to know your name or for people to admire you? It seems we have a cultural obsession with notoriety and attention. Right now in Colorado, a family is being accused of staging an elaborate hoax involving a homemade balloon and their young son for the sole purpose of attracting media attention. I am not the judge of this family’s motives. I will leave that to God, law enforcement officials and trained therapists. However, it has caused me to think about our need for attention.

I have had national media attention on several occasions in the past two years. I have appeared live on Larry King Live, Good Morning America, and I have been quoted by almost every major newspaper in the country, including the New York Times, the LA Times, and the Dallas Morning News. Believe me, notoriety is overrated.  It does nothing to feed your soul and does everything to feed your flesh.

Three years ago, before I became Senior Pastor of New Life Church, I told friends that my goal in life was to make Jesus famous and not myself. Of course, at that time, no one in the media knew my name and certainly no one cared about my opinion. It was easy to promise God that I would remain anonymous when anonymity was almost guaranteed.

The exposure to media attention has been both bothersome and flattering. Most of the interviews from media have been about topics that are sad or dark. But, make no mistake, any attention can be a slippery slope and better people than I have surrendered to the carnal desire to be noticed, even if the attention is negative. Thankfully, I have a wife and a close cadre of friends who hold me accountable and all of them have promised to break my kneecaps if I become too infatuated with myself.

The root causes of this need for attention are narcissism and egotism. Narcissism is the erotic gratification derived from the admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes, while egotism is an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Either way, both egotism and narcissism are fueled by the attention of others and only humility and repentance can set us free from their grips.

Certainly, some of us will be known more than others. We cannot always avoid the spotlight or the recognition that comes from leading something that is successful. But there is a difference between the spotlights finding us than us seeking the spotlight.  Our motives are the real issue.

What would happen if every local church and its leaders were committed to making Jesus famous and not themselves? Could it be that Jesus is longing for a group of people who are committed to real humility, anonymity and servant hood? How cool would it be if we were really successful doing things for God and no one noticed?

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The Experimental Church

Can we try something new at church if there is a risk it will fail? I believe church should be a place where we can experiment, take risks, start over and make changes. What would church be like if we held everything in open hands and were willing to try anything if it would possibly help us? What if there were no sacred cows? Can we experiment with new ideas in church or is this reserved only for the marketplace?


This fall at New Life, we planned, created and started three new things. Two of them have been great and are accomplishing exactly what we had hoped. One of them has not. It was an experiment that did not produce the desired results. Now what? Should we continue despite the bad results or should we tell the church the idea stinks and not do it anymore? Wouldn’t that damage our credibility as leaders to admit that an experiment failed or would it create an environment where everyone is given permission to take risks? I believe it will communicate to the church that we are a work in progress and we are willing to try anything even if it creates a mess that needs cleaning up later.


Here is what happened. We decided back in the summer to change our Sunday morning service times from 9am and 11am to 9:30am and 11:30am. There were lots of reasons we felt the need to change. The 11am was really full and we felt that by adding an extra half hour to both services, people would be more motivated to attend the early service and make room for new people in the later service. The new 9:30 service did increase dramatically, but 11:30 did not grow as we intended. People told us the later time meant their kids were eating lunch too late in the day and it was not good for families.


Lesson learned. Now what? We are going back to the old times – 9am and 11am on November 1st. Our experiment failed, but we learned something valuable – the old times were just fine.  No one harmed. Jesus is not offended, and there was no heresy involved. All in all, it was a successful mess.


Can church be a place of experiments? Can church become a place where everyone can try new things and make messes? It is in these messy environments where some of the world’s greatest inventions and ideas have come to the surface. I fear most churches have such a low tolerance for experiments and messes that the result is a void of new ideas and innovations.


I want New Life to have an experimental environment. I am not advocating impulsive or irrational decision-making because I do believe prayer, wisdom and due diligence are the best ways to make decisions. But even the best laid plans of mice and men can go awry. Let the experiments begin so the best ideas can surface. So what if, from time to time, a mop is needed in Aisle 4?

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“Big Mo”

Momentum is the strength or force gained by motion or through the development of events. That is the official definition. Every church either has forward momentum, or they are stagnant or worse yet, they are in decline. I call momentum “Big Mo”. When he is with you, it seems you can do anything, but without “Big Mo”, even the simplest obstacles appear like impassable mountains. Every leader wants “Big Mo” around because life is better with him than without him.

New Life lost “Big Mo” after two very dark days that happened 13 months apart in 2006 and 2007.  The results of those two cataclysmic events were devastating on many fronts. Trust was broken, our innocence was lost, and our world seemed to be crashing in around us. The Holy Spirit never left us and God’s love was very real to us, but “Big Mo” was nowhere to be found.

Then he suddenly reappeared at New Life in June of this year like a Christmas miracle. He came back and I was glad to see him because there were times when I was not sure I would ever see him again. I was beginning to believe he was like Big Foot, a fictional beast that others would sometimes claim to see but no one could ever capture.

Why did he come back to New Life? Am I genius leader? Did he come back out of sympathy? I am just now processing all that has happened, so I do not have all the answers. I know for sure that I am no genius, so I have marked that one off my list and I don’t think “Big Mo” is a sympathetic creature. He only hangs out with people who are ready to advance and take ground.

You see, “Big Mo” loves the windshield and not the rearview mirror. He hangs out with people who are looking ahead and not dwelling in the past. This summer, we did just that. We became convinced that God had not removed his lamp stand from New Life and we should get busy with our assignment. We began to dream about taking care of widows, orphans, and the poor. We began to dream about planting life giving churches around the world. We began to serve the needs of our city and we made a choice to pray with fervor and passion.

We are not moving real fast right now, but we are moving forward. The most important step in any journey is the very first one. We will pick up speed in the days ahead and our resources will match our growing vision. The poor will be helped, churches will be planted, and lives will be changed. The Holy Spirit is the one who decides where “Big Mo” spends his time and I am grateful God has sent him back to New Life.

Do you have “Big Mo” in your life right now? Are you moving forward with force or have you stalled? Are you in retreat? The first step is to deal with the past honestly and prayerfully so you can spend more time looking ahead through the windshield. The Holy Spirit will then send “Big Mo” back into your life and you will move forward with strength and force.

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I want to be a great parent

Being a parent is like jumping out of an airplane. You have only one chance to get it right.  By the time we figure it out, it’s all over. I want to be a great parent. I want to figure some stuff out before Abram and Callie leave the house. Believe me, I am no expert, but I have some insight that might be helpful if you are on the same journey as me.  Some of this I learned because I paid attention to what really great parents were doing with their children and some of this I learned from my own painful failures.

1.       Be there

The more time you spend with your kids, the less money you will have to spend on guilt offerings. You know what I mean. You work nonstop and then spend huge amounts of money on gifts or trips to make up for your absence. If you spend consistent time, your kids will not care as much about the trips or gifts. All they ever really wanted was lots of hang time anyway. I have a demanding job that requires a lot of hours and emotional energy, so I understand how tough this can be. Say no to more stuff, manage your time well during the day and get home as soon as possible.

2.       Be a filter

What they see and what they hear will go a long way in determining our children’s values and worldview. Pam and I have always been very conservative with the movies, cartoons, video games and music we allow in our home.  There are lots of great shows and movies for kids today, but there is also a lot of media that is crude, sexual, and violent. Just because the characters on the screen are animated does not mean it is suitable for kids to watch. Preview the movies, watch the shows first and then let your kids watch it. Also, only let your kids go to other homes and hang out with other kids that have the same values and make sure the grandparents enforce your media convictions.

3.       Be consistent

Say what you mean and mean what you say. The rules today will be the rules for tomorrow. Don’t make a lot of rules, but please enforce the few you have. Kids want boundaries, but get frustrated when the boundaries are not clear or when the boundaries constantly change. Become a predictable parent and you will most likely get predictable kids with fairly predictable behavior.

4.        Be rested

This is one of the biggest mistakes young parents make. They take their kids on all day shopping trips and then wonder why their kids are throwing fits in the mall at 8pm. They did not have a nap and they are exhausted. That is not their fault. They need a routine that includes lots of rest and some quiet time. We flood their senses with outside stimulation and then wonder why they are wired to the ceiling and acting like little monsters.  Plan your day around their rest schedule and make sure they are home at night and you will get better behavior.

5.       Be passionate

Kids who become passionate followers of Jesus either come from homes where Jesus was not mentioned or they come from homes where the parents were passionate for Jesus. Lukewarm parents rarely produce passionate children. If we are casual in our beliefs, our kids will reject those beliefs altogether once they leave our homes. It would be better for our kids if we were pagans than if we told them we love Jesus, but produced no evidence to prove it to them. Kids can spot posers, especially if the posers are their parents.

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Are we just busy?


Sometimes I think we judge the success of our churches with how much stuff is happening and how many people come to the stuff. I like it when we have stuff and I like it when people come to the stuff, but I want to evaluate our success from a different grid.


My question for you is this – what does church provide for you that is helping transform you into a more committed follower of Jesus? What do you take away from the Sunday worship gatherings? Has your participation in a small group caused you to grow, remain stagnant or caused you spiritual harm? What resources could the church provide that would equip you, your family and your friends to be more mature disciples?


These are dangerous questions for church leaders to ask because the results could cause major changes to programs that are now considered sacred cows. Are we willing to make the painful changes if it means better results for the people we are leading? Could the results mean a major shift of the ministry budget? Could the results mean some staff is not needed while more staff is needed in areas that have been ignored?


The team here at New Life is about to ask these questions. I am bracing myself for the answers. We will not know the results for a few months because we want to be thorough but I can guarantee that everything is on the table for discussion. Sometimes putting a dent in the universe requires honest evaluation and courageous change.


We may also find that we are doing better than we think. It is possible we have strategically positioned ourselves to produce disciples and not many things need to change. That would be great, but what would be better is a healthy streamlined church that is operating in its calling with full forward momentum. Stay tuned!

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Why are we counting?

New Life was recently named one of the 100 fastest growing churches in America and one of the 100 largest churches in America. It was quite an honor to be named on both lists, but it also caused our team to discuss the purpose of counting attendance. Our conclusion – it is not the most important measurement or indicator of success.


I don’t think it is wrong to count attendance. Jesus knew how many people needed food and he told a story of a missing sheep. He knew how many people were on that hillside that afternoon and he knew one of the 100 sheep was missing. So counting is ok it seems.


The problem with the list in the magazine is that it can cause pastors to compete for people in the seats instead of things that more important. Attendance matters and it can be a sign that a church is doing great things for the Kingdom, but attracting a crowd on the weekends is the not mandate of the Great Commission.


I would rather count and celebrate the number of people who have said yes to following Jesus, or the number of people who have been baptized. Why not focus all of our attention on the number of people who have been mobilized to minister in the city or the number of people who have taken the next step to becoming more like Jesus?


I made the decision this week to not look at my attendance numbers for a season. We will still count, but I do not want to know the number so I can focus on the more important things. I do not want to be distracted by the ebb and flow of attendance or allow a low attendance weekend to discourage me. I also do not want a really high attendance weekend to lure me into any false perceptions of success.


Success can only be measured by people being saved, baptized and formed into disciples. For sure, our church will grow when these things happen and we will have to add worship services and open new campuses to accommodate the crowds. I just want my focus to be on the main thing right now and not become infatuated with our name on some list.

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