Friday, September 21, 2007


My world is not the same as it used to be. It's a lot bigger in some ways, and a lot smaller in other ways. Just when I was getting my head around being a multi-site church, CTK became a multi-national church, with branches developing rapidly in far off places like India and Africa. Virtually overnight the complexion of CTK has changed, from being a northwest-Washington-funky-USA-church-in-more-than-one-place-kind-of-thing, to being a world-wide-multi-ethnic-multi-racial-mini-movement-kind-of-thing. As has typically been the case, I am trying to get my thoughts to catch up to what God is doing in this story. But this time, the shifts are huge, and we all have to get our heads around them.

1. Shift in demographics. CTK began in rurban communities like Mount Vernon, Washington. By rurban I mean a blend between rural and urban. Mount Vernon is not exactly rural, but it's close. It is surrounded by fields and farms. Mount Vernon is not exactly urban, but it's close. The number one employer in the area is Boeing and many residents drive more than an hour to work in the city of Seattle. Now the CTK story is more prevalent in densely populated urban areas like Johannesberg, South Africa or Nairobi, Kenya, or Secundarabad, India. While we used to talk about small groups spreading from community to community, we now talk about small groups spreading from complex to complex.

2. Shift in funding. Over the years, the outreach of CTK has been funded in a fairly typical way. Folks who have been attending one of our Worship Centers in Washington State have given their tithes and offerings, and these funds have been used to support full-time pastors, and to "pay it forward" to support new works in neighboring communities. Now far more of our pastors are self-supported, or serve voluntarily. In more places than not, resources are scarce or non-existent. Yet the message is going out with more velocity and power than ever before. Obviously, money is not as critical to the spread of Christ's kingdom as we might have thought.

3. Shift in color. Ok, I know. White is not a color. It's the absence of color. But it has been what we've been working with. Actually, we've been looking at a very pasty shade of white, because of the consistent cloud cover over the Pacific Northwest. Now, all of sudden, there is a lot of color in the CTK story; shades of tan, brown and black. If you are white, you are now in a minority in the CTK story. I think we're all going to enjoy the palette of colors with which God is working.

4. Shift in language. Last week, the CTK mission, vision and value statements were translated for the first time into French for a new leader in Ivory Coast. This is the sort of thing we're going to be doing a lot more of. There are now CTK small groups and Worship Centers in a variety of languages, and the variety is only going to increase. English is still the business language of the world, but in some countries in which CTK is moving, there are hundreds of tribal languages being spoken. Translation is going to be a major enterprise going forward.

5. Shift in social architecture. For years, it has been my prayer that we would have more people convened in small groups in any given week than who attend one of our worship services. More "house to house" than "temple courts." Frankly, just when I had started to give up on this dream ever happening in my corner of the world, God showed up and radically altered the playing field. While in America we seem to be in a rush to "go public" in many third world countries small groups are being planted with no immediate plans to convene in a public space. They are validating what I have preached all along: the small group IS the church.

Why is God taking our story overseas? I'm not sure. But I'm fairly certain that the answer has to do more with what God is wanting to teach us, than with what God is wanting to teach them.


Sinners occasionally come to church, either to a small group or a Worship Center. We love it when they do. We are actually praying that God will send us people with "ruin and wreckage" in their lives. But this is where spiritual schizophrenia can set in if we're not careful, because people with ruin and wreckage come with, well, ruin and wreckage. They have "lifestyle issues" that can range from the inappropriate to the illicit to the illegal. Reaching out to sinners can be a messy proposition, to be sure. Sin really does a number on people, and the impact is often profound. So how do we respond to those broken by sin? We roll out the red carpet. We get on the intercom and say four very important words: "Come as you are."

That four-word phrase "come as you are" is absolutely critical to what God is doing in the CTK story. We say those words through our byline, "Always a Place for You." We say those words through our motto, "Forgiveness for the past, hope for the future." We say those words through our mission statement, "An authentic Christian community that effectively reaches out to unchurched people in love, acceptance and forgiveness." I suspect that God has been gracious to us partly because we have said to those broken by their sin, "Come as you are." Deep down, I believe that God will withdraw his hand of favor if we ever roll up the red carpet, or are no longer willing to say those words.

Our pastors are occasionally asked what our posture is toward certain groups of sinners - whether certain groups of sinners are allowed in our small groups or Worship Centers. One answer fits all: Come as you are. God can change lives. God can work miracles. We are just trying to set up an environment where people can be exposed to the powerful, like-changing grace of God. At CTK you can belong before you believe.

At CTK we do not have categories of sinners. There are only people. People like me. People like you. People like us. People who desperately need God's grace. Everyone is welcome to receive God's grace. God will take you where you are. He just won't leave you where you are. To invite them into that life-changing journey we say, "Come as you are."


Is the church supposed to be a showcase or a hospital? We know what it is supposed to be. But what is it in reality? The answer might become more clear when you take a category of sin (think of a good one) and ask whether or not a person with that condition can get in the doors of your Worship Center. If it's a hospital, they'll be more than welcome. If it's a showcase, you might be thinking twice. Jesus made it clear that he came for sinners, for folks with hurts, habits and hang-ups. How clear are we?


What fuels the environment of grace at CTK? Redeemed leaders. Many of the leaders of our mini-movement have fallen hard along the way. There are former swindlers, murderers, and adulterers among our key leaders. Speaking for myself, I am very undeserving to be God's child, much less a leader in His kingdom. But that is what grace is - undeserved favor. I know that if God can take me out of the miry clay and set my feet upon a rock, He can do that for anyone.


For many leaders in the CTK story, the way up has been down. Consider these stories. I believe you will see a recurring theme.

He was once pastor of one of the largest churches in his denomination, with a multi-million dollar budget and a large full-time paid staff. He now pastors a CTK Worship Center. His current "staff" is primarily volunteers. His name is unknown in the circles of denominational power. But he told me recently that he has never felt so spiritually alive in his life. He is personally leading fifteen to twenty people to the Lord each year and coaching several pastors who are just starting out in ministry. Whenever I am around him I get the sense he is thoroughly enjoying the Lord and His kingdom.

After having served as a youth pastor in perhaps the largest church in America, one CTK pastor now leads a Worship Center with a smaller combined attendance than the youth staff he once led at the mega church. The population of the entire town in which he now pastors is one-tenth the weekend attendance of his previous church. He reported his excitement to me that nearly a third of his Worship Center attendance is attending small group leader training.

A successful business man and his wife sold their property and holdings in America and moved to a third world country. Over the course of several years they have built a compound that now facilitates a medical clinic and both a spanish speaking and english speaking Worship Center. He has installed a number of water-catchment systems for the natives in the area and helped them develop micro businesses of their own. He takes a one hour boat ride to get to the nearest town. He has limited electricity from solar panels and intermittent cell phone and internet access. I've been to his hut. He is living large in the Lord.

After enjoying the benefits of a sixty million dollar church campus in a previous ministry, one CTK pastor now convenes his Worship Center in the back hall of a local restaurant, and a rented room of the community recreation center. The value of the auditorium lighting system in his previous ministry exceeds his total CTK annual budget by a factor of four. Both he and his wife are working to support themselves financially, but he is thrilled to be driving each week into a neighboring state to start a second CTK Worship Center.

After seeing a CTK Worship Center grow to several hundred, one CTK pastor handed his ministry to another leader and then stepped in to pastor a struggling CTK Center in a neighboring community. In the past year the Center has worked through numerous disappointments and setbacks but has recently launched a second CTK Worship Center in the community that meets on Sunday nights.

In a previous life he was attorney with a large international law firm and a multi-million dollar home. He now lives in a modest home with his large family and for a small monthly stipend develops small group leaders and pastors of various ethnicities and language groups throughout his continent. He is particularly enjoying the CTK small groups that he is helping to form in the prison system.

What do all these stories have in common? The protagonists are all heading down the ladder. From positions of greater prominence, to lesser; from larger budgets to smaller; from big places to little ones; from significant resources to scrapping for resources.

What is going on here?

None of these stories make sense in the "bigger is better" church world. Most church leaders go up the ladder of power, not down. They hoard resources instead of giving them away. The mantra is "see you at the top" not "see you at the bottom." It is most common for a pastor of a traditional church ministry to go from pastoring a hundred to two hundred, five hundred and then a thousand. It is not common in the larger church world for a pastor of a church of thousands to then choose to pastor a church of several dozen. But it is partly because of this counter cultural trend that CTK has the potential to become a world-wide movement, and not just another bloated ministry.


Where did we get these ideas? They were modeled for us by our Founder and CEO (we also call him Lord and Savior), who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Instead, He made himself nothing and took on the form of a servant. Being found in likeness as a man He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross. This is why God has exalted him to the highest place and why our knees bow and tongues confess that He is Lord. As His life becomes our life, His ways become our ways.


Christ is not the only prominent New Testament figure that exemplifies "downward mobility." Another great example is Paul. Paul was a learned man and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court, the powerful ruling council of 70 men. But after he got knocked off his high horse, he gave this all up to pursue a greater mission of suffering, shipwreck, imprisonment and service. You got to love that. When you come down the ladder you get closer to the harvest.


Someone recently asked me my opinion about a prominent "TV evangelist." I told them that I thought he was one of the most gifted platform personalities I have ever seen. Frankly, I admire his talent. But then I said, "But I don't sense the type of disregard for power and prominence coming from him that I sense coming from Christ. This concerns me." If you are truly following someone you will end up going the same direction. And if you choose to follow Christ, you will follow Him down the ladder.


Institution. Institutional. Institutionalism. Institutionalization. One of the best questions I get is "How will CTK keep from institutionalizing?" I hear this question from leaders everywhere - in the U.S., Panama, India, Africa. It is actually comforting to me that so many people are concerned about the same thing. I usually answer, "I'm not sure, but I'm concerned about that too." This would truly be a terrible ending to our story. How do we keep it from happening?

Everything rise and falls with leadership. If we end up becoming institutional, it won't be by accident. Someone or ones will have led us there. If we resist institutionalizing, it won't be by accident either. Someone or ones will have led us there. This is a leadership equation. It we don't want it (and we don't) then leaders everywhere need to root it out whenever it is seen. We must be vigilant. We must l-e-a-d. As small group leaders, ministry directors and pastors we are the stewards to which God has entrusted "the fair maiden of freedom" in this story. What have you done recently to slay the dragon?

The more mavericks the merrier. I'm not sure we can resist institutionalism better than other organizations have. I certainly wouldn't want to imply that we're that we're better than others who have tried. But I would say that we have certainly acquired a substantial group of mavericks, and this at least gives us a shot. Having personally been a "pharisee of the pharisees" in a previous life I can smell institutionalization coming from a mile away. I am death on it. There is no way that I could ever feel comfortable pastoring a traditional church again. But I am not the only one. Everyone on the Church Council (which meets with me quarterly) and the Strategic Leadership Team (which meets with me monthly) stands with me in this. None of us want to go there, and that rebellion to institutional is one of the main reasons we're here.

Early warning signs. The time to fight institutionalization is early and often. You don't wait until it is full-grown. You oppose it in its infancy. What are the early warning signs that we are beginning to calcify? The arrows start pointing in, instead of out. We start getting more concerned about stuff than people. The people start supporting the leaders in their ministries, instead of the leaders supporting the people in theirs. Program creep: Instead of trying to reach people organically through relationship, we start trying to reach them attractionally through programming. Sniff. Sniff. Sniff. Do you smell smoke? If you do, sound the alarm.

Decentralization is our friend. One of the best antidotes to institutionalism that I see in our story is decentralization. We have infected leaders on various continents now with the virus. Even if a group of people build up immunity to the infection, it is likely that the epidemic will continue to spread through other carriers. Actually, it is already the case that our story is moving at a much faster rate in places like Africa and India than in the USA. So if leaders in one part of the world won't resist institutionalism, leaders somewhere else will. And even if we wanted to stop the ideas from spreading we couldn't, because we have no centralized control, only relational influence.

Resist legislation. There is a tendency to come out of every problem we encounter and write a policy to keep that from happening again. Let's not do that, ok? We will have to deal with our share of problems, to be sure. Every organization has to deal with their share of problems. But we want to deal with them in a different way than the average institution. We want to solve problems relationally. Personally. Not through policy and writ. Frankly, it is chicken and lazy to sit at your computer, write policy and stick the paper in everyone's in-box. Anyone can do it, which is why it is done so often. But the better though harder way is to sit down with people and talk with them. Sometimes writing things down is a good thing. But let's make sure that anything on paper is a bridge to get people where they want to go, instead of a barrier to keep them from getting there. And then let's make sure the paper shredder is working at Central Services.

Conducting periodic reviews. This fear of institutionalism is real. We have an enemy, and I'm sure he's scheming right now to ruin this story. If I were him, I would see institutionalization as a strategic weapon. Listen, it's not paranoia when they're really out to get you! Because of the real threat of instutionalization, I proposed in our original bylaws that we have a "drop-dead date" at ten years; that is, that we would cease to exist as an organization exactly ten years after we were formed. The Church Council at that time appreciated the sentiment, but thought this was a bad idea because people would begin to become nervous and distracted leading up to the drop dead date (e.g. Would you want to be hired by an organization that was going to drop dead in the next year?). So here's what I decided to do instead. At the ten year mark of our first service, April 4th, 2009 (and every five years after that), I will be conducting an informal review, asking, "Is God still at work in this story?" This will be a question I put out to the entire body in 18 months, and I will be looking for candid, real feedback and examples to support your answer. If the answer turns out to be "No" I hope that we will have the courage to face reality. None of us want to perpetuate a lifeless organization, least of all me.

Stay on your knees. Spiritual ends require spiritual means. If we want to see a vibrant, powerful movement, where we are keeping the main thing the main thing, staying out of God's way, being extremely sensitive to the Spirit's promptings, deploying leaders around the world, paying it forward, and unleashing the church, we are asking for a miracle. Really, all of that is miraculous. People have already proven people can't do it. But God can. Everything good that has happened in the CTK story to date has happened in response to prayer. If we want even greater things to happen, we must pray with greater fervency than ever.

No guarantees. I wish that I could guarantee that CTK will always stay flexible and freewheeling. That we will never turn inward, or start taking ourselves too seriously. But there are no guarantees. Greater men and women than us have failed. So I guess I would echo what Paul said, "Follow me, only inasmuch as I follow Christ." If you think we're heading in a direction that will not fulfill Christ's mandate to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, then you must wave the flag. You've got to speak up. You have to hold us accountable to our stated mission, vision and values. You are Christ the King Community Church. And so am I. We are walking in faith, not fear, but we have to take our responsibility seriously to protect this mini-movement from becoming an institution. That would be a bad ending to a story that has started out well.


Leadership versus Management. What is the difference? According to Olan Hendrix,
1. Leadership is a quality, while management is a science.

2. Leadership provides vision, while management supplies realistic perspectives.

3. Leadership deals with concepts, while management deals with functions.

4. Leadership works in faith, while management works in facts.

5. Leadership looks for effectiveness, while management looks for efficiency.

6. Leadership provides direction, while managment excercises control.

In every organziation, there must be leadership and management, but management always has to answer, respond, and react to leadership.


A popular credit card ad asks, "What's in your wallet?" You might respond, "Not much." We often feel as though our contribution is meager. But God is more interested in availability than ability. Consider Max Lucado's words in Cure for the Common Life:

God does big things with small deeds.

Against a towering giant, a brook pebble seems futile. But God used it to topple Goliath. Compared to the tithes of the wealthy, a widow's coins seem puny. But Jesus used them to inspire us. And in contrast with sophisticated priests and powerful Roman rulers, a cross-suspended carpenter seemed nothing but a waste of life. Few Jewish leaders mourned his death. Only a handful of friends buried his body. The people turned their attention back to the temple. Why not?

What power does a buried rabbi have? We know the answer. Mustard-seed and leaven-lump power. Power to tear away death rags and push away death rocks. Power to change history. in the hands of God, small seeds grow into sheltering trees. Tiny leaven expands into nourishing loaves. Small deeds can change the world....

Moses had a staff.
David had a sling.
Samson had a jawbone.
Rahab had a string.
Mary had some ointment.
Aaron had a rod.
Dorcas had a needle.
All were used by God.
What do you have?


Bill Hybels recently commented that a distasteful word for many leaders is the word "process." We enjoy the end in mind, but don't like the process involved in getting there. Along this line, I have had a disdain for meetings. I view meetings to be a necessary evil. But don't miss the word "necessary." No matter how we may feel about them, meetings become an important part of the process. In fact, I doubt you'll ever be able to get where you need to go (unless, of course, you want to travel there by yourself) unless you have some meetings. Meetings need to happen. The key is to make the most of them.

In my experience there are two outcomes from a good meeting: decisions and assignments. Bad meetings are ones in which no decisions have been made, and no assignments have been given. I have a phrase to describe a meeting that does not yield a decision or an assignment: "a waste of time."

Good meetings have give and take. Everyone gives their point of view toward the decision that needs to be made. And everyone takes an assignment toward the fulfillment of the mission decided upon. If you have scheduled a meeting, and you can't figure out how to experience give and take, my advice to you would be to do yourself and everyone else a favor: postpone or cancel the meeting. Hold off until you can come up with an agenda that allows for give and take.


There are, of course, other reasons a group of people can get together, including: to enjoy each other, to get caught up on what is going on in each other's lives, etc. In fact, I am a huge proponent of small groups gathering weekly for friendship, growth, encouragement, and outreach. These small groups do not necessarily yield a decision or an assignment. This is fine. No, actually, this is great. But those gatherings are not a "meeting" as I described above. If you get people together for a meeting, the assumption is that you have something you need the group's input on, or you have ideas about how the group can be involved. Based on this assumption, it is a significant "let down" to spend an hour "going in circles" or "killing time" instead of making decisions or assignments. If you really just want to just "hang out" then let everyone know that in advance: "I'd like to get together to just hang out and get caught up. No agenda."


The first century church met "house to house plus." They convened primarily in their homes, but also assembled in "the temple courts." That is, they were both private and public; underground and out in the open. This is our modus operandi at CTK with our "small groups" and "Worship Centers." In fact, our vision statement states "This church will convene in hundreds of small groups with Worship Centers strategically located in every community." At CTK we envision small groups scattered throughout and area, but the groups coming together in a larger public assembly.

Where are "the temple courts" today? In addition to the rented, leased or owned facility in which we have regular services, it could mean:

The city park. CTK Oak Harbor moves one Sunday service each summer to the city park.

The campground. CTK Sedro Woolley takes the entire congregation camping one weekend each year.

The high school stadium. CTK Anacortes rented the football stadium for a combined worship service this summer.

The nature center. CTK Coupeville broke the congregation into smaller groups and took a guided tour through stations on a nature walk one Sunday.

The community center. CTK Durango hosts a monthly "Dinner Church" at the community center.

The roller rink. CTK Mount Vernon held "Roller Church" at the local roller rink.

The theater. CTK Burlington presented a video taped service at the area Cineplex.

There is value in getting your ministry "out there" wherever "there" is. This is a value that was recognized by the early church but is largely missed by today's "house church" movement. The "house church" gets the cellular part of the equation, but misses the congregational part of the equation. To be a "first century church" you need to experience both elements: house to house and the temple courts.

In my experience at CTK, small groups and Worship Centers need each other like peanut butter and jelly. The Worship Center provides context for the small group. The small group provides connection for the Worship Center. Small groups make your Worship Center strong. Worship Centers make your small groups significant.


As part of a series I am teaching called "Start Your Own Ministry" I interviewed Tiffany Youngren, the founder of Hannah's House, a home for unwed mothers. As she shared about her experiences over the past five years she talked candidly about the ups and downs of leading a ministry. And she said something very interesting. She said, "There are times when, as a leader of a ministry, you are not going to look very good." She went on to share about times when people misunderstood her motives, about times when she had to let staff go, about times when she really did not know what to do next. She then restated her premise, "If you lead a ministry, you are not always going to look good." But this time she added, "I don't think you can continue in ministry if it's your goal to look good. I had to go to God and say, 'Ok, Lord, this is not about me looking good. This is about you looking good.'"

Wow. What a great insight. If you haven't yet given up your need to look good, the sooner the better.


Is your preaching "deep" enough? In my case, it depends on who you ask. If you were to ask some of my fans, they would tell you it is so deep they worry of drowning. If you were to ask some of my detractors, they would tell you that my teaching is so shallow, you can hardly get wet. Which is it? I'm never really sure, and I guess I've given up trying to figure it out. Instead, I've decided to put my energy into pleasing the Father. The fact that you can have such wildly divergent opinions from people looking at the exact same thing points out the basic truth that we need to take our cues from Above. In the end (and you should start with the end in mind and work back from there), the only appraisal that matters is His. Surrender your gifts, your time, your energy, your life to Him. You are not called to serve people. You are called to serve Him. People may be the beneficiaries of your ministry, but they are not the impetus for it. Give the best you that you can give to Him.


Someone has said, "With no idea of diamonds, we settle for glass."

Are you settling in life? What are you settling for? Don't come to the end of your life and have to say, "I could have been more. I could have done more."

What is your "blue-sky potential"? Could you:

• Become a first-class husband and father?

• Preach with mind and heart on fire from God?

• Write articles and books that would be of help to the body of Christ?

• Lead a network of thousands of fully committed disciples of Jesus Christ?

• Influence others through the power of character?

We ourselves are often the limiting factor. God will do "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." We are often only interested in doing just enough to get by. Don't settle for less than being all that you can be for God. Do not put artificial self-imposed restrictions on what God might do through you. Keep pressing toward the prize of the high calling of God. As D.L. Moody said, "The world has yet to see what one man, totally dedicated to God, can do."


Style is different than substance. This is good to keep in mind.

There are only a handful of times (recorded anyway) when Jesus got really, really mad. One was in Matthew 23, when he tore into the religious leaders of his day for being more about style than substance. Jesus used a couple of choice analogies to make his point: cups that were clean on the outside but filthy on the inside, and tombs that were whitewashed on the outside, but full of rotting bodies on the inside. You learn a lot about a person when you find out what makes them mad. Here's what makes Jesus mad: When religious leaders choose style over substance.

Style is not the same as substance. Style is external; substance is internal. Style is about impressions; substance is about reality. Style is reputation; substance is reality. Substance is what’s really going on, and what Jesus cares about.

Style and substance don't always go together. We want to be careful not to confuse the two. A tree can look fruit-bearing, but really only be good for firewood. A person can look like a sheep on the outside, but be a wolf on the inside. On the other hand (and I personally love this contrast) a person can look like a wolf on the outside, but be a sheep on the inside. One highway can be wide and well-paved and take you straight to hell. Another road can be narrow, windy and bumpy, but lead to heaven.

In America the trend is style over substance. This is why Anna Nicole Smith's death can be THE news for weeks on end, and why hundreds of cameras cover Paris Hilton's release from prison. Stephen Covey says that "character ethic" has been replaced by "personality ethic." This is certainly true in business where corporations now spend more on marketing (style) than research and development (substance).

This trend of style over substance has also been seen to some extent in the church. In the last fifty years churches and Christians have spent more and more energy on style. Many of the arguments have been stylistic (the "contemporary music" war come to mind.). This despite the fact that the scripture is clear that man looks on the outward appearance, while God looks on the heart. God is not looking for a particular outward appearance from us. He is looking for a particular heart from us. John the Baptist was a rough customer. Zacheus was a timid individual. But both had a heart for Christ. Peter was rambunctious. John was a lover not a fighter. Both had the same heart.

At CTK we are trying to give more attention to substance than style. It's one of the reasons we have such a wide variety of people in our story. In any given week we have assembled soccer moms, kids dressed in punk, retired couples, college preppies, businessmen, the homeless, and everything in between. It works because we are not striving for the same stye, but the same heart. Spirituality is an inside job. Always.

Jesus said that in the end there would be individuals who have worked miracles in his name to which He will say, "I never knew you." But note what Jesus doesn't say. He doesn't say, "I'm sorry. I didn't like the words you used in that one prayer to me. That prayer didn't sound very spiritual." Nor will He say, "I'm not a real fan of that one tattoo you got. It kind of gives me the creeps." And you don't hear Him say, "I never really liked your taste in clothing" or "I never really enjoyed the rhythms in that one song you also listened to." What he does say is "I never knew you." Hmmm. The implication is that you don’t need to do “impression management” with God. You don't need to ask, "Am I smiling enough?" or "Are my prayers flowery enough?" God’s not looking at that stuff. God is looking at your heart.

So many times on earth style beats substance. One of the things that makes heaven heaven is that substance beats style.


A recent email that was sent out to ladies at one of our CTK Worship Centers demonstrates a small triumph of substance over style:

"For those of you needing a bit more female interaction, Allyson Yamauchi has planned a CTK Ladies Time Out at the Carpenter Creek Winery. For those interested check out the web site."

For many pre-processed Christians this announcement would draw a harumph. "Why in the world is a CTK women's event being held at a winery?" they might ask. This is a teachable moment. When you go to the web site you read: "Ladies Night Out wine tasting at Carpenter Creek Winery to benefit Breast Cancer Awareness. Local specialty food paired with fine wines. $5 cover fee and a portion of every wine sold will be donated to the Susan G Komen breast cancer foundation." If you didn't know the rest of the story you might miss something substantive. You see, Allyson Yamauchi is a walking, talking miracle. She's an answer to hundreds of prayers. She is a cancer survivor. Man, I wish I could go to this event!


Many Christian leaders are afraid of the vacuum. Don't be afraid of the vacuum. The vacuum can be a powerful tool in your (or maybe better, God's) hands.

I'm not talking Hoover or Eureka here. I'm talking about holes and empty spots in your ministry. When some role is not being filled. Or some ministry is not happening. When this occurs, some leaders panic, and quickly try to "plug that hole." And you know who they get to do it, don't you? Yup. You guessed it. Themselves. They end up "filling the hole" until they can "find someone else to do it." What if they allowed the vacuum to exist? The vacuum may be precisely the energy you need to draw someone into the ministry. Give it a chance to work. When you plug the hole, you turn off the vacuum.

I saw a good example of this principle at work over 4th of July. For the last few years we have been going to Dave and Vange Von Allmen's for the 4th. They have a great beach location on a point. The Von Allmens operate an oyster farm so we've come to enjoy barbecued oysters as part of the celebration. Dave personally barbecue them for us, at least until this year. This year, Dave decided that he was not going to do the barbecuing (it's not a small job when there are 40 people), and then he let the vacuum go to work. For awhile, the party went on without the oysters. But soon, people started stirring, "Aren't we going to have oysters this year?" Dave would respond, "I have the oysters, if someone wants to cook them." You could almost hear the vacuum whirring. Within a couple hours, a neighbor named Tim was standing by the barbecue, with a mitt on one hand, and a pick in the other. Mission accomplished. Tim enjoyed cooking, Dave enjoyed relaxing, and the rest of us enjoyed oysters.

How can you put the vacuum to work for you?


I had a conversation with a man about a pastor who had recently stepped down from ministry. He was tired, and the ministry was not going so well. The man I was speaking with had been active in the ministry, and was reflecting on his experience. He said about the pastor, "He was working so hard, doing too much." He didn't say it as a positive, or a negative, just as a matter of fact. Later in the conversation, he gave this analysis of the congregation, "People never really got involved, never really became deeply committed." I connected the dots. When pastors over-function, they unknowingly cripple their congregation to under-function. There is no impetus for deeper involvement and commitment. The pastor is making the commitment for everyone. This is not healthy. The only way to reverse this pathology is for the pastor to cease and desist, and turn on the vacuum.


There are a limited number of ministry areas that you CANNOT NOT have. I know that this may sound like double-speak, but, for example, you cannot operate a successful Worship Center without a decent kid's ministry. I am not particularly in favor of putting a note on the kid's room door that says, "This class will convene as soon as there is a teacher willing to teach." Here, you're compromising the ministry, and with excessive suction! Better, in my humble opinion, to temporarily recruit someone to "fill that hole" so that the ministry can continue to deliver basic services and then let a lower level of vacuum go to work. Again this is just my opinion, but this is where leadership art comes in: knowing what is critical and what is discretionary; knowing when to turn the vacuum on and off, and knowing what level of suction you need.


Subsidiarity. Ok, it's a big word, I know. But since I recently found it in some reading I was doing about the Catholic church, I thought I would share it. It's a word that speaks to the relationships of individuals and groups in a social system. The word comes from subsidium, the experienced veterans in the third line of the Roman army, ready to aid the soldiers in the first two lines of battle. We have been organizing CTK in a subsidiary way, even though we haven't known there was a big, fancy word for it. (It's ok. We've never been into big and fancy anyway.)

When there is a spirit of subsidiarity, there is freedom given to the units, but supportive organization as well, to enhance the unit's efforts. The concept of subsidiarity encompasses words and phrases that we use around CTK, like "empowerment" and "social architecture" and "real people are the real ministers." In an organization characterized by subsidiarity, the bigger serves the smaller, and the higher serves the lower (I think someone talked about this around 2000 years ago).

Stated negatively, subsidiarity contends that "It is an injustice, a grave evil and disturbance of right order for a larger and higher organization to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies." (Pope Pius XI, 1931)

Stated positively, "A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of society, always with a view to the common good." (Pope John Paul II, 1991). I like how he put that. That is worth memorizing.

Subsidiarity has been referred to as "technical love" (the Greek techne means art). It is organizing in an artful, loving way that respects, values and coordinates individual contributions at lower levels. It is not A way to organize, it is THE way to organize. That is, an organization is more or less successful depending on its level of subsidiarity.

The concept can apply to sports, government, business and engineering. Of course, where I find its greatest application is to the church, particularly a church like CTK. Here are some of the ways I see the idea expressing itself in our multi-site network:

1. People are the ministers, pastors are the administers. Letting people know that they are ministers and that the paid staff are here to support and assist them is a huge step in the right direction, toward subsidiarity.

2. Small groups are our primary convention. By putting our focus on the small group meeting, instead of the larger celebration, we express subsidiarity.

3. Directors are a pastor's "span of care." This says that the pastor is here to support his key leaders (who in turn support their key leaders, etc.), instead of the staff existing to support the pastor.

4. More instead of bigger. We don't view bigger as better, we view more as better (more leaders, groups, services and sites). This is not just an organizational preference. This goes to the very important philosophy of subsidiarity, that we don't want to direct greater and greater resources toward the center, but toward the edges.

In a mechanical system, order is guaranteed by design. In a social system, like CTK, a number of virtues are required to maintain order: clear purpose, wide-spread knowledge, courage to take initiative, humility to learn from others, trust in the good intentions of colleagues, honesty in feedback, and obedience to the greater good.


There are two kinds of mystery: mystery in the sense of what is marvelous, and mystery in the sense of what is complicated.

A miracle is mysterious, but it is not complicated. The power comes directly from God to meet the need, instead of through a human middle-man, or natural means. A miracle may be startling, but it is simple. It is straightforward.

A detective gets involved in mysteries that are complicated. A theologian engages mysteries that are simple. Many church leaders present the things of God in the style of a detective, as if there is something quite complicated here that needs to be figured out. This leaves the impression that Christianity is hard work, instead of humble worship. More complicated, really, than marvelous.

Marvelous mystery is not bound by "10 Steps To..." or "12 Ways That" or "7 Principles Of..." Marvelous mystery is direct and immediate. It is God breaking in on the channel. It is angels singing to shepherds. It is bushes burning. It is a still, small voice. But without a doubt it is awesome.

The problem we experience with marvelous mystery is that we can't create it, control it or explain it. We can only wait on God for it. This is distasteful to many. We would much rather be pulling the strings, or else unravelling them.

When you keep it simple - deliberately simple - you are not forfeiting mystery in the least. You are simply opting for the form of mystery that is marvelous. You are open for miracles.


I remember well the first service I ever attended at CTK in Bellingham. The service started on time. The band began to play, and led an uninterrupted series of 5-6 songs. The pastor came up to pray, and then sat on a stool to speak. He spoke for 20-25 minutes in a clear and concise manner. The service closed with another song led by the band. There were no announcements. No “special” musical numbers. No comedy. No drama. No video. Yet it was extremely engaging. Almost startlingly so. The word of God was presented in a clear, compelling way with an obvious sensitivity to the unchurched. The service was done in an hour. Simplicity can mean having a very leisurely, but meaningful service.

It takes courage in today's ecclesiastical landscape to keep it simple. You must fight fear. Psychologists state that in our modern culture there's a "paranoia of omission." There's a sense that we have to cover all the bases. There's a fear that, if we don't have multiple attractions for people, that we might not be able to engage them. Deliberate simplicity requires faith that the gospel, simply presented, is sufficiently powerful and life changing.


Advice. Who needs it? Well, you do. We all do. The Bible talks about finding wisdom in a multitude of counselors. But how do we get the advice and counsel we need? That is an important question. And the answer will impact your happiness.

For Christian leaders, one traditional source for advice has been the church board. The church board has also proved to be a good source of pain and suffering. Yes, you get the counsel you need. But you pay a high price for it. Is there a way to get counsel without the pain and suffering? Yes. Have your friends over for a barbeque. Yum. Let me explain.

You can get the advice you need formally, through a standing board or council, or informally, through an ad hoc group of friends. I say, get it ad hoc from friends. Just go to the people you respect and say, "I have a few things I've been thinking about and I'd like to bounce them off you. Are you free to come over for hamburgers Friday night?" In all likelihood, they will say yes, come over, give you some great advice, and go home. No fuss. No expectation of a "next meeting." No worries about a secretary, agenda, minutes, or quorums. No political posturing. No trying to get people on or off the board. No meetings before the meeting, or after the meeting. No misunderstandings about who is leading the church. Just good, simple feedback. And barbeque. Yum.

At CTK (a multi-site church) our governance structure is different than the traditional church. There is a Church Council that oversees me, and from there the accountability is mediated through the relationships of the pastors. It is a very clean and efficient form of governance, and one of the best things about pastoring in the CTK network. However, there is an option for pastors to appoint a Local Advisory Council for their Worship Center. This option is stated in our bylaws, but personally, I discourage pastors from taking this option for the reasons I'm outlining here. When people are given a "position" or a "title" they can get a little weird on you. They start to think that they should relate to you as a "board member" instead of as your "friend." Other people start to relate to them differently as well. They are approached by folks who say, "Hey, you're a board member! I need to talk with you about something!" Don't put yourself or these people through this. You don't have to. Just have a barbeque. Yum.

Another option you might consider is asking everyone. Yes, everyone. What if you explained what you were thinking at a weekend service, and asked people to write you a note to let you know what they thought? Or what if you invited the entire church to a meeting at which you shared the concern and asked people to brainstorm it with you. You might be surprised at who comes to this meeting, and the solutions they might provide. I have found this limited-term approach to be superior to a standing board or committee. It gives everyone a chance to influence you, instead of a select few. There are not "haves" and "have nots" when it comes to power. Anyone and everyone can be part of the process. All you need is a bigger barbeque. Yum.


The CTK story has been messy, and sometimes we have not cleaned up very well after ourselves. Over the years, in addition to launching a couple dozen Worship Centers, we have also had a half dozen that haven't made it. We've wiped the tears from our eyes, and kept moving forward. But not everyone is as comfortable when things don't "last." I recently received an email in which someone inquired, "We see things happening in India and Africa....but how long will they last?" That is a very interesting question. My answer, of course, is the one in which I have become well-versed: "I don't know." Here's what I wrote in reply:

"As to how long things last, I have been quite surprised to see how long most of what we've done has lasted! But it's not one of my goals to make things "last." It is one of my goals to try to cooperate with God."

I would encourage us to not have as one of our goals to make something "last." That is language that fits better with institutional thinking than organic thinking. You want a machine to last. You want a plant to grow. We want to think of ourselves more like a plant than a machine.

A man told me recently about how he had transplanted a tree to his back yard. The tree did not do so well in its new environment. The leaves began to turn brown. The man was expecting company for a back yard BBQ. He wanted his tree to "last." So what did he do? He painted the leaves green with spray paint. Yup. Full-on impression management.

I am deathly afraid of institutionalism, when people become servants to the institution, instead of the institution serving the people. A good question to ask is, "What is being kept green?" Is it the organization, or the people in it?

One of the best ways for us to stave off institutionalism is to continue to be open to both the life and death of enterprises. Both life and death are part of the organic process. Frankly, one of the things that I find commendable about our story is how willing we are to close something if it is not "working." So far, I think we've shut down 6 or 7 Worship Centers, and we'll probably have several more before the story is over. We're not going to paint the leaves.


It's not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results. Warren Buffett has become one of the richest men in the world by being a disciplined investor - buying stock in good companies at good prices and watching the companies grow. Not really very complicated, but very effective. In a similar way, it is possible to have a very effective ministry by understanding the values of simplicity, focus, compounding interest and the laity.

The value of simplicity. Warren Buffett keeps it simple. He was heavily influenced by Franciscan Monk William of Occam who put forth the idea that the simplest explanation was usually the best explanation. Here's what Buffett has to say:

• The business schools reward difficult, complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective.

• There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.

Today, church has become some complicated and difficult that you need to be a professional to do it. When you boil it down, it's really just about loving God and loving people.

The value of focus. Warren Buffett does not try to do everything. He does a few things well. He sticks with what he knows. Here's what Buffett has to say:

• I can't be involved in fifty or seventy-five things. That's a Noah's ark way of investing - you end up with a zoo that way. I like to put meaningful amounts of money in a few things.

• If we can't find things within our circle of competence, we don't expand the circle. We'll wait.

• Diversification is a protection against ignorance. It makes very little sense for those who know what they are doing.

• Why not invest your assets in the companies you really like? As Mae West said, "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful."

It is not very sexy to "stick to your knitting." But it can be pretty effective. CTK has been blessed by prioritizing "worship, small groups and outreach." We've put our investment in a few things that are life-changing and life-giving and it has paid off.

The value of compounding interest. Warren Buffett did not get rich over night. He believes you win with the running game, not the long-bomb. He invests for the long term. Here is what he says:

• You should invest like a Catholic marries - for life.

• Recommending something to be held for thirty years is a level of self-sacrifice you'll rarely see in a monastery, let alone a brokerage house.

• No matter how great the talent or effort, some things just take time: You can't produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.

Studies show that there is a correspondence between church growth and a pastor's tenure. It takes time to build a ministry and even more to set in motion a movement.

The value of the laity. Warren Buffett is the classic "everyman" - famed for driving around Omaha, Nebraska in an old Volkswagen Beetle. Buying a great business at a great price and holding it for twenty years is something anyone can do. Mary Buffet says,

• Every profession is a conspiracy against the laity....Priests of any profession need complexity to keep the laity from performing their priestly magic.

The "professionalization" of business has created the illusion that we need inside information or professionals to do it. People appreciate the fact that CTK is structured to allow the average person to have a ministry.


When Michael Jordan “first” retired from basketball (he later “came back” ), commentators were philosophizing on his
retirement’s impact on the game of basketball, and the Chicago Bulls. The bigger story? The factors that led up to his stunning
decision to give up what he was doing, very, very successfully.

1. Physical fatigue. To understand what led to Jordan’s decision you had to go back to the previous off-season - an off-season
Jordan never had because he participated in the Olympic Games in Barcelona. When in the midst of a run of three NBA
championships, you don’t take time off, away from basketball, you are taking your battery down to zero. Perhaps Jordan chose
retirement because it was the only way he could envision ever recharging.

2. Emotional processing. In the previous three years, too many stressful things happened in Jordan’s life, with no time to really
process the magnitude of the events. No sooner had he won a championship, than they were talking about a repeat. Then
there was the Dream Team. Then there were gambling allegations. Then there was a three-peat. Then there was the death of
his father. Events of this magnitude take time for our souls to process. This was time Jordan never had.

3. No vision. By Jordan’s own admission, the fun left the game when his vision did. “There’s nothing left for me to accom-
plish.” When we lose sight of long-term goals and objectives our lives take on a treadmill effect. We keep running but we’re
not getting anywhere. Jordan finally said, “Stop the treadmill, I want to get off.”

4. Over-exposure. People who are not “in-fronters” probably don’t relate to the pressure of having your life scrutinized and, in
a sense, owned by the masses. This lack of privacy can be confining and restricting. The life of a public person is not his own.
Perhaps Jordan sensed that the only way to take by his private life was to no longer be a public person.

There is a syndrome that afflicts people who are in a place where they must give a lot of themselves to others. You don’t have
to play basketball to experience these factors that can lead you to want to throw in the towel. To face these factors without
retirement life must be lived rythmically. The mixture of the sabbath (six parts labor; one part rest) must be dutifully
maintained if we expect to stay in the game.


Momentum matters. It is an amplifier. When you have it, things feel like they are going better than they really are. When you don't have it, things feel like they are going worse than they really are.

What is momentum, and how do you get "mo" on your side? Scott Whitaker has a nice take on momentum. He says that momentum is:

Fed by Vision
Ignited by Anticipation
Led by Change

Momentum is born out of a healthy discomfort. Bill Hybels calls it a holy discontent. Momentum is born out of a discomfort of where you are and a knowledge of what could be. So if you have a dissatisfactory condition (maybe small groups are going as well as you'd like, or the worship experience has been inadequate, or fill in the blank) you have the right context for momentum.

Momentum is fed by vision. Vision is more than a suggested solution. Solutions may meet a temporary need. Vision is what constantly supplies the fuel to get you from where you are to where God wants you to be.

Momentum is ignited by anticipation. Anticipation is the first spark that moves someone from where they are to where they need to be. Anticipation is a desire for God to do something greater and expecting Him to do it. It is a transfer from the head (knowledge) to the heart (desire).

Momentum is led by change. You can't have momentum without some change. The status quo never causes momentum. And it can't just be change for the sake of change. It has to line up with and fulfill the discomfort, vision and anticipation.

Momentum is a ride that will come to an end. It is bound by the laws of physics. People will become comfortable with the familiar. An environment of momentum involves the unfamiliar. Which leads back to creating some sort of discomfort. If your people are comfortable you won't have momentum, you'll have complacency. You have to create some sort of discomfort and start the process all over.


You can't experience momentum without anticipation. I have found that anticipation is a very important stage in the momentum cycle. It is most definitely the bridge between vision and change. Anticipation is so significant that it can give people a feeling of change before the change happens. Painting a picture of a preferable future is almost as good as being there sometimes. If you appropriately leverage momentum, you can enjoy the emotional benefits of improved conditions before they become reality. Let me give a couple examples from the CTK story:

No Kids Ministry in Mount Vernon

When we started CTK in Mount Vernon, we defied pretty much every rule of church planting. For instance, we had no kids ministry for the first few months. CTK actually grew to nearly 300 people without any nursery or children's classes. Talk about discomfort! We had it. But while we didn't have a kids ministry, we did have the anticipation of a kids ministry, and that was a suitable surrogate. I put a note in the program that said, "At CTK we believe that children are special and deserve special treatment. While we do not currently have a kids program, we want to develop a first-class ministry for kids to learn about Jesus and grow in their faith. Does this interest you? Would you like to be part of the team that develops this opportunity for kids? If so, please contact Dave Browning and let him know that you are praying." This little note cast vision and created anticipation. Shortly thereafter we had 20 people come to a meeting to organize a children's ministry and started changing the situation. Sometimes instead of building ministries, you first need to build anticipation of those ministries.

Tough Times in Burlington

When I stepped into the Burlington Worship Center I found a pretty demoralized group of people following a pastor's deceit and a church split. I took a few Sunday mornings with a white board and outlined some of the challenges, and then I started talking about what things would be like "a year from now." I talked about a church that wasn't focused on the past, but on the future. I talked about a church that was no longer concerned with the hurting people who were inside the church, but with the hurting people who were outside the church. I shared that one of the key words we would be working with within twelve months would be the word "fun." Even as I shared these ideas, I could feel the mood in the room change, almost as if we were already there. (Studies show that visualization can stimulate the brain in similar ways as the actual experience.) Now, a year later, we are "there." But the joy started to set in during the anticipation stage, before change was visible.


I've been thinking lately about how our story got started in the northwest (sometimes called "the fourth corner"). It seems to me that God always has his reasons for places (no one can deny that in the much-bigger story Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem are the geographical centers). So why northwest Washington?

1. An intensely unchurched region. I believe that what God wants to do through CTK is reach out to unchurched people in love, acceptance and forgiveness. This is not about establishing another church or denomination. This is about a move of God that will sweep tens of thousands of lost people into His kingdom. Because we got our start in the most unchurched state in the country we have never had the luxury of building our ministry around pre-processed Christians. We have had to reach out to the lost.

2. Out of the loop. The way that we are going about outreach is quite different from the "traditional" church. Fortunately for our story, we have been out of the loop, and very minimally impacted by what is going on in the rest of the church. Christian singers and authors seldom come our way. In some ways being off the beaten path has been good for us. We have had our heads down in the book, trying to figure out how to do church in a Kingdom way, organically and relationally.

3. The world is our neighbor. What do Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, Amazon, World Vision and UPS have in common? They all have a global reach, and they all got their start in the Puget Sound. Is there something in the water here? No, but there is a sense, with apologies to Alaska, that we are "the last frontier." There is an entrepreneurial spirit here that thinks in a boundary-less way (you even see this in the "Seattle scene" music - Jimi Hendrix, Curt Cobain, et al). We have an ocean to our west. We have another country to our north. And if we go east, we have to traverse a broad expanse of wilderness to find the next population center. Once you realize that you have to go a ways to go somewhere, you're next thought is, "Why not go all the way?" At least that has been our thought process at CTK.

4. Organic is us. The northwest is "green," home to thousands of people who are pursuing a simpler, more organic lifestyle. At CTK we have translated these post-modern/pre-modern notions to the church. We are looking to Acts 2 for inspiration. Our grand experiment is to see if what God did there and then, can be done again here and now ("house to house and in the temple courts"). Our modus operandi is to see the church grow organically through relationships, instead of attractionally through programming.


Faith or fear. These appear to be the options, for you individually, and for Christ the King Community Church as a whole. In life, these are the two different driving forces. There is an invisible line that divides them. One of the greater decisions a church can make is deciding which side of the line they want to be on.

On the fear side you take a defensive posture. You view people as potential threats. You spend a great deal of energy preventing the worst. You put in place a lot of policies and protocol to keep bad things from happening to good people.

On the faith side you take an offensive posture. You view people as the prize. You spend a lot of energy promoting the best. You put in place a lot of leaders to make sure good things are happening to bad people.

You know when you are on the fear side of the line when you keep hearing words like no, accountability, process and authority. You know when you are on the faith side of the line when you keep hearing words like yes, support, story and empowerment.

Every ministry must pick a side. At CTK we have made a decision to walk in faith, instead of fear. We have decided to not put the energy of our organization into protecting ourselves. Instead we have decided to put the bulk of energies into reaching out, knowing that we will have to be responsive to messes as they occur (which they most certainly will). This decision – to be responsive instead of protective – frees up significant time and energy for the mission.

In 1999, on the 10th year anniversary of the “original” CTK (in Bellingham, Washington) I stood up in a staff meeting and commended the founding pastor, Steve Mason. I said, “Steve, you have been a remarkable leader. I think most people are impressed by your faith in God. But what impresses me is you faith in people. Believing in people takes way more faith than believing in God.”

Has Steve’s faith in God and people paid off? I’d say so.

The same year that I made that statement, 1999, CTK in Bellingham “launched” CTK in Skagit Valley (now CTK International). In the last 8 years, CTK has gone from one location to a mini-movement, with locations in a number of counties, states and countries. Today tens of thousands of people are walking in the same grace that I experienced.

One of the questions I routinely get is, “With so many small groups and Worship Centers out there, how will you find out if people are teaching false doctrine, or straying morally?” The answer is simple: “People love to tattle.” How did Paul find out about the moral dysfunction at Corinth? It was reported to him. We don’t need to go looking for trouble for it to appear. Years ago, when we had a small group go “sideways” theologically, someone in the group placed a call to me almost immediately and let me know what was being espoused. I was able to deal immediately with the error, and “cut out the cancer.”

While we can’t prevent bad things from happening, we can be responsive to issues as they arise, and we anticipate that they will arise. We subscribe to the “2% rule.” The 2% rule says that out of every 100 groups we start, two will go sideways in a big way. This is based on our actual experience. Out of the first 100 small groups we started, 2 of them went sideways; one theologically, and one relationally. Knowing the 2% rule, we face choices as a church. Do we a) invest our efforts into trying to prevent the 2% from happening through extensive reporting and meetings (in which the 2% will still happen – we’ve just burned up a lot of energy trying to stop it), or do we b) put our efforts into reaching out, but prepare ourselves mentally and spiritually for dealing swiftly, truthfully and gracefully with issues as they arise? At CTK we have chosen b). Instead of organizing to keep the 2% from happening, we have chosen to put our energies into reaching out. As a friend of mine likes to say, “If you use your hands to cover your butt, it doesn’t leave you any hands to do the work.”

I have found that by trusting people until they prove themselves unworthy of that trust, a lot more happens.

Jim Burke

I bring you the gift of these four words: I believe in you.

Blaise Pascal

Even an overdose of trust that, at time, involves the risk of being deceived or disappointed is wiser, in the long run, than taking fro granted that most people are incompetent or insincere.

Warren Bennis

It is better to trust and sometimes be disappointed than to be forever mistrusting and be right occasionally.

Neil Maxwell

Trust brings out the best in people and literally changes the dynamics of interaction. While it is true that a few abuse this trust, the vast, vast majority of people do not abuse it, but respond amazingly well to it. And when they do, they don’t need external supervision, control, or the “carrot and stick” approach to motivation. They are inspired. They run with the trust they were extended. They want to live up to it. They want to give back.

Stephen M.R. Covey

Better trust all and be deceived,

And weep that trust, and that deceiving,

Than doubt one heart that, if believed

Had blessed one’s life with true believing.

Frances Anne Kemble

It is happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust.
Samuel Smiles


After talking with her sister, my wife Kristyn asked me if I had heard about the "Extremely Focused Church" conference in Colorado (her sister was going to it). I told her I hadn't heard about it. After some research I realized she was talking about the "Externally Focused Church" conference (which I had heard about). But of the two conference names (one made up; one real) I like the sounds of the Extremely Focused Church conference better, and that's saying a lot, because the idea of being externally focused really resonates with me.

There is something to be said for being extreme. The old "bell curve" theory implied that the place to be was somewhere in the middle. The middle may be where most are, but it is not the place to be, particularly in ministry. The "bell curve" proves to actually be a "well curve." The middle is not the high point, but the low point. The extremes are the high points. The middle is a tar pit.

Wherever you end up, don't end up in the middle. Where is the worst place to be assigned a seat on an airplane? The dreaded middle seat. What is the worst kind of drink you can be served? The room-temperature, luke-warm, "spew-you-out-of-my-mouth" one. It is much better to be either inside or outside, hot or cold. And better to be either small or big. The medium sized church, once prized, is now not big enough for impact, or small enough for intimacy. There is no emotional strength in being in between.

Leonard Sweet explores this mental model a little bit in his book The Gospel According to Starbucks. He says that one of the keys to Starbucks success is its gravitation toward an extreme experience: extremely comfortable, extremely tasty, extremely hot. Maxwell House, on the other hand, is stuck in the middle. But today, the middles are in trouble, while the edges and extremes are vital. The days of the happy medium (related word: mediocre) are gone. Ideas that are dead or dying include middle-ground, mid-management, middle-class, as well as mainline denominations. Both ends now play against the middle in what Sweet calls "an hourglass society."

Examples of the shrinking middle abound:
• The popularity of extreme sports and entertainment.
• The rise in sales of either very big TVs, or very small TVs (and severe decline in the sale of mid-sized ones).
• Release of more automobiles of the extremely small and big varieties, and the decline in popularity of mid-sized vehicles.
• Organizations getting either bigger through acquisitions and merger or smaller through spin offs.
• Portion sizes at restaurants getting bigger, or else smaller.

How do these developments apply to your ministry?


Balance is a biblical idea. For example, it was said of Jesus that He was "full of grace and truth." So there is a need for Christ-followers to stay in balance. But my thoughts about how to achieve this balance have evolved over the last few years. I used to think that you achieve balance by heading toward the middle. Now I realize that balance can be achieved in one of two ways; 1) by heading toward the middle, or 2) by counterbalancing on the edges. For instance, you can balance a teeter totter by coming to the middle of it and straddling the fulcrum, or by having equivalent weight applied to each end of the board. Of the two approaches, I like "balance by extreme."

An example of where "balance by extremes" might serve you well is in the area of worship. For example, if the extremes are "rockin' worship" on one end of the teeter-totter, and "old-time hymns" on the other, you might be better to do an extreme version of each in a service (really rock out, and really sign a hymn) than to try to put the two in a blender and come out with something that doesn't give you the taste of either. I know from experience that "blended" worship is not very tasty.

Group life is another one of the areas where I don't think you can go part-way and be successful. If you are going to make your ministry about relationships, then really make your ministry about relationships. Don't dabble here, or go half-way. Stick with your emphasis on small groups, and keep reaching out relationally. You can't "kind of" make small groups a priority. You have to make small groups your nearly exclusive activity. You have to go to extremes.


Part of CTK's appeal is that you will often find us at both ends of the teeter-totter. We've reached a balance by being extremely graceful and truthful, not by being slightly both. We've been engaging because our services present bleeding-edge music, with old-fashioned Biblical teaching. We've achieve impact by being extremely big as a network, and small as individual groups and centers, instead of a church that is somewhere in between, both, or neither. We've expanded rapidly by simultaneously strengthening the core of our mission, visions and values and expanding the frontier into new communities.


As a basketball official I can tell you that the worst angle from which to see the play is the middle of the key, right under the basket. You are much better off to get a "wide angle" toward the the corner of the court. In fact, officials are taught to imagine the area below the basket as "quicksand." You don't want to find yourself there, and if you do, you want to get through it as quickly as possible. Likewise in your ministry, don't get caught in the quick-sand of middle-ground. Go to extremes.


From Leonard Sweet, The Gospel According to Starbucks:

One example of how to bring the ends together in a well-curve work, and the benefits of a simultaneous engagement of both ends of the continuum, is the competing food habits of indulgence and wellness. "Contradictory consumers" are going in opposite directions at the same time. We go from Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream or Krispy Kreme Donuts to the organic salad bar or raw juice bar....

We live in a Godiva culture of indulgence layered upon indulgence lathered with a whipped-cream topping of guilty pleasures and a final red cherry of repentance. This is also a culture obsessed with weight and health consciousness. We have the highest obesity rates in the world, and eating disorders run rampant. How do you bring these "dueling extremes" of death-by-chocolates and squeaky-clean foods together?

The blended, cut-to-the-middle solution of the bell-curve world was to introduce low-cal, low-far chocolate. That didn't work. Why eat chocolate if you can't enjoy the fat-drenched flavor of decadence? People want the experience of luxurious chocolate. They don't want halfway, diluted experiences of chocolate. But they also want a responsible weight-management program, one that can make a difference and not just create delusions of health.

The key is to offer consumers two opposite experiences at the same time. Hence portion-controlled chocolates. Nestle's Butterfinger Stixx and Hershey's Sticks offer the binge experience of chocolate in a way that doesn't adversely impact the body. Hershey's Sticks, with a tagline promising a "convenient guilt-free way to indulge in chocolate," is available in an eleven-gram, sixty-calorie bar, with a choice of milk, dark, caramel, or mint-flavored chocolate. In a similar vein, Nabisco has introduced 100 Calorie Packs (portion-control versions of indulgent snacks such as Oreos and Cheese Nips).

How could this "solution by extremes" apply to your ministry?


A therapist once said to me, "Gender is always part of the equation." He said this in the context of a conversation about moral failure in ministry. He was speaking to the ignorance that he saw among overly-idealistic church leaders who wanted to imagine that they could counsel and care for members of the opposite sex and yet not be snared by emotional or physical attraction (read: play with fire and not get burned).

Pastors, as other caring professionals, are at risk here. A pastor must care for unhealthy people, but in a healthy way. To this end it is important to be self-aware about attraction and limit your involvement with individuals of the opposite sex. The Apostle Paul had some winning ideas here: Older women instructing younger women; older men instructing younger men. That's a pretty proactive, common-sensical approach. You should definitely be developing a ministry team to assist you in a gender-specific way. Another common-sense biblical strategy that Joseph employed (a little bit more reactive) is RUN AS FAST AS YOUR CAN. You might have to be ready to do that as well.

As a pastor it is not possible to avoid conversations and meetings that are cross-gender. But clear boundaries are a must. Here are some ideas:

1. Do not meet alone
• Have someone else around
• Have a window or door open so that work associates can look in or listen in
• Meet in a public space, like an office building or coffee shop (not in a home or a car)
• Consider having someone else in the meeting (spouse, assistant, etc.)
2. Do not meet on their turf
• Stay in control of the environment
• Publicize the meeting place to others (no secret meeting place)
3. Do not meet after hours
• Early morning or late night meetings are a bad idea
4. Do not meet regularly
• Refer to a counselor for ongoing treatment
5. Do not share personal life details
• Stay strictly professional in your conversation
• If you speak of your wife and family only speak positively
6. Do not touch
• Make handshakes brief (do not linger)
• Avoid hugs entirely or else one-armed side hugs
• If any attempt is made to touch you (hold on to your hand, etc.) pull away and end the meeting immediately
7. Do not fantasize
• Discipline your mind toward Philippians 4:8 thoughts
• If you find yourself drowning in the soup talk with your area pastor and get some support

In your relationships with the opposite sex, be honest with yourself if problems are developing between your ears. There are some typically "red flags" that go up when attraction starts to be problematic. Be aware if:

1. You find yourself looking forward to a meeting with someone of the opposite gender.
2. You find yourself trying to figure out a reason to have a phone call or meeting with someone of the opposite gender.
3. You find yourself day-dreaming about someone of the opposite gender.
4. You find yourself speaking differently than you normally would (more charmingly, more sensitively) with someone of the opposite gender.

Remember, we are all made of the same stuff, and sometimes that's not very good stuff. Make others aware of the potential for problems, for you, or others. Tell the people around you to feel free to ask questions if they see something weird going on (someone calling frequently, hanging around after services, etc.). Better to be open and frank about the fact that "Gender is always part of the equation." Obviously, with as many leaders as we've seen "getting burned" it's time to quit playing with fire.


How do you handle physical beauty when you see it? I used to pretend that I didn't. That didn't work very well. I don't know who I was fooling, but I wasn't fooling myself, much less God. Now I have developed "the prayer." The prayer goes like this: "God, that is a beautiful woman. You created her, and you did a good job. But she belongs to you, Lord, not me. I just wanted you to know that I noticed." What does that prayer do for me? It keeps me in reality. It keeps me from objectifying someone. It pricks the bubble of illusion and fantasy. It helps me see that person with spiritual eyes. It keeps me in reality.


Underground caves are a big part of God's story, not just at Easter, but at Christmas and other times. This thought was provoked by G.K. Chesterton in his book The Everlasting Man. In particular Chesterton reminded me that:

• God came to earth underground. In all likelihood the manger that held Joseph, Mary and Jesus was a cave, not an outbuilding. This means that when God came to earth, He did not even come on ground level, but underground, while “The horse hoofs of Herod passed like thunder over the head of Christ.”

• God provided salvation underground. The resurrection was truly underground, both literally and figuratively. On Easter morning, the women were surprised to fine an empty cave. “That is the paradox of the whole position….the highest thing can only work from below."

• The church got its start underground. “Christ was born in the cave and Christianity in the catacombs.” Until Constantine the church was organic, cellular, counter-culture and often persecuted.

It is clearly the nature of God to be underground, to do His work from below instead of from above. “There is in this buried divinity an idea of undermining the world; of shaking the towers and palaces from below.”

I believe that God wants us to be "underground" Christians, shaking things up from below, instead of from above. Some of the words written into our mission statement at CTK are "shake-up" words - authentic, love, acceptance, forgiveness, joy, purposeful. When we love people, care about people, serve people, we undermine the world - the towers and palaces begin to shake.


A friend who is very bright (he once taught at Yale) has done some research on church history. He said to me, "The church has related to culture in one of two ways; it has either tried to dominate the culture or infiltrate the culture. Periods in which the church has tried to dominate the culture have been followed by dark ages. Periods in which the church has tried to infiltrate the culture have been followed by revival."



One of the things that I love about being a church of small groups is that it is a largely "underground" approach to ministry. It is not patently obvious to the culture that we are here. It is not a top-down/dominate approach. It is a bottoms up/infiltrate approach. We are moving under the veil of secrecy. I have found that it is unnerving to people (in the same way that terrorist cells are). They aren't exactly sure where we're coming from, but they know we're up to something....good.


In concluding his discussion of caves, Chesterton said "A cave can be a hiding place for outcasts" or it can be "a hiding place of something valuable." Church is both. On one hand what we are doing is insignificant. On the other hand it's important. The church holds the hope of the world in its hands.


G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man:

They took the body down from the cross and one of the few rich men among the first Christians obtained permission to bury it in a rock tomb in his garden; the Romans setting a military guard let there should be some riot and attempt to recovery the body. There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulture and guarded by the authority of the Caesars. For in that cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we call antiquity was gathered up and covered over; and in that place it was buried. It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human. The mythologies and the philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages. In the great Roman phrase, they had lives. But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead.

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at day-break to the place found the grace empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder, but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.


When it comes to success, character is more important than intelligence. Walter Mischel is a research psychologist at Stanford University. He tested children at age four for "impulse control." This character trait ended up being a much greater predictor of future success than IQ. Evidently, brains and talent alone don't make someone successful. Those brains and talents need to be under control, or what Mischel calls "goal-directed self-imposed delay of gratification." Simply put, successful people self-regulate their activities to achieve a greater goal. They deny impulses that are not in service of the greater good.

This principle of success has a direct application to ministry and ministers. First, for ministry, we are often faced with competing demands for resources. For instance, the youth department would love to have a new big screen TV. There is also an opportunity to conduct an outreach to launch new small groups in a neighboring community. Is the ministry able to discipline itself into choosing the path that will advance Christ's kingdom? Or will we give in to the impulse to "feather our own nest?" Are we willing to put "our" needs on the back burner, so that the needs of others can be met? Many groups are not willing, and it becomes their undoing.

The challenge of impulse control that is faced on a macro scale for the ministry, is faced on a micro scale for the minister. For instance, there may be an opportunity presented to speak at a national conference. Unfortunately the timing of this invitation conflicts with an important season of ministry locally. Can the minister forego the opportunity for exposure (read: ego management) in order to "stick to the knitting?" Many can't, and it becomes their undoing.

"Non-gratifying" work often precedes gratifying work. The pilot has to go through the checklist before he gets to fly. The surgeon has to scrub down before she gets to operate. The manager has to do the reference checks before hiring. The wise couple goes through the pre-marital counseling before tying the knot. Likewise, successful small group leaders make reminder phone calls to their group members on Monday, so that they have a good attendance and group meeting on Wednesday. Successful teachers block out the time for study, so that their lessons are well documented and illustrated. Successful pastors invest the time in leader development, so that they can achieve a growing ministry.

Private success precedes public success. What impulses do you need to control in order to achieve a greater level of impact? What non-gratifying work do you need to do, in order to get to do the gratifying work?


There are little things that I check on each week that may seem trivial, but that I consider to be the important behind the scenes, non-gratifying "stuff" that allows me to enjoy the "stuff" that is gratifying, like teaching the word. For instance, I check the distance between rows in the auditorium so that there is sufficient room for people to get to seats. I check the temperature in the room, and make sure there is some air flow. I look in the bathrooms to make sure there are paper towels and toiler paper. I try to do a sound check with the lapel mic. I make sure that I have enough water to drink. Do I enjoy doing these things? Not really. My impulse would be to just get up, start talking, and hope for the best. But getting ready requires doing the "nongratifying" work before jumping in.


"Paying it forward" has been an important aspect of CTK's success. We have restricted our impulses to achieve a greater good. We are paying a price now for opportunities we hope to enjoy in the future. For instance, we are sharing the costs of building a Central Services organization, so that there is a strong enough administrative backbone to support a movement. Is this easy to do? No. A couple years ago, Central Services was 15% of our budget. This year we have budgeted 11% for Central Services (it was actually 7% last month). In the future, with greater scale, we see Central Services consistently being a cost in the mid-single-digits. The future prospect is that all CTK groups and centers would have had a high degree of skilled administrative support (web, bookkeeping, advertising, etc.) for just pennies of each dollar. But for now, I have to admit that I have an occasional impulse to want to spend that money in a more short-sighted way! But I believe our long term success will based on our "goal-directed self-imposed delay of gratification." It is the nature of Christ's kingdom to make sacrifices for those who are about to come.


One of the beautiful things about CTK is its focus. Early in CTK’s history Steve Mason decided that CTK would focus on three things. We have carried on with these three priorities: Worship, Small Groups, and Outreach.

One of the reasons these priorities have had such spiritual impact is that they connect directly with the “great commandments” of Jesus: to love God (Worship) and people (Small Groups, Outreach). But staying focused is a challenging proposition. Over time there is a tendency to become diluted and less clear. This happens to many well-meaning businesses and ministries. Some of the challenges to focus at CTK include:

• Additional programs (“program creep”)
• Accumulation of stuff (building, equipment)
• Drift from participants to spectators

Over time, with “focus fatigue,” people can no longer articulate the activities of the church succinctly. The only real response to “focus fatigue” is deliberate leadership. Leaders have to become more intentional about articulating the priorities. Leaders must occasionally “weed the garden” of activities that do not support the priorities. Some of the ways this can be done:

• Limiting announcements to what can fit in the program
• A moratorium on non-small-group activities

What have you done to combat focus fatigue? Has it worked?


This week I will be traveling to Panama to meet with one of our new overseas leaders. I'll have just a few days with him, so I want to make the time count. If you had only a short amount of time to convey important information to a key leader, what would you talk about? What ideas do you perceive to be critical to what God is doing through CTK? Here's the list I came up with so far:

1. People are the ministers. The pastors are to equip the people for the work of the ministry.

2. Small groups are the basic building block. Groups provide friendship, growth, encouragement and outreach.

3. Keep the arrows pointed out. The goal is not to get people to come to us, but to get us to go to them.

4. Learn to say "Yes, sure, you bet." Our goal is to cooperate with God in what He is doing.

5. Think "more" instead of "bigger." By decentralizing the ministry we can reach an unlimited number of people.

6. Relationships are the basic currency. The church is a people, not a building.

7. Our task is to Identify, Deploy, Train, and Support leaders. Deploy first, then train.

8. Keep it simple. Focus the ministry around the priorities of Worship, Small Groups, Outreach.

9. There's hope for the future, forgiveness for the past. We have a redemptive God.

10. Good enough is good enough. Do the simplest thing that could possibly work.

Would you add anything to this list?


George Barna recently wrote a book called Revolution. I enjoyed the book very much, although I thought he gave up on the church much too easily. But there is certainly a revolution going on. There are actually multiple revolutions going on:

• In tech/communications....where speed is critical
• In relationships....where there is less face to face interaction, and more impersonal ones (email, etc.)
• In worldview....where the mental filter is now post-modernism and mass media is the dominant
• In information....where mass media is the dominant teacher
• In demographics....where the population is getting more diverse
• In culture....where superficiality is predominant
• In lifestyles....where younger people are very tribal
• In work....where people want to have more leisure options

There is also a revolution coming to the church. People want more of God. They want to live their faith. They want God to be top priority. These type of people are "God crazy." They want everything they do to be an act of worship. They do not want to go to church. They want to be the church. They don't want political or religious games. They are looking for a transformational experience. They are reaching for what C.S. Lewis called "deep church."

Spiritual revolutionaries are getting involved in new forms of what we call church, and they are making a different kind of impact. They have a passion for growth and relationships. They are not interested in building an institution. They are wanting to change the world.


One thing that I heard Barna say is that "There is a difference between being a revolutionary and being a rebel." I thought that was a very insightful comment. Rebels see what is wrong, but don't offer preferable alternatives. There are a lot of young church leaders running around right now espousing what's wrong with the church. I think it is important to not just say, "The institutional church is broken" but to also say, "and this is how God's organic church can work."


Characteristic of revolutions is inefficiency and messiness. Revolutionaries advance into uncharted territory and face new problems. I have said through the years that it takes the ability to deal with "a high level of ambiguity" to function in the CTK story. It reminds me of the commercial where they are building the plane after it is already in the air.


If you are in a place where you have more questions than answers, be thankful. This is where you should be, at least at this point in history. This is where the revolutionaries are. In the cycle of "storming, forming, norming, performing" the organized church, after hundreds of years of norming, needs to get back to the drawing board.


It is always nice when a congregation possesses a certain "energy." You enter the Worship Center and you sense that something is "happening." You might describe the environment as "electric" or "alive." There's a "buzz" in the place. Over the years I've paid attention to this energy and come to a few conclusions.

1. It is better to have this energy in the room than not to have it. Everything is easier when you have it. Worshipping is easier. Teaching is easier. Even giving the announcements is easier when there is energy in the room. Conversely, when the room is dead, it is just that much harder to sing and teach.

2. The energy you experience may be quite natural instead of supernatural. I could be wrong here. But I do have a sense for God's presence, and I'm unconvinced that the "buzz" you experience when a group of people come together to worship is necessarily a supernatural manifestation. It may be a very natural phenomena. I say this because I've sensed the same energy at super bowl parties, crowded coffee shops, school plays, family reunions, basketball games and concerts. In other words the energy may be a natural consequence of people getting together, and not just for spiritual purposes.

3. The energy we like to experience can come from more than one source. As I've reflected on this energy, I've come to believe that it comes in two varieties: 1) the "energy of community" and 2) the "energy of crowd." The energy of community is the buzz you sense at a superbowl party, crowded coffee shop or family reunion. The energy of crowd is the electricity you experience at a school play, basketball game or concert. It is easy to think that the energy of community and crowd are the same. They aren't the same. They feel similar, but for different reasons. The energy of community comes from reunion. The energy of crowd comes from anticipation. The energy of community finds its locus in the back of the room. The locus of crowd is the front of the room. Relationships are the star of the show with community; performers star with crowd. Community is bottom up. Crowd is top down.

4. The biggest difference between the energy of community and the energy of crowd is who brings the energy. With community, you bring the energy with you - you are an active participant, a prosumer. With crowd, the energy is brought to you - you are a passive spectator, a consumer. You hear pastors of large ministries saying things like, "It takes so much energy to lead this church." This power-demand is a "load" for the pastor and staff.

5. I much prefer to have the energy in a church come from community than crowd. Actually, I'd like to have both. But if I can only have one, I like to see the energy of community be primary. The best way to know whether you are dealing with the energy of community is to ask, "What happens to the energy level when the performers are not here to perform (pastor is away, etc.)?" When the energy comes from community the answer is, "There's still a buzz in the room." As an example, there's energy in the gymnasium until the announcer says the game is cancelled. Once the game is cancelled "the air goes out of the room." The energy of crowd is fickle like that. But let's say you show up at your family reunion, and discover that someone couldn't make it. It might put a slight damper on the energy in the room, but it will still be there, because there are a lot of other people with whom you can fellowship.


I have had two fairly high-energy experiences at CTK (Bellingham, Mount Vernon) in which we "switched power sources" (from community to crowd) as the ministry grew in size. With size there tends to come more passivity on the part of people. This not what we want, it's just the way it is. People come for "the show." Having a lot of people in the room is a different type of attraction than community, but it is an attraction. I think the attraction shifted from community to crowd in both Bellingham and Mount Vernon (to a lesser extent), and in both cases we got confused by thinking that the people were still coming because of community, and didn't pick up on the subtle shift until we were behind the curve.

Another thing that starts to happen when you get into hundreds of people is that people coming in from the outside start to push you (if you let them) toward a more programmatic model (this is what I believe snuck up on us in Bellingham). They expect there to be programs based on other large churches with which they are familiar. It takes a lot of intentionality on the part of the leadership to say, "No, this is a church of small groups. Small groups are our plan A and we don't have a plan B."

With a larger group that are subtle changes in style that can creep in as well. Communication tends to be more "broadcast" than "reciprocal/engaging." The pastor can start to be viewed as more of a celebrity instead of a fellow-struggler. Instead of a sense that "we all have answers we can bring to the table" it can start to feel like "the pastor is above us, obviously....just look at how many people are listening to him."

One of the reasons why I value launching additional Worship Centers, is because the energy of community (by percentage) crests and begins to fall somewhere around 300 people.


Another phenomenon I have observed is that by the time the church hits critical mass and momentum - hitting on all 8 cyclinders - there has been so much emphasis given to small groups (perhaps the fundamental cause of the momentum!) that fatigue starts to set in around a) talking about small groups, b) identifying new leaders, c) doing the social architecture of getting people into groups. You start to feel like you've said this stuff a thousand times (which you have), but the new people who are coming in (the most recent 100-150 people) haven't heard it yet. I think you have to "push through" the fatigue and talk about small groups as if you never have before.