Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Graduating from Bethel Seminary this weekend!

The past 18 months have been a whirlwind of things, which is in large part why my blogging has lagged during that period. We purchased some rental properties, we got married, and now I am graduating from Seminary with a Masters of Divinity with my concentration in Transformational Leadership!

A little over 4 years ago I arrived on the campus of Bethel Seminary, with no idea what God had in store for me. I have seen and done so much the past 4 years, it has been an amazing journey. Now comes the scary part, stepping out into the great unknown. I don't as of yet have a job offer. Student loans are coming. Bills have to be paid. I expect the next few months to be very interesting, and hopefully in a good way. It is my prayer to move into full time ministry soon, but we'll see what God has in store for me. I'm trying to be patient, which is not always one of my stronger points.

June 1, 7:30pm Communion for graduates, families, friends
June 2, 3pm Commencement

Following Commencement we'll be having a small gathering at our house for friends and family to relax and celebrate!

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Perry Noble - Dealing With Critics - Five Questions That I Ask

The following comes from Pastor Perry Noble's blog. Perry is the lead pastor of NewSpring Church, a church that is becoming more and more influential on my thinking lately. Perry has assembled an incredible staff, and they are making a difference in Anderson, SC. I had the opportunity to talk with one of their Home Groups pastors a few weeks ago, and will be blogging on that discussion soon.


I have been a part of several pastors Q & A sessions in the past year–leading some and participating in others–and in EVERY session that I attended the question, “How do you deal with criticism” surfaced.

I will have to admit that I am NOT an expert in this area…I am still learning; however, I believe in order for a pastor (or church leader) to finish well he has to learn how to deal with this issue. Jesus dealt with it, so did the Apostle Paul…we all will. One of the number one factors in pastors leaving the ministry is discouragement…and so here are several questions that I ask when criticism flies my way…

#1 - How Well Does This Person Know Me?

One of the things that we have to learn as pastors is just because someone has a blog or knows how to type an e-mail…that does not make them an expert. (Yes, I put myself in this category.)

I cannot tell you the number of blog posts I have read and e-mails that I have received from people calling me prideful, a heretic, saying that I am going to hell…and those are the nice ones!!!

Pastors, you’ve got to understand WHO is doing the criticizing. People will often act before they think (I do) and make snap judgments on your character based on one line you wrote on your blog or something you said in a sermon in which they did not listen to the entire context.

And…to be honest, those are the people I do not listen to. I can’t! I don’t have time.

BUT…I do listen to those closest to me. I have created an open atmosphere among the leaders here at NewSpring…and behind closed doors I have been both encouraged and rebuked. You’ve got to have people around you who are willing to tell you the truth or this does not work.

AND…I listen to the people in our church, who are neck deep in ministry with us…their opinion matters! But those who don’t know me–I don’t have time to try to convince them I’m a good person…and if I try then they call me arrogant and say I should be more humble. :-)

#2 - What Attitude Does The Person Criticizing Have?

Bottom line, if someone comes at me with a negative, condemning attitude…I write it off. The Bible says that we are called to speak the truth…but we are called to do so in love.

#3 - Does What The Person Is Saying Pass Through The Filter Of Scripture?

DANG…I heard Erwin McManus say this once…and it has impacted me ever since. When someone comes at me with, “I think this,” and, “I think that,” but cannot back up their argument with Scripture…I write them off.

Let me say this–Scripture IN CONTEXT, I have discovered that there are some people out there who can make the Bible say anything they want it to say by misquoting God’s Word.

But Scripture in context…I will listen to that. For example, a few weeks ago a friend and I had some differences and I did not speak to this person for several days. Things were tense because we work around one another. She confronted me on this and said, “The Bible says in Ephesians 4:26 that we are not supposed to let the sun go down on us while we are angry…I would say you have done that.”

I was busted–she was right…she confronted me with a non-judgmental attitude and used Scripture in context…and I repented because I was wrong.

#4 - Is This Criticism Personal Or Shared By Others?

Pastors…here is the truth. We can receive hundreds of e-mails telling us how wonderful the sermon was…and one telling us that we are horrible preachers…and we will ignore the one hundred and focus on the one that was negative!

We all do it–I am the world’s worse!!!

OR–we will fall for the line, “I’ve been talking to a lot of people…and everyone is saying…” And then they will unload their personal agenda on us and say that everyone is saying the exact same thing. Which in most cases is not true. In fact, what I have discovered is that a person who usually says things like this don’t really have a lot of people who will talk to them anyway. Seriously!

And…if it is always the same person saying that “everyone is saying,” but they are the only person who is saying anything…then ask them who “everyone” is–this will usually shut them up!

#5 - Is This Worth My Time?

I used to try and fight every single ounce of criticism that came my way…and I just can’t do it anymore, and neither can you.

Now, there are some things that are worth my time…and I do address issues on the blog from time to time that I feel are necessary.

BUT…what I have discovered is that the majority of the criticism I get simply isn’t worth my time. I am NOT going to change the person’s mind…and “friendly debate” is out of the question…so I just move on.

I am JUST getting to where I can do this. I used to search & see what other bloggers were saying about me…but I don’t do that anymore–and neither should you! It robs your joy!!!

I don’t know if this helps you–but it has helped me. Pastors, we will always experience hurt in ministry. But, if I may use a sports analogy, the players that we most admire are the ones that play hurt and still make things happen. This rung true with me at C3 this past year when Craig Groeschel said that pastors play hurt every week.

  • Craig plays hurt
  • Ed Young plays hurt
  • Mark Driscoll plays hurt
  • Rob Bell plays hurt
  • Erwin McManus plays hurt
  • Rick Warren plays hurt

We all play hurt…but that is a part of finishing well…knowing that it will all work out in the end.

God bless…

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Friday, May 25, 2007

The Gospel Coalition

Last week a group of some of my favorite pastors got together at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for the first ever Gospel Coalition Conference.  A couple of the pastors involved in in this event were Mark Driscoll, Don Carson, Tim Keller, John Piper, Crawford Loritts, Philip Ryken, and Ligon Duncan to name just a few.  Out of this event has come a foundational document outlining their beliefs (confessional statement) and theological vision for ministry.  It's worth a read.

Both Justin Buzzard and Justin Taylor blogged the conference if you want more specific and details on the break out sessions.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

3 Fundamental Rules of Church Marketing

Church Relevance - Issue 16

February 2007

by Kent Shaffer 

In church marketing, the right choices can be a catalyst for growing
your church and creating bigger impacts with the people you want to
reach. Although the best choice is not always clear, you can be
prepared by learning fundamental principles such as the following three

Rule #1 :: Don’t begin with marketing.

Instead of rushing off to purchase advertisements and print
postcards, pause and consider your church’s marketability. Ask
yourself, “Is my church worth marketing?” Is there anything about your
church that would dissuade guests from returning? Are your facilities
clean and well-maintained?  Are your volunteers and staff friendly and
well-trained? Are the sermons boring and lacking meat? The quickest way
to kill a bad product is with good marketing. In contrast, quality
products thrive even without marketing. Word of mouth will often carry
them to success, and the same is true for your church. Marketing may
get people through the door, but marketability is the key to guest
retention. As with anything, practice it in moderation. Don’t nitpick
and focus too much on excellence. Simply put, be sure you always offer
guests a positive church experience and keep challenging yourself to
improve that experience.

Rule #2 :: Map it out.

Any useful map has three important parts – a starting point, a
destination, and a route. Your church’s marketing should also have
these parts. As your starting point, you must have a solid
understanding of what your church is. Know your mission, your vision,
and the fundamental values and ideas that drive your church. In other
words, know your church’s brand. Your destination is the people that
God has called you to reach. They are your target audience. But getting
from Point A to Point B needs a route that connects the two. This route
is how your church communicates its message, and it is your job to
determine the most efficient route. Just as a map might offer ten or
more different routes to reach a destination, your church has hundreds
of communication routes to choose from. How you communicate must
reflect your church’s brand, or your message will not be trusted. And
your communication must be relevant, otherwise it will be ignored.

Rule #3 :: Cost does not always equal quality.

Just because a newspaper ad costs $600 does not mean it is worth it.
In fact, some of the most expensive advertising methods can be useless
if everyone is using them. Too many ads create clutter, and clutter
makes ads ineffective. Doing a little homework can save your church
hundreds of dollars. Explore what cheaper yet equally effective
alternatives are available. A good starting point is to think about how
your audience spends most of their time and to then determine what
opportunities exist or could be created to reach them during these
moments. Do not assume that the size of your church budget determines
the quality of your marketing.

Some might view it as an unconventional approach to marketing to
begin with these three principles of excellence, good communication,
and stewardship. However, practicing them will help your church more
efficiently and effectively reach its community.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Holy Discontent: Fueling the Fire That Ignites Personal Vision by Bill Hybels

Last August at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit Bill Hybels presented on what he called "Holy Discontent". It resonated. Deeply. Leaders the world over began adding this to their thoughts and vocabulary. I know it made a big impact on me, and nearly a year later there isn't a week that goes by that it doesn't cross my mind. That is powerful if you ask me, that level of impact on my life from a 40 or so minute speaking session. So with that as the back drop, Hybels has written a new book (not yet released) on this very subject. It is called Holy Discontent: Fueling the Fire That Ignites Personal Vision and will be shipping late next month it appears. To go along with it, there is also Living and Leading from Your Holy Discontent: A Companion Guide for Ministry Leaders. I've added it to my summer reading list and suggest you do as well. I haven't seen it get much press (yet) but it will. Come August, following the Leadership Summit '07, this book will be going like a wild fire, and I suspect rightfully so.

For the record, I don't care if you do or don't like Hybels, his church, mega-churches or anything of that sort. This book and it's subject transcend all of that. If you are a leader in a ministry, or a potential leader you will want to get your hands on this book.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

NewSpring Home Groups part 1

Two weeks ago Wednesday I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to Tom Haren of NewSpring Church for about 90 minutes on the phone about small groups. Tom is one of their Home Groups Pastors, overseeing roughly half of the church's small groups. If you are not familiar with them, NewSpring Church is located in Anderson, SC and has grown since started in 1999 to over 8000 people every Sunday. This church is doing some great things, so I wanted to learn from them how they are making small groups work.

My conversation with Tom was primarily me asking a question, and him responding, then us both chasing those thoughts down a few rabbit trails. Since I didn't record our exact conversation, rather took notes, I will just summarize my thoughts and the responses given by Tom. I do have Tom's permission to blog on this. Tom actually contacted me after I had sent a note to Perry Noble asking if I could talk with his staff about small groups.

From the NewSpring web site:
What are Home Groups?

Home Groups are an important part of our ministry at NewSpring. Our groups are made up of adults of all ages, stages of life and spiritual maturity. These groups take part in fellowship, Bible study, prayer and accountability. Each group consists of six to seven married couples or 10-12 individuals that meet on a regular basis in someone’s home.

It is our belief that connecting with other members and attendees will allow each person the opportunity to experience the fullness of Jesus Christ. By participating in a group, you will not only build lasting friendships with other believers, you will also experience community as described in Acts 2. To join a group, come and check out our next GroupLink.
I started with 3 key questions for Tom, and then lots of follow up questions. I emailed my questions to Tom ahead of time, so that he could look at them as we talked.
1. First, how have you been dealing with rapid growth and getting people into small groups?
2. Second, on a day to day basis, how do you get people matched up with groups?
3. Third, could you describe your leadership structure of your Small Groups?

On the first question, Tom started by giving me a bit of background on NewSpring and their Home Groups. NewSpring is currently running around 8000 (and growing!) people for weekend services. They have over 1250 people plugged into their groups, and were having an opportunity for hundreds more to get into a group last week (I'll explain this later). NewSpring is intentionally a church with small groups, not a church of small groups for those who understand that nuance. NewSpring divides their groups between singles and married people, generally not mixing the two groups.

NewSpring has recently changed the way they get people into their Home Groups. Until about 6 months ago they were struggling with this, but they seem to have found a system that works well for them. They call this system Group Link.

from the NewSpring web site:
What is GroupLink?

At GroupLink, you will have the opportunity to meet people who are at the same stage of life as you and who live in the same general area. GroupLink is the event where you can get connected with a Home Group. You can sign up closer the next GroupLink online or at the info kiosk.
Group Link (GL) is a quarterly event for NewSpring, and they shoot for early fall, early December and early Spring to space them out to fit their needs and church calender. Group link is an evening event (with child care!) where people wanting to get into a Home Group have a chance to hear from the leadership of the church, and then the group leaders. The event has a catered meal provided at no cost to the participants (this past one was catered by Olive Garden with salad, entree and desert!) as an additional draw for perspective group members. The catering comes directly out of the Home Groups budget.

NewSpring clearly make GL a big deal, and invest considerable resources into making sure it is a success. They expected to have nearly 400 people at their last Group Link! From that, their experience tells them that roughly 70% of the people will find their way into groups. During the GL, the people are divided into groups, and the various leaders come to each group and talk about their particular Home Group. They have recently switched to this system, and have found that people are connecting better through this system. Previously the people had to go around and talk with the leaders, and they found that was frustrating both the leaders and the people looking for groups. This simple transition has moved their GL events from being viewed negatively by staff and leaders to a real positive for all involved.

The promotion for Group Link is done in a number of ways, but the primary and most effective way of getting the word out is that Senior Pastor Perry Noble (or whoever is preaching that week) will give it a plug from stage in the week(s) leading up to the event. With the endorsement of the pastor from stage there is a boost of credibility and importance lent to this type of event.

The week before a GL event, there is a training called Synergy for all the new group leaders. This gets everyone on the same page, and up to speed on how the Group Link event will go down. To be a Home Group leader, NewSpring requires that all leaders have gone through Synergy and are members of the church. The Home Groups pastors also do brief interviews with prospective leaders, going through testimonies and some other questions to make sure this person is equipped and ready to be a leader in their church.

The first 8 weeks following the Group Link, all of the Home Groups follow the same curriculum - Willow Creek's Fully Devoted and then Willow Creeks Groups: The Life-Giving Power of Community. This establishes a solid understanding for the participants in what the church views as the roles for their Home Groups. It is also a good curriculum to begin to build a cohesive group. It helps break the ice and get discussions flowing.

This is just the tip of the iceberg on my interview with Tom Haren. I'll post more as I continue to process my thoughts and have time. Huge Kudos to Perry Noble for making his staff available for this, and to Tom Haren for taking time out of his busy life and ministry to talk with me about this. Tom and Perry you've both been a huge blessing to me!

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Bill Hybels unveils Willow Creek's Future Vision

(From Christian Post.com)

Christian Post Reporter

Wed, May. 02 2007 12:16 PM ET

Willow Creek Community Church, one of the largest and most
influential churches in the nation, is unleashing a new vision that
would expand its already far-reaching impact around the world.

Senior Pastor Bill Hybels unleashed Vision 2010 to the Willow Creek family in a kick-off sermon series this past weekend, calling congregants to a bolder unprecedented outreach and impact for the coming years. And the "two-word term that keeps reverberating in this vision is multiplied impact," said Hybels. Multiplied impact will happen on three levels – the surrounding community, within the church itself, and the world.

The first big idea that Hybels and his Willow Creek team in South Barrington, Ill., heard "loud and clear" during their months of strategic planning and prayer was to raise the level of risk associated with reaching people far from God all across the Chicagoland area. That means a bolder witness and reaching out to the lonely and confused people across racial and socioeconomic lines. This approach comes out of Hybels' Just Walk Across the Room book and evangelism campaign which was named Best Outreach Resource of 2006 by Outreach magazine.

The megachurch and its regional campuses have at least 9,000 more seats to fill at their current locations, Hybels noted. Through a bolder approach to outreach, Willow anticipates God to move in supernatural ways and see His power released. The second idea Hybels unfolded was to rethink how they coach Christ followers as they pursue a fully surrendered life.

A survey conducted among Willow Creek attendants had revealed "mind-blowing" results, as Hybels put it. It asked how satisfied attendants were with how Willow Creek serves them at various stages in their spiritual development. Pre-Christians, or people who are still seeking and exploring Christianity, rated Willow Creek "very high." Ratings dropped slightly among new Christians but were still "fantastic." Adolescent Christians rated the church as good. But fully
devoted followers of Christ indicated less satisfaction, saying they are not sure the church is helping them as much at this stage in their life.

"We want more of the deep truths of God," they said, according to Hybels.

In Vision 2010, Willow Creek leaders will be altering the way they coach to teach attendants how to be "self-feeding individuals" early on in their spiritual development. Rather than expecting to be spiritually fed each week with a 35-40 minute sermon on Sundays, congregants will start learning how to take responsibility for their own feeding. Everything else – the worship services and the classes at Willow Creek – will just be "whip cream" on top.

Willow Creek's third big idea is to unleash unprecedented levels of compassion into the broken world. The megachurch already feeds thousands locally through food pantries and sends aid overseas for AIDS relief and tsunami recovery. But Hybels believes they're just in the "warm-up stage of what God is going to do in and through this church in unleashing unprecedented amounts of compassion and justice and fighting for the poor and oppressed in this world."

This is where "multiplied impact" comes in.

"When God moves in our church more and more, then it stirs other churches," said Hybels. "As the watching world sees Willow do this, there will be multiplied impact around the nation and around the world."

"God has a destiny for you beyond what your faith can imagine," the senior pastor kept recalling from his own Christian walk and the building of Willow Creek and repeating to the church. God’s greatest miracles are in our future, not our past."

Willow Creek Community Church began more than 30 years ago with Hybels and a group of young students at the Willow Creek Theater in Palatine and now has an average attendance of
20,000 each week at its newly built auditorium and regional campuses. After starting the Willow Creek Association in 1992, the megachurch has trained and impacted hundreds of thousands of church leaders. The WCA currently has around 12,000 member churches around the world.

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Further proof that Tony Campolo has lost his way...

I am not one of those watch-bloggers. You know the type, lying in wait for someone to slip up so they can pounce. But from time to time something comes along and bugs me enough to speak out about it. This is one of those times.

I have commented before that I don't like some of Tony Campolo's theology. He has a new book out called Letters to a Young Evangelical (Art of Mentoring) that furthers my belief that he has lost his way and is trekking down the wrong path. I thumbed through this a few weeks ago in a local bookstore and was disappointed by it. I saw today that Justin Taylor of Between Two Worlds picked up on this as well. Justin points out that Christianity Today's reviewer took Campolo to task for some of what he says. As did Jordan Hylden at the First Things Journal.

Jordan says in his review:

You (Campolo) start off by accusing conservative Christians of uncritically baptizing the Republican agenda, and you claim to offer a biblical outlook that "transcends party politics." But then you turn around and support nearly every plank in the Democratic party’s platform. I tried to keep track: You make an argument (liberally peppered with Bible verses) for the Democratic position on abortion, gay marriage, tax cuts, trade policy, Iraq, nuclear disarmament, school vouchers, racial profiling, the closing of Guantanamo Bay, capital punishment, and global warming.

I have no problem with politically liberal Christians, but why do you claim to be beyond party politics when you so clearly aren’t? Do you really expect us to believe that Jesus just happens to have the same politics as Nancy Pelosi? But maybe I could give you a pass on that. Like I said, I learned a lot from my liberal Christian friends at school, and I’m glad to be challenged in my beliefs. Or, I should say, I would have been if you had taken more trouble to actually challenge them.

Among Christianity Today's concerns:

It's when Campolo distances himself from the widely derided Religious Right that Letters to a Young Evangelical grows combative and simply inaccurate. To correct some of his mistakes:

  • Tim LaHaye is not a TV evangelist.
  • James Watt did not claim that "there was no need to protect" national parks and forests because of the imminent return of Jesus.
  • Ronald Reagan believed people could be living in the End Times long before he met Jerry Falwell.
  • Many pro-life thinkers, including Christians, advance their case against abortion without appeals to ensoulment.

It disappoints me that so many people are ready to buy into his teaching hook line and sinker without any discernment. I applaud some of what he has to say, we do need to care for the weak, the sick, and the poor. But not at the expense of Truth. Save your money, and save your time.

If you are looking for something to read, I suggest checking into Breaking the Missional Code: Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community by Ed Stetzer. Mark Driscoll calls Ed Stetzer the best missional thinker in North America, and to me that is high praise. I've listened to Stetzer on a number of occasions, and he knows his stuff.

From Amazon.com's listing of Breaking the Missional Code:
Across North America, many pastors are excited to see churches growing as they achieve their mission to connect the message of the gospel with the community at large. Still others are equally frustrated, following the exact same model for outreach but with lesser results. Indeed, just because a "missional breakthrough" occurs in one place doesn’t mean it will happen the same way elsewhere.

One size does not fit all, but there are cultural codes that must be broken for all churches to grow and remain effective in their specific mission context. Breaking the Missional Code provides expert insight on church culture and church vision casting, plus case studies of successful missional churches impacting their communities.

"We have to recognize there are cultural barriers (in addition to spiritual ones) that blind people from understanding the gospel," the authors write. "Our task is to find the right way to break through those cultural barriers without removing the spiritual and theological ones."

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