Sunday, December 27, 2009


The Bible is written in ink. Everything else should be in pencil.

I say this because I found out something interesting on the way to the ball. People sometimes like to take what I say as gospel, as if it came off of Mount Sinai. For instance: Deliberate Simplicity. I wrote Deliberate Simplicity because I found the story of CTK to be virtuous and empowering. The priorities of CTK - Worship, Small Groups, Outreach - resonate with Jesus' prioritization: love the Lord with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. I believe we have found great benefit in "keeping the main thing the main thing." But Deliberate Simplicity is an application of the word of God, not the word of God itself.

Jesus asked us to love each other. The primary way we have applied that principle is to organize into small groups for friendship, growth, encouragement and outreach. But small groups are not the only way in which we can love each other. They are "a" way, and a great way, but not the only way. It would be a mistake for us to make small groups out to be a command of Christ. They are an application of the command. I have a friend who is very well connected to other Christian friends. Her family and two to three other families regularly "hang out." They pray for each other. They encourage each other. They meet each other's needs. It is very practical and profound. They are carrying out the "one-anothers" of Scripture. It would be a mistake for me to require her to "get into a small group." In fact, it would miss the point entirely. The point of small groups is so that we do life together. They are doing that; perhaps so well that we all could learn something from them. Small groups are our primary method, but behind the emphasis on groups is a Biblical principle of relationships. It is the principle that is paramount, not the program.

The word of God is eternal. We run into problems when we try to make things that are not timeless, timeless. We run into problems when we take our program and try to make it the formula. Formulism is fundamentalism applied to practice. Remember, if we wrote it, it's in pencil.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I have a low-cost solution to propose for our current health care crisis. A great awakening. Returning to God. Revival. That should solve it.

About 70% of health care costs deal with behavioral choices, from homosexuality to junk food. A physician might call it "lung cancer." Others might say it's reaping what cigarettes have sown. A doctor might diagnose it as diabetes. Another word that might work is "gluttony." A specialist might call it liver disease. A prophet would call it drunkenness. So much of what ails us physically has a deeper root. Unfortunately, our society has become sophisticatedly ignorant. We are experiencing moral amnesia. As I complain to my doctor about my aching knees, I conveniently overlook the fifty pound tummy that those knees are being asked to carry, and the late night bowls of ice cream that were penultimate. I am not the greatest example of taking care of myself. And I guess that's my point. We're asking our health care system to change, and do better. Maybe we should be the ones doing the changing. But first we have to wake up to what's really going on, and quit holding to the unscriptural idea that we can sow personal destructiveness, and somehow, someway have the corporate health care system get a different crop to come in (and by the way, we don't want to pay as much for this modern miracle).

When I told someone recently that I had a personal goal of taking better care of myself, they said something that was very politically incorrect. They said, "Food addiction is the only 'acceptable' addiction in the Christian community." Alcohol? Nope. Pornography? No way. Gambling? No go. Potato Chips? Now that's a tolerable sin! She went on to say that "it is only at a church potluck where a 350 pound person can go back for their fourth plate of food and no one will bat an eyelash." Ok, now you've stepped over the line! That is getting dangerously close to hurting my feelings. But all joking aside, the Old Testament prophets often scoffed at the futility of mankind trying to "perfume the pile" - to make sin smell better. In so many ways it is time for our country, but particularly God's people, to shake off our amnesia. Spiritual problems cannot be solved with political, medical, or psychological solutions. We simply can't come up with enough ingenuity to keep from reaping what we sow.

Monday, December 07, 2009


Was meeting with an associate pastor recently, who had been in business for himself prior to entering vocational ministry. He expressed interested in becoming a senior or lead pastor. When I asked him why he wanted to take that step he said, "Because I have some entrepreneurial instincts, and I'm afraid that if I am not in a position to take risks that those instincts will atrophy and I will lose them." I found that to be a very insightful answer. Faith is a muscle that needs to be exercised or else you'll lose it.

The way to keep walking by faith is to keep walking by faith. If you succumb to fear, you will become more likely to succumb to fear. Harry Truman said, "The worst danger we face is being paralyzed by doubts and fears." If fear takes over, paralysis sets in. There is actually a "fear cycle": Fear leads to Inaction; Inaction leads to Inexperience; Inexperience leads to Inability; Inability leads to greater fear, and the cycle repeats and reinforces itself. If you feel this cycle setting in (as this associate pastor did) you need to take action. You need to take a step of faith.

Jim Collins has written a book called How the Mighty Fall. A few years ago he wrote a hugely popular book entitled Good to Great, about how good companies became great companies. This latest book is about how good companies have become bad companies, that have trended downward instead of upward. Why? Because they were unwilling to take risks. Why? Because they were afraid. The president and the board went into protective mode and were no longer willing to step out. In the process, they lost it. Reminds me of what Jesus said, "Those who save their lives will lose it. The one who loses his life for my sake will find it." Fortunately there are warning signs. Before you die, atrophy starts to set in.

Monday, November 23, 2009


There is a difference between responding and reacting. When problems arise you want to respond, but you don't want to react. And you definitely don't want to be reactionary.

When organizations get reactionary they tend to solve an immediate problem, but create additional unforeseen difficulties in the process (which will be experienced by far more people down the road). The government has become great at this, but churches aren't too far behind. An example of reactionary governance? Our Worship Center in Burlington is applying for a Conditional Use Permit to renovate a warehouse into worship space. Simple enough, right? Not necessarily. When the building department looked at the auditorium size they were initially concerned that we could put too many people in it, especially if every one was standing (yes, I know that most people sit down in church, but I'll get to that in a minute). Where did the concern about standing room come from? A local tavern. Evidently on some Friday nights this local tavern is packed, beyond capacity, with everyone standing. Unfortunately for us, we put in our use application at the same time that the city was trying to deal with the "packed tavern problem." How are they thinking about solving it? A neighboring community solves the problem by having taverns bolt down their tables, so that they can't be pushed out of the way. So our city's recommendation to us? How about bolted-down pews! Their reasoning is if we have pews we cannot have a standing room crowd, thus eliminating the tavern concern, which has become their concern, and by extension now, our concern. Of course, we are not going to put in pews, and I think we're going to be able to negotiate this "problem," but I raise this story because this is the type of nonsensical stuff that many churches pull. And we as leaders in the church need to resist this type of creeping bureaucracy!

The past six months there has been a "pull" on me to put more regulation into the CTK story, particularly around the area of leadership qualifications. This has come from well-meaning people who have been hurt by leaders who have presented themselves to be one thing, but in actuality were another. I have personally been witness to the devastation that disingenuous leaders have caused. But this is where we want to respond and not to react. To respond means that we deal with our fallen brothers directly, and we bring them into a process of accountability and restoration. To react would mean reorganizing the entire church, or writing a policy manual, or instituting regulations, to "keep this from every happening again." Frankly, I've left heel marks behind resisting the impulse to kill a gnat with a cannon. I think we HAVE to resist this impulse unless we want to become like just about every other church - highly regulated, controlled and lifeless.

The fact of the matter is, problems will arise in the church and in its leadership. You show me a church, and I'll show you a church that has problems. The churches planted by Paul were messed up in just about any way a church could be messed up! Even Jesus had a rogue apostle or two. When we take risks on people, we take risks on people. You don't bat 1.000. There are some strikeouts. But we must not build the entire ministry to keep from striking out. We must build the ministry so that we keep hitting the ball!

Thursday, November 05, 2009


I used to think that bigger was better. Over the years, the Lord has taught me just the opposite; that better is bigger. Actually, there have been three shifts in my thinking:

1. It's about church health instead of church growth. When I first start out as a pastor (22 years ago) I was enamored with "church growth." I remember asking a "successful" pastor of a large church about how his church had grown, and he told me bluntly, "Church growth principles." At the time, I did not have the experience to filter that comment. I just thought "OK" and then proceeded to buy every book I could, and attend every conference I could, on the subject of church growth. What I found is that there is a science to getting people to come to and stay in your church. Many churches have utilitized certain approaches that have resulted in increased attendance. Whether or not these people are committed to Christ and "on mission" is another question. With greater spiritual maturity I've come to appreciate church health more than church growth. Am I still interested in seeing large numbers of people come to Christ? Absolutely. I am praying for another Great Awakening. But I see this coming as the outgrowth of a vibrant, healthy, Spirit-filled church, not the result of any human efficacy.

2. It's about being the church instead of going to church. I used to see church as a place you went to. In the last several years I've come to see it as a place you go from. The real work, it has become clear to me, needs to be done in our neighborhoods, and schools, and workplaces. I get more and more excited seeing Christians engaging in ministries away from the church building, in their circle of influence. It is becoming less about how many people we can get to come, and more about how many people we can get to go.

3. It's about turning up the clarity, not the volume. Years ago I thought "If we could just find a bull horn loud enough, we could let everyone know what we know." I was a much bigger proponent, back then, of banners, crusades, billboards and mailers. All of this has its place. But there's a fine line between turning up the volume and crossing over into distortion. Nowadays I appreciate more those who have the ability to take eternal truths and make them lucid to the lost. As Jesus said, the light needs to be set on a hill, the salt needs to be salty. Instead of trying to cram truth down the throat of the culture, I think it's about sending a clearer signal, and whetting the appetite of the culture for the things of God.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


One of the hardest things for leaders to do is to own their mistakes. Humble pie is a pastry that is never tasty. But Winston Churchill said, "The price of greatness is responsibility." As leaders we are not always going to get it right. But when we get it wrong we need to know what was wrong, admit what was wrong, and remedy what was wrong. Admitting wrongdoing is a lost art that people are longing to see come into vogue. An episode of Seinfeld illustrates this beautifully. Jerry walks into a dry cleaners with a shirt that has obviously been shrunken:

Dry Cleaner: May I help you?
Jerry: Yeah, I picked up this shirt here yesterday. It's completely shrunk. There's absolutely no way I can wear it.

Dry Cleaner: When did you bring it in?
Jerry: What's the difference? Look at it! Do you see the size of this shirt?!

Dry Cleaner: You got a receipt?
Jerry: I can't find the receipt.

Dry Cleaner: You should get the receipt.
Jerry: Look, forget about the receipt, all right? Even if I had the receipt - look at it! It's a hand puppet. What am I going to do with this?!

Dry Cleaner: Yes, but how do I know we did the shirt?
Jerry: What do you think, this is a little scam I have? I take this tiny shirt all over the city conning dry cleaners out of money?! In fact, forget the money. I don't even want the money. Just once, I would like to hear a dry cleaner admit that something was their fault. That's what I want. I want an admission of guilt.

Dry Cleaner: Maybe you asked for it to be washed?
Jerry: No...Dry cleaned.

Dry Cleaner: Let me explain to you something. Okay? With certain types of fabrics, different chemicals can react, causing...
Jerry: (Interruping) You shrunk it! You know you shrunk it! Just tell me that you shrunk it!

Dry Cleaner: I shrunk it.

See, that wasn't hard, was it? Wrong. There is a line that is just short of taking full, clear responsibility, and many, many people, for whatever reason, can't get across that line. They try to minimize, defer, explain - do everything but admit that they were wrong. Meanwhile the angst only grows for those who desperately need to hear the eight words: "I'm sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me."

I have been watching with peculiar interest the board of our local school district (where my son goes to school). The school board has been caught in a land boondoggle, purchasing property at too high a price, in an area not zoned for a school, with money that the district did not, and does not, have. It is a perfect storm of mistakes: a runaway superintendent, an incompetent appraiser, turncoat politicians, a lagging economy, a contract that was not carefully reviewed (in fact, the contract for the land cannot even be located). Now the board will be asking the community to pass a bail-out bond to help pay for the unusable land, and to keep the State from taking over the district in the next year to keep it from insolvency. (Cue Southwest Airlines' ad, "Want to get away?"). I personally think that the community might actually be inclined to bail the school district out, but I doubt it will happen unless the school board is willing to own their mistakes and take responsibility. A little bit of ownership for the mistakes would be like a paper towel on a spill. Instead, the board spread the mess around by sending out a four paragraph "message" to the community, and I quote:

"All school boards have an assortment of governance responsibilities and often face considerable challenges carrying them out..."
"(the purchase was) made after considerable evaluation..."
"the board was convinced at that time the acquisition of that property was in the best interest of the district..."
"we are committed to focusing on the future..."
"we are confident that together we will develop a plan..."

Do you notice something missing here? Yup. The closest the board got to saying, "We blew it" was use of the word "regrettable" (which still cloaks them in the role of victims, instead of protagonists).

I bring this episode to your attention, not because of the mistakes that were made in purchasing the property. I personally believe that mistakes WILL be made by leaders, and sometimes the mistakes will be quite significant. I bring this episode to your attention because of the lack of ownership for the mistake, which is a second mistake, that now puts salt in the wound. Wouldn't the school board be better served by saying, "Dear Community, We blew it. We meant well, but we kicked the can. We should have read the contract. We should have verified the information. We were the board. We were and are responsible. We didn't handle our responsibilities well and we're sorry that our mistakes have put the community in a bind." I think that might work. But truly one of the hardest things for politicians to do is ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY. The response of the board on this reminds me of Arthur Fonzerelli ("The Fonz") of Happy Days struggling to say he was “w-r-rr....w-rr-rrrr....w-rr-rrr---rrrrong.” The Fonz was cool in so many ways, but his inability to admit wrongdoing was not cool.

I have admired Bill Hybels (founder of Willow Creek Community Church) for years. But my respect went to an all-time high when he recently admitted that their attempts at spiritual formation had largely failed. Listen to this, and learn to be a leader who takes responsibility: "Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for. We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own."

Wow. I know where Seinfeld would like to go to church!

Monday, October 19, 2009


There's something to be said for loyalty. I haven't said much about it because I've enjoyed so much of it over the course of my ministry career that I've probably taken it for granted. But if you follow Christ, you will get to experience what he experienced, and that includes knowing what betrayal feels like. You will be initiated into the "fellowship of Christ's sufferings." You will get to understand why Jesus kept asking Peter, "Do you love me?" (John 21:15-17). You will relate to Jesus asking the twelve, "You don't want to leave too, do you?" (John 6:67). You will get why Paul bemoaned the fact that Demas had deserted him (2 Timothy 4:10). You will have to wipe a traitor's kiss off your cheek (Matthew 26:49). Jesus would be the first to tell you it's hard to build a movement out of people who are fickle, finicky and flighty, but Jesus also warned that fickle, finicky and flighty are what we'll get to work with.

I find loyalty hard to talk about because there is such a narrow path between cavernous extremes. On the one side I am sensitive to the many abuses of loyalty that have been seen in Christian circles, where the domineering pastor or Christian leader has everyone running scared. He keeps everyone silent through grand proclamations of authority and submission. The sheep meekly stumble along. But that is not actually loyal behavior. It's cultish behavior (loyalty is for the overall good; cultishness is only good for the leader). On the other side, there is a drop-off into gluelessness (not cluelessness, although probably that too). People come and go randomly. No one has any idea who is going to show up. No one stands by their word. No one trusts anyone. No one has the other person's back. I'm not sure which is worse. Too much loyalty or too little of it.

I'm still learning on this subject, but here's what I've discovered so far about how to engender a healthy loyalty, and process disloyalty when it occurs.

1. Another word for loyalty is team. Loyal people are team players. They think constantly, "How do we win together?" Individualism, on the other hand, is at the heart of disloyalty. A disloyal person is unwilling to put others' interests above their own. Their personal agenda ends up trumping all others, and eventually, when they don't get what they want, they leave and take their toys with them.

2. In a Christian context loyalty must be aligned with Christ. Paul said, "Follow me inasmuch as I follow Christ." If a leader is not following Christ, then all bets of loyalty are off (this is not Enron, here). We are only signing up to follow someone, because they are following Someone. But provided that our leaders are pointed in the right direction (toward Christ) then loyalty is godly and good.

3. Good followership is as important as good leadership. Just as there can be bad leaders, there can also be bad followers. Bad followers have a tendency to blame leaders for their lack of loyalty. Bad leaders tend to blame followers for their lack of leadership. The only way out of this death spiral is for everyone to over-own their own stuff; leaders need to step up their leadership, and followers must step up their loyalty.

4. Loyalty can thrive in a context of disagreement. For us to be loyal to each other, we do not necessarily have to agree with each other on every point. In fact, until there is disagreement, you will not be able to tell whether or not someone is loyal or just following along because it's going their way. Christian unity is embracing diversity within the will of God. It is an awesome thing to be on a team where people don't have to necessarily agree on every point, but when they leave the room they are 100% united in their direction and efforts.

5. The closer people are to the center, the more loyalty cannot just be encouraged but demanded. Not all disloyalty is created equal. Cracks at the edge can be cosmetically concealed. Fissures at the center threaten the very existence of the organization (can you imagine if the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were not united?). Because of this, a pastor-friend of mine who is intent on this point tells staff when they are hired, "Disloyalty will get you fired." Some might see this as a self-serving threat. He views this as a protective measure against the Enemy.

6. When you are betrayed, keep in mind the bigger picture. A very small percentage of people are truly disloyal. In Jesus' case the ratio was one in twelve. The pain of such behavior can be so intense, however, that it can cause you to lose sight of the faithfulness of the majority. Going back to the garden of Eden, it has been one of Satan's strategies to get us focused on what we don't have and think we need, and get our eyes off of the abundant blessings we already have. Don't fall for this! Recognize and rejoice in the majority of folks who keep their commitments.

7. Talk is cheap...and a red flag. The more of it you hear, the more skeptical you should be. Peter was vociferous in his declarations that he would never deny Christ. Jesus smelled a rat. Even Judas tried to play off his traitorous ways at the Lord's Supper. Maybe this is why James (Jesus' half-brother) said, "Don't tell us, show us." I believe you will find that the most loyal people will not be the ones promising to be. They will be the ones who keep their eyes on the Lord and week after week show up and carry out their ministry with a smile on their face, and joy in their heart.

Monday, October 12, 2009


The easiest thing is to react. The second easiest thing is to respond. The hardest thing is to initiate. But CTK has become a phenomenal story because many people do the hardest thing and initiate ministry, in ways big and small. One of our values at CTK is empowerment. Empowerment, turned inside out, is initiative. I was struck recently by a story told in The Power of Small; Why Little Things Make All the Difference:

"When Linda first decided to open The Kaplan Thaler Group, she had once piece of Clairol's hair care business - Herbal Essences Shampoo, which she naively thought she could run from her Manhattan brownstone. Steve Sadove, her sole client and then-president of Clairol, tactfully suggested that Linda would at least need a business partner, since her expertise was in the creative side of advertising. Considering she had never run a company, or earned a business degree, Linda reluctantly agreed. Flipping through her Rolodex, she went on a frenzied search for the perfect partner. She wanted someone brilliant, assertive, collaborative, and challenging. The last person she was looking for was a 'yes' woman. She instinctively knew she needed someone with the moxie to tell her if the work was veering off track, or if her genius campaign idea would send a client's company into Chapter 11. She needed to hire an alter ego.

"After watching Linda eliminate more prospects than an American Idol audition, Steve stepped in again. He urged Linda to contact Robin Koval, who handled a number of other Clairol accounts at a large New York ad agency. Linda arranged to meet Robin at Michael's Muffins, a neighborhood coffee shop whose Formica decor was, to put it kindly, a far cry from the power-breakfast venues where Madison Avenue movers and shakers usually ordered their egg whites. Robin was intrigued. As fate would have it, she was also a tad hungry.

"When Linda walked in, there sat Robin at one of the wobbly tables with a giant bran muffin in front of her. The muffin had been perfectly sliced in two. She promptly introduced herself: 'Hi, I'm Robin Koval. It's great to meet you. I ordered a bran muffin, and it was huge, so I though we might share it. Of course, if you want your own muffin, or a different kind, I'll just save this for later.'

"It was business-partner love at first bite. Linda realized that this simple gesture revealed more about Robin than a resume or references could. She had shown herself to be proactive, frugal, collaborative and willing to take the initiative, even if the task was ordering breakfast. Within an hour, a partnership was taking root."

Those two ladies have gone on to create a powerhouse ad agency (they created the Aflac duck, for example), but it all started with a bran muffin, and a little bit of initiative.

Like never before, real people, average people, can take initiative. Seth Godin writes in Tribes, "In the old model things happened to you at work. Factories opened, people were hired. Bosses gave instructions. You got transferred. There were layoffs. You got promoted. Factories closed. Leaders, on the other hand, don't have things happen to them. They do things."

It used to be that people in the church waited for instructions from the pastor. In today's world, the ministry happens when and where people take initiative.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


Concerns about credit have stymied many great works of God. Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn't matter who gets the credit.”

We cannot become an organic movement of ministers and ministries "here, there and everywhere" if we are overly concerned about who will get the credit. In fact, I believe that one of the subliminal reasons why church leaders resist the notion of organic ministry is that they intuitively know that they will not be able to take credit for it when it happens. Let me explain, using the illustration of a woman's desire to reach out to elementary-aged girls.

A mom, seeing the challenges that confront young ladies, and feeling a call from God, desires to have a ministry to girls who are the age of her daughter. She discusses this idea with her pastor, looking for coaching and support. Two ideas come up in the conversation: a) that she could start an after-school group in her home, and invite her daughter's friends to come over after school, or b) that she could join the Sunday School as a teacher in that age group. As the conversation unfolds, lurking in the back of the pastor's mind is the desire for credit. If this mom starts a group at her home, will he be able to take credit for it? The answer is, "Not as easily as if she is working in our Sunday School." Will he let this gremlin manipulate the conversation? If so, he will say to this ministry-mom, "I think the best thing for you to do is to plug into our Sunday School."

If you are concerned about credit you will have a preference for ministries that you can see, because ministries that you can see are ones that you can control, and for which you can take credit. This is not empowerment in the truest sense, it is manipulation for the sake of the pastor's ego.

Organic church leader Tony Dale has a slogan that he tries to live by: "No empire building, no control, and no glory." He is careful to build His kingdom, instead of his own. In Isaiah 42:8 God says this: I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another." Dale writes, "For humans, the temptation to take just a little bit of the credit is very strong! But it is an incredible privilege to be a part of a move of God, and we need to remember this and stay humble."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


There is a difference between what we experience with "woundedness and healing," and what we experience with "death and resurrection." Let me detail the differences:

Woundedness and healing...

- process is natural
- restoration is expected and gradual
- time is an ally
- treat it and work it out
- incremental turnaround
- friends can help you
- advice is called for

Death and resurrection...

- process is supernatural
- restoration is unexpected and sudden
- time is an enemy
- grieve it and let it go
- dramatic turnaround
- only God can help you
- miracle is called for

When looking at your own life, or the lives of others, it is helpful to keep in mind these distinctions. For matters of woundedness and healing, Christian counseling, a "how to" sermon series, or small group support can make a big difference. For matters of death and resurrection, there is not much that can be done, except to wait on God for a miracle. Many believers become frustrated waiting on God for healing and restoration, not understanding that the process they are going through is more likened to a resurrection from the dead. It's not that God won't be able to bring about restoration, it's that ONLY GOD will be able to do it, and He will do it in his way, and in his time, and sometimes as a complete surprise.

As I think back on the darkest period of my life, in which I left the ministry and was filled with anger and doubt, I can see that it was more than just a wounding that needed healing. It was a death. It was the death of "David, the pastor." It was the death of a vision. It was the death of life under my control. Years later God pulled me out of the miry clay and set my feet on a rock. As I look back now, I don't view my recovery as a healing, I view it as a resurrection. God sovereignly intervened in my story. As the nursery rhyme "Humpty Dumpty" says, "All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty back together again." But while the king's men can't put the pieces together again, the King can!

Many Christian leaders want to "fix" problems when they see them. We want to view broken marriages, failed ministries and personal tragedies as challenges that need our coaching. But sometimes, what we're looking at cannot be solved with salve. It's deeper than that. There is nothing that we are going to be able to say or do to bring restoration. God is going to have to resurrect the story from the dead. At these times, we're better off to function more like the mortician than the physician. Issue the death certificate. Let them know that the marriage is dead. Let them know that their life, as they've known it, is over. Eulogize. Help them throw the dirt on the coffin. But here is the beautiful thing about the kingdom of God. Just when we think it's over, it's not. God loves to raise the dead.

Monday, September 14, 2009


We need to extend grace in matters of style, as well as sin. I would say that CTK has become noted for being a place of grace for sinners. We say without reservation that there is "Always a Place for You." We don't care where you've been, or what you've done, we know that love covers over a multitude of sins. We say, "God will take you where you are, He just won't leave you there." We believe there is forgiveness for the past, and hope for the future. There is no question about how we feel about sinners. We love them. The question is, "Will we extend the same kind of grace to someone who differs from us in their style?"

Thomas Jefferson put it so well when he said, "In matters of style, swim with the current, in matters of principle, stand like a rock." This has proved to be a difficult balance for Christians to maintain. We have tended to a) gravitate to certain styles (in preaching, worship, service order), then b) imagine that our preferred methodology must be "right," then c) become cynical, critical or judgmental of others for being different. We must resist this temptation. As Jefferson noted, style is an area where we want to see diversity, not unity. We want to be loyal to the master and mission, not the method and manner.

I have found that many believers have a wrong notion about Christian unity. They confuse unity with uniformity. Christian unity is not uniformity. Uniformity is the natural man's way of seeking unity and involves:
(1) looking for little things he has in common with others, then

(2) finding differences between his group and others, and finally

(3) increasingly insisting that those who are with him be like him.

That is not Christian unity. That is worldly uniformity. And, frankly, anyone can do it, which is why everyone is doing it. Christian unity is embracing diversity within the will of God (see 1 Corinthians 12). Did you catch the difference? Christian unity actually embraces diversity. Within God's will, there is grace for differences in personality and presentation.

Can you appreciate a sermon that is preached in a different style than you prefer? Can you worship with a song that isn't your favorite? Can you "talk up" a denomination that isn't yours? If not, you may need to take some of the grace that you have for sin, and apply some of it to style.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Multi-Site Church Road Trip

Greg Ligon, co-author of Multi-Site Church Road Trip (which features a chapter about CTK) asked some follow up questions of me as part of a "blog tour" that includes a stop here today (Thursday, September 10th, 2009). (See Here are the questions and my answers....

1. Dave, you say in Multi-site Church Road Trip that you and the team at Christ the King have 120 campuses and many of those are actually International campuses. What does an international campus look like? How is the same/different from one of your state-side campuses?

Overseas our gatherings are often not in an owned or leased facilities. Some of our congregations meet in tents, or under trees, or town squares. Often the gatherings have children present, whereas in the US we offer children's programming simultaneous the worship service. In the US our services are typically an hour or less. Overseas, our services are often longer than two hours. In some cultures the leader has a more prominent role that we tend to see in the US.

2. I think it is interesting that you have a commitment to international campuses and a high value for use of technology in developing leaders but no Internet campuses? Any reason for that?

Our international reach is more of a "God-thing" than anything else. We had no plan to be outside of our own county, much less around the world. But once you define the church by relationship, instead of geography, you realize that relationships do not respect geographical boundaries. We say that we can go as far as relationships will take us. Our goal is to raise up people to do ministry, so we view technology as a tool, not a strategy.

3. We have talked recently about your discovery that there is a greater access to cell coverage than high speed internet in India and many of the countries you are serving in Africa and that this has prompted you to redesign your leadership development training to be delivered in text size messages. Can you give us an update on where you are in that process? What is working? What is not?

I send out a weekly email that gets resent as text by our international leaders. Some of our leaders follow me on Twitter as well. The cell phone is clearly the next laptop. More SMS texts are sent every day in the world than email messages. We are attempting to take our "teachable points of view" and distill them to 140 characters or less. We are also developing 60-second sermons that can be utilized on cell phones.

4. You are the author of Deliberate Simplicity, another title in the Leadership Network Innovation Series. How do the key principles of simplicity find application in the establishment and execution of International Campuses?

Simplicity resonates in the two-thirds world, because it really is the only option. There are not resources available in much of the world to support the attractional model.

5. What is new about the multi-site ministry at Christ the King since we last talked?

I believe that God is showing us some new things about worship. Many of our leaders are feeling that our corporate worship has been too much about us, and not enough about Him. We are also exploring more non-musical forms of worship that have great potential to reduce our dependence on musicians as key to expanding the church.

6. What have I not asked that I should have?

You ask great questions. One additional one might be, "What complicates overseas ministry?" The answer would be: money. There is such a huge resource disparity between our church in the US and our church in the two-thirds world that we are wrestling constantly with how much to support needs overseas. So far we have sent very nominal and sporadic support, and have placed an emphasis on being self-sustaining. But it is often difficult to say "no" when they need it and we have it.

Next stop? Robert Emmitt, Senior Pastor, Community Bible Church, San Antonio, Texas -

To get the latest updates be sure to sign up for the RSS feed at

Monday, September 07, 2009


In the CTK story we see most small groups falling somewhere between being a Bible study, and being a social hang out. Some groups, of course, are Bible studies, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Other groups are purely social gatherings, and there is nothing wrong with that, either. But what we feel is "most right" for the "most people" is a group in the middle ground, that emphasizes biblical application in a social context. This type of gathering is what John Wesley called the "class."

One of the dictionary definitions for "class" is a "social group with similar opportunities." The "classes" that Wesley organized were not Bible study groups or the "sharing" groups we have come to know. They were weekly groups, led by a volunteer, in which participants gave a report to each other about their lives, their activities, their temptations, their failures, and their successes. The sharing was targeted to what it meant to be a Christ-follower. In the safety of friends, each one would be encouraged to follow after God and to do meet the needs of people in the larger community. The emphasis was on living out the Christian faith in all of life. The groups were powerful because there was an edge to the conversations - some might call it support or accountability - in every group meeting. Outsiders who would attend the meetings were struck by the spiritual authenticity and fervor. These were not ordinary people living ordinary lives. It was truly a special "class" of people.

To understand the Spirit of the "class," listen to Wesley's challenge: "Make every class meeting an exhilarating feast of divine love and holy joy and people will come no matter how tired and/or busy they are. Fire is kindled with fire and wind. Enthusiasm is kindled with enthusiasm and the Holy Spirit." Has your group become lifeless or boring? Pray for a fresh fire. Engage more deliberately. Ask daring spiritual questions. Expect transformation.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Proximity is prerequisite to community. You have to be around each other before you can listen to each other, know each other, share with each and carry out all the other "one-anothers."

Actually, From a description of the early church we read in Acts 2 there are four prerequisites to community: proximity, interaction, sharing and intimacy.
1. Proximity. Early on, the people who were part of the Christian community were around each other. They were with each other. They were with the apostles. There was a fellowship. "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles." (Acts 2:42,43)

2. Interaction. As they started to be together, they started to do things together. They were sharing meals together. They started to “do life” together instead of separately.

3. Sharing. When you get around other people, and start doing things together, you find out what their needs are, and what you can do to help. You begin by sharing your story, and move to sharing your needs. "They had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." (Acts 2:44,45)
4. Intimacy. Over time the early Christians began to share not just their money, but their hearts. "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people." (Acts 2:46,47)

Intimacy happens when we share at a deep level, and receive sharing at a deep level. Intimacy rhymes with “into me see.” If we get together and all we talk about is the weather, we are not going to become intimate. But as we talk about our feelings, fears and faith we start to engage each other at a deeper, more intimate level. The four-step process to bonding as a group is 1) input, 2) feedback, 3) deeper input, 4) deeper feedback.

But it all starts with getting together.

By gathering in small groups, we don't insure that community will happen, but we at least give community a chance to happen. Ninety percent of it is "just showing up." In Christian community the percentage might be higher. Jesus said, "When two or three gather in my name I am there." Hebrews warns, "Don't stop getting together." Getting together is the beginning of everything.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


There are now more licensed vehicles in America, than there are licensed drivers. The accumulation of more and more things (i.e. "the American way") has a corrosive effect - more than we might imagine. In addition to the resources that are tied up in owning, operating, repairing, running, storing, insuring and disposing things, there is an enormous "hidden" cost in diverted affection and focus. We don't have time for relationships, because we are too busy taking care of "things." Keeping stuff running takes undue management time.

A silver lining of the recession is that 32% of Americans have been spending less and intend to make their less costly lifestyle their "new normal." Nearly half of Americans say they already have what they need, up significantly from 2006. The hold of materialism is being broken. People are realizing that when you value objects less, you can value experiences and people more, and be richer for it. I have written about the church returning to deliberate simplicity. Frankly, it is much easier to make the challenge to the impersonal "church" (to a nameless, faceless organization) than it is to bring it right home to where you and I live. But I believe that is the next challenge. Are we prepared to strip away the extraneous, so that the essential can flourish?

One practical iteration of folks getting back to the "core" of life is the 100 Thing Challenge. The 100 Thing Challenge began as a blog, but now a number of individuals and groups have joined in and made it their modus operandi. The concept is simple. Pare your possessions to fewer than 100 items (a pair of shoes might count as one item, for example). A church in Minnesota took on this challenge as a group, and had so much to give to charity (boats, furniture, snowblowers) that it filled up a warehouse. The pastor went from five suits to one; from a dozen ties to two. The church enjoyed a return to basics, with less clutter and noise.

This is actually a very ancient Christian practice. The early church "sold their possessions and goods" and gave to anyone who had need. The biblical principal is this: We want to understate things so that we shout people. Last year my family went on a "rampage" and went through every closet and corner and pared "things" down significantly. It was a big step in the right direction. But Kristyn and I were just talking about new goals for this year, and seeing if we can get within the 100 Thing limit. My personal goal is to get rid of all my CDs, most of my books, and half of my clothes. I have nine pairs of shoes. I think I can get down to four. I have three watches. I only need one. Having less means less to worry about. Having less to worry about means more time for God and people.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Jesus told us to be God-centered and others centered because it is the only way to fly. Not only does being self-absorbed not work for others, it doesn't even work for you. It is much more satisfying to perceive ourselves as an insignificant character in a huge story, and take genuine interest in the other characters. Listen to G.K. Chesterton:

Are there no other stories in the world except yours; and are all men busy with your business? Suppose we grant the details; perhaps when the man on the street did not seem to see you it was only his cunning; perhaps when the policeman asked you your name it was only because he knew it already. But how much happier you would be if you only knew that these people cared nothing about you! How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference! You would begin to be interested in them, because they were not interested in you. You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.

It seems to me that those in Christian leadership need to be especially reminded that "it's not about you." If you are wondering why it seems like people are not thinking about you, it's because they are not thinking about you (at least not very often). Now that you know that they are not interested in you, you can give your energy to being interested in them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


The progression from ministry being done by the pastor at the church to ministry being done by believers in the world (from "doing" church to "being" church) means that the small group is the new staff meeting.

In the traditional church, the most important meeting for ministry accountability was the board meeting. This was usually a monthly meeting between the church council (perhaps called deacons, elder or board members) and the pastor. The pastor, being the primary "minister" in the church, would come under review. What was happening in the ministry? Was anyone being reached? What more could be done? How can we pray? The accountability kept the pastor on his toes.

In the programmatic church, the most important meeting for ministry accountability was the staff meeting. This was usually a weekly or bi-monthly meeting between the senior pastor and the program staff (worship, kids, music, youth, etc.). The staff, being the primary "ministers" in the church, would come under review. What was happening in the ministry? Was anyone being reached? What more could be done? How can we pray? The accountability kept the staff on their toes.

In the missional church, the most important meeting for ministry accountability is the small group meeting. This is usually a weekly meeting consisting of various members of the body (a school teacher, a construction worker, an office worker, a stay at home mom, etc.). The small group members, being the primary "ministers" in the church, would come under review. What is happening in the ministry? Is anyone being reached? What more can be done? How can we pray? The accountability keeps the people on their toes.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


David Ryser was teaching at a school of ministry. He gave a short history of Christianity that went like this: "Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise." Ryser describes what happened next....

Some of the students were only 18 or 19 years old--barely out of diapers--and I wanted them to understand and appreciate the import of the last line, so I clarified it by adding, "An enterprise. That's a business." After a few moments Martha, the youngest student in the class, raised her hand. I could not imagine what her question might be. I thought the little vignette was self-explanatory, and that I had performed it brilliantly. Nevertheless, I acknowledged Martha's raised hand, "Yes, Martha." She asked such a simple question, "A business? But isn't it supposed to be a body?" I could not envision where this line of questioning was going, and the only response I could think of was, "Yes." She continued, "But when a body becomes a business, isn't that a prostitute?"

The room went dead silent. For several seconds no one moved or spoke. We were stunned, afraid to make a sound because the presence of God had flooded into the room, and we knew we were on holy ground. All I could think in those sacred moments was, "Wow, I wish I'd thought of that." I didn't dare express that thought aloud. God had taken over the class.

Martha's question changed my life. For six months, I thought about her question at least once every day. "When a body becomes a business, isn't that a prostitute?" There is only one answer to her question. The answer is "Yes." The American Church, tragically, is heavily populated by people who do not love God. How can we love Him? We don't even know Him; and I mean really know Him.

... I stand by my statement that most American Christians do not know God--much less love Him. The root of this condition originates in how we came to God. Most of us came to Him because of what we were told He would do for us. We were promised that He would bless us in life and take us to heaven after death. We married Him for His money, and we don't care if He lives or dies as long as we can get His stuff. We have made the Kingdom of God into a business, merchandising His anointing. This should not be. We are commanded to love God, and are called to be the Bride of Christ--that's pretty intimate stuff. We are supposed to be His lovers. How can we love someone we don't even know? And even if we do know someone, is that a guarantee that we truly love them? Are we lovers or prostitutes?

I was pondering Martha's question again one day, and considered the question, "What's the difference between a lover and a prostitute?" I realized that both do many of the same things, but a lover does what she does because she loves. A prostitute pretends to love, but only as long as you pay. Then I asked the question, "What would happen if God stopped paying me?"

For the next several months, I allowed God to search me to uncover my motives for loving and serving Him. Was I really a true lover of God? What would happen if He stopped blessing me? What if He never did another thing for me? Would I still love Him? Please understand, I believe in the promises and blessings of God. The issue here is not whether God blesses His children; the issue is
the condition of my heart. Why do I serve Him? Are His blessings in my life the gifts of a loving Father, or are they a wage that I have earned or a bribe/payment to love Him? Do I love God without any conditions? It took several months to work through these questions. Even now I wonder if my desire to love God is always matched by my attitude and behavior. I still catch myself being disappointed with God and angry that He has not met some perceived need in my life. I suspect this is something which is never fully resolved, but I want more than anything else to be a true lover of God.

So what is it going to be? Which are we, lovers or prostitutes?

Monday, June 29, 2009


There are three questions that help us understand who the ministers are, and where the ministry happens. The three questions are:

1. What is the church? Answer: People. It is not a building, a program, or an institution, it is a people. It is the ekklesia - the "called out ones." Wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus' name, He is in the midst. It doesn't get more "church" than that!

2. Who are the ministers? Answer: People. The people are the ministers; the pastor is the ad-minister. Every person whom God has called, has been called for a purpose. There are good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. Pastors are given to the church to prepare the saints for the work of ministry.

3. Where does the ministry happen? Answer: Wherever the people are. If the people are the church, and the people are the ministers, then wherever the people are is where the ministry happens. This theo-logical extension of questions 1. and 2. means that the ministry might happen in an office, a neighborhood, a restaurant, a home, a car, or wherever the body of Christ (regenerated people) are present.

The atomized church carries the greatest possibilities for transforming the spiritual landscape. In fact, the potential is staggering. A church of 100 people can either conduct a) a few centralized ministries (for example, a weeknight children's program "at" the "church"), b) a dozen decentralized ministries (for example, small groups), or c)....if everyone is clear that they are a minister....a hundred atomized personal ministries. The personal ministries will be as varied as the people who carry them out. We will no longer go to church. We will be the church.

Thus far, CTK represents the evolution of a) to b)....from centralized, attractional ministry to decentralized, relational, ministry. We have chosen small groups to be the point of emphasis instead of the Sunday service. We have said, "Every person needs to be in a small group, because every person in a small group has a ministry, and that is to every other person in the group." This is progress. The shift has helped us to break from three restrictive and limited ideas; 1) that the pastor is the minister, 2) that the church building is the place of ministry, and 3) that Sunday morning is the time for ministry. By convening groups of 2-10 people in homes and restaurants for friendship, growth, encouragement and outreach we have moved away from pastor-centrality, facility-centrality and Sunday-centrality. We have shifted from primary care (by a professional) to mutual care (by one another). In the process we have shifted our mentality about the weekend service, to be a convention of cells rather than congregation. Instead of trying to attract followers, we have been attempting to attract leaders. Our pastors have moved from working in the ministry to working on the ministry, in support of small group leaders.

The next step in our evolution is from b) to c), from a decentralized to atomized ministry. The small group has proven to be a great training ground for people to be the ministers. The danger, frankly, if we stay at b) is that the small group will become the new, albeit smaller, fortress, and that once again the arrows will turn in. The small group could become the new "place" where ministry happens. The small group leader will become the new "minister." Wednesday night (or Tuesday or Thursday) will be the new time. Instead of going to the people, we will ask the people to come to us, only now instead of asking people to come "to church" we will be asking them to come "to group." While we like the idea of them coming through the "side door" (group) better than the "front door" (weekend service) we like even better the idea of us going out through those doors and going to them.

Monday, June 22, 2009


A truth that will keep you sane as a spiritual leader: We have responsibility to people, not for people. Mark Waltz, in his book Lasting Impressions, does a nice job describing the difference:

• When I'm responsible to people, I understand they have a choice. When I'm responsible for people, I think I should decide for them.

• When I'm responsible to people, I know they must figure out their next step. When I'm responsible for people, I try to tell them what their next step is.

• When I'm responsible to people, I allow them to bear the brunt of the consequences for their own chosen actions. When I'm responsible for people, I assume the guilt, or worse the shame, for them.

• When I'm responsible to people, I engage in their journey, offering encouragement and teaching. When I'm responsible for people I try to direct their journey, never allowing them to wrestle, mess up or make a wrong turn.

• When I'm responsible to people, I talk to God on their behalf. When I'm responsible for people, I talk to people a lot on God's behalf.

One of the most basic boundaries we can maintain is our skin. I am responsible for everything inside my skin. You are responsible for everything inside your skin. It is a fundamental demarcation between "me" and "you." Sometimes pastors feel like they have to have all the answers, solve all the problems and make everything right...for everyone. If you are one of these, my heart goes out to you today. It is a very frustrating thing to feel responsible for the thoughts and actions of other people. It is quite liberating to know that I only have a responsibility to other people - to love them, to be honest with them, to be a friend and support. What's going on inside them is "all theirs."

Friday, June 12, 2009


I was in a meeting with pastors, talking about small groups. I made the statement that I thought small groups were all about love. A pastor asked, "Doesn't that say the wrong thing, asking people to be in a small group so that they will be loved?" I answered, "I'm not asking people to be in a small group so that they can be loved. I'm asking them to be in a small group so that they can love. The person in the small group is the lover, not the lovee." The mission of Christ the King Community Church is to create an authentic Christian community that effectively reaches out to unchurched people in love, acceptance and forgiveness, so that they may experience the joy of salvation and a purposeful life of discipleship. That mission applies as much or more to the small group as to the Worship Center. We are here to "reach out effectively in love."

Of course, people do need to be loved. And you, of course, are a person. I'm not sure there's anything necessarily wrong with putting yourself in a position where you can get what you need. Searching for love is perfectly natural. But searching TO love is perfectly supernatural. We are calling people to put themselves in a position to supernaturally fulfill the one-another commands of scripture. But this can only happen if group participants all come prepared to give themselves as a blessing to the others in the group. Giovanni Francesco Bernardone (St. Francis) offered up a prayer along these lines: "Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

Of course if everyone in a group comes prepared to be a lover, the likelihood is great that everyone in the group is going to end up being a lovee, as well. But the rationale is deeper than utilitarianism. Spiritual veterans like St. Francis will tell you that you can only get what you give. We're called to be a river, not a reservoir. As you arrive at your group meeting, your prayer should be, "Lord, help me to love the people in my group well." Undoubtedly you will have needs in your own life (for encouragement, for insight, for understanding), but if you fixate on those needs you will be having a natural group experience, not a supernatural one. Get the arrows pointed out. When the arrows are pointed out it aligns with the heart of God and he is pleased to bless that. If you will be a lover, instead of a lovee, you'll find that the more you are a blessing, the more you will be blessed. He'll get it to you if he can get it through you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Church consultant Lyle Schaller says that one of the questions he likes to ask when he enters a church to observe is, "What year is it?" Is it 1958? It was in the church in which I grew up. Is it 1972? 1980? There is a tendency for churches to get stuck in a certain era, and not stay current with culture. We need new wineskins for the wine. So what year is it at CTK? I would say about 1995. At least that's my assessment of our overall musical scene. We are doing a mostly rock/pop style with a full band. It is a big sound, suited for big songs. Top worship songs from 1995 included Shout to the Lord and Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.

1995 was a memorable year for me, because it was the year that I began to attend CTK in Bellingham. In many ways that era defined the culture I exported to Skagit Valley in 1999, where CTK was new to many people. The early adopters have since handed the culture and music off to many other newbies in dozens of worship centers, and in some cases there are grandchildren and great-grandchildren now carrying the culture. While 1995 is not that far in the distant past, there has been a lot happen in our culture in the past 15 years (like the internet). There has been an explosion of media, as people who once were consumers of information have now become producers of information through vlogs, blogs and tweets. TV channels have gone from dozens to hundreds. Cell phones have become ubiquitous. The news cycle is 24 hours a day. The need to sort through the clutter has produced a new verb: Google ("Let me google that").

Modernity is giving rise to "alternative" approaches. Some call it post-modernism, but I prefer the word pre-modernism. There is a hunger for life "as it used to be," with less clutter and less noise. In the world of "now" less is more and better is bigger. Clarity has become the new creativity. The modern music scene has caught on. An indicator? The results of the recent American Idol competition. It came down to two contestants: Kris Allen, a funky, straight-ahead balladeer with a lot of "space" in his music, and Adam Lambert, a "glam" rocker with a big voice whose presentations were over the top. Clearly, Adam was the bigger talent. Kris won easily. It's not 1995 anymore.

The pendulum tends to swing when it comes to culture. Following loud eras, things get softer. Following softer eras, things get louder. Such may be the case in worship as well. Shout to the Lord followed I Love Your Lord. What will follow Shout to the Lord? I'm not sure yet, but I believe we are in a softer era. If you close your eyes during commercials, you will notice an obvious understatement in the music bed nowadays. Popular movie soundtracks are also employing a variety of independent, alternative and eclectic artists (my favorite example is the soundtrack for the movie Juno). There is not as much instrumentation in this music; maybe one or two instruments, maybe a harmonica or a mandolin. The chord structures are simple. Percussion is more an accent, than a driving force. It doesn't have to blow your hair back to be cool any more.

I don't get to a lot of concerts, but I recently went to a Third Day concert. Third Day is a classic band from the nineties, noted for songs like God of Wonders and Your Love Oh Lord. The best part of the concert? When lead singer Mac Powell showed up in the middle of the crowd, took requests, and played them "unplugged." It was real. It was informal. It was tasty. It was 2009. I walked out saying, "That was cool." I'm anxious to see our "next generation" of worship leaders take us into the present. I'll know we're current when an unchurched person walks out and says, "Wow, that was cool"....the same thing I said in 1995.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Why small groups? It all comes back to love.

I recently had small group leaders over to my house and I shared with them this equation:
1. We want everyone to be loved. God created us for this very purpose, to love and be loved. We want everyone to have this experience.

2. What this really means is that we want everyone to be known. A person feels unloved to the extent that they feel unknown. Until a person is fully known there is always a question in their mind, "I wonder if people would still love me, if they knew me?" We want people to find that the answer is, "Yes."

3. Being known means finding a place and time for being known. In our modern, impersonal world there are not as many ways that you can become known, or know others. There is an abundance of superficiality, even in relationships. This means we must be more intentional about seeing that such places and times exist.

4. The small group is a place and time for being known (loved). It may not be the only place where people can become known and loved, but it is a proven place. We have chosen small groups as our "Plan A" because they are scriptural, strategic and scalable.

5. This makes the small group meeting the most important meeting we have. I am convinced that for many people what they need is not a sermon, but a friend. If I have a choice to invite a lost person to a) our worship service, or b) our small group, I choose b). There is no more important convention of CTK than the small group that meets in Jesus' name. There are things that a person will get in a small group that they will never get by looking at the back of someone's head in a worship service.

6. Which makes the small group leader the most important leader we have. Our Ministry Directors are in place to support the small group leader. Our pastors are in place to support our ministry directors who support the small group leaders. There is no more important leader in our story than the leader who will convene 2-10 people in Jesus name for friendship, growth, encouragement and outreach.

7. Because the small group leader is taking responsibility to see that people are loved. It's easy to say "we want everyone to be loved." The small group leader takes responsibility to see that it happens. This is what leaders do: they see what needs to be done and they do what needs to be done.

When you break it down, the best groups are about love, bottom line. In fact, I regularly tell small group leaders, "If you don’t know what to do in your group, just love everyone." That sounds pretty simple, but it's actually hard to do consistently. For this reason we must pray, "God help me to love the people in my group.” That is a prayer that should be prayed throughout the week, but then intensified prior to and during the group meeting. God will answer that prayer. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.


The worst groups I've ever been in have been informational. The best groups that I have ever been in have been relational. Let me explain.

In my experience, the best small groups I've ever been in were a heart trip, not a head trip. When a group becomes about information (what we're learning, what we're studying) it tends to be dry and impersonal. The participants, instead of relating to each other, relate to the material, as a third party. This is not community in the deepest sense. It is a shared experience, but not the experience of sharing. Instead of syncing up our lives around Christ, we are simply syncing up our thinking around the material we are studying. It's the difference between going on a trip, and staying at home and reading the map.

In an information group, the book being studied can actually get in the way of relationship. The book can even be the screen people hide behind. If at any point a participant feels they might have to reveal who they really are, they just point their nose back into the text and say, "I really like what the author says here." Then they just read the words from the text, smile glibly, and wait for the next person to talk...about what they like about the text. Presto. Off the hook. After a few months of being a group like this, unless you are a studious type (maybe 5% of the population), you are ready to quit. Your impulse toward community starts screaming inside, "Would somebody please get real!" Your head hurts as you walk out the door following one of these group meetings. But even worse, your heart hurts. You never get to open up the text of your life.

I met with a friend recently who attends another church. It just so happened that our meeting took place the same night as his small group Bible Study. He confessed, "I'm glad I didn't have to go to my Bible Study tonight." He told me about how the group he was in was supposed to spend 30 minutes in fellowship, 30 minutes in Bible Study, and 30 minutes in sharing and prayer. But over time the group had started to spend about 10 minutes in fellowship, over an hour in Bible Study, and about 10 minutes in sharing and prayer. He told me, "There are many weeks when Christ has been doing some awesome things in my life, and I never get to share that." There was a sadness on his face as he said that to me. I don't think you want to skimp on the relational aspects of your group. If you are going to skimp, skimp on the informational aspects. Informational is nice; relationship is needed.

One of the reason why we don't use the phrase Bible Study, and instead say Bible Discussion, is that we don't want to have groups be about the map. We want groups to be about the journey. The word of God is powerful and profitable, but as James makes clear, it's a mirror, and it's greatest value comes when we actually apply what we learn....when we put it into practice. Small groups work best when the emphasis is on application. For most people, the gap holding them back is not the gap between what they know and what they don't know, it's the gap between what they know and what they're living.

Some view small groups as an extension of the Christian Education department of the church. I do not. I view small groups as an extension of the Pastoral Care department of the church.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Stephen Ambrose, noted author of Band of Brothers, Undaunted Courage and D-Day, was a historian with a Ph.D. Prior to his death from lung cancer in 2002, he served as a professor of history at several universities. But he was soundly panned by colleagues for his "pop" (short for popular or populist) approach to dispensing history. His books put history into the hands of the common people. Many history professors didn't like that.

It is often true for various disciplines (science, psychology, etc.) that the "experts" come up with their own language and protocol to insulate their high level information from the outsiders. They view their industry, and the attendant knowledge reservoir, as proprietary. They don't like it when someone comes along and puts the cookies on the lowest shelf. They don't want to make it easy on the followers, but hard. Shoot, they paid a price for this information! Everyone should have to pay the price (right?).

Religion is not only not immune from this urge toward exclusivity, but perhaps the most susceptible to it. Jesus fought the proprietary nature of the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes. He ended up being crucified, and his loudest detractors were not secularists, but religious-types, who saw him as an affront to their industry. I would suggest that the Great Reformation was Martin Luther (and others) putting the scripture into the hands of the common people. I would suggest that the current Reformation is putting the ministry into the hands of the common people, and you can expect that the "religious elites" are not going to like the populist approach of groups like CTK and others.

Populism is the stuff of movements, like the Quickbooks craze. Here's what Clayton Christensen said about Quicken: "Quicken dominates its market because it is easy and convenient. Its makers pride themselves on the fact that the vast majority of Quicken customers simply buy the program, boot it up on their computers, and begin using it without having to read the instruction manual. Its developers made it so convenient to use, and continue to make it simpler and more convenient, by watching how customers use the product, not by listening to what they or the “experts” say they need. By watching for small hints of where the product might be difficult or confusing to use, the developers direct their energies toward a progressively simpler, more convenient product that provided adequate, rather than superior, functionality….Intuitʼs disruptive Quickbooks changed the basis of product competition from functionality to convenience and captured 70 percent of its market within two years of its introduction."

If you make your sermons understandable, you make it easy for someone to start their own ministry, and you make it simple to get into a small group, you are going to have a popular ministry. Many churches just flat out make it too hard. But I'm not suggesting you take a populist approach because it works. I'm suggesting you take a populist approach because Jesus did. Jesus did not call us servants, but friends. He said, "Everything the Father has revealed to me, I've revealed to you." He didn't play peek-a-boo with his vast insights. He didn't even make people enroll. He just gave Himself away. Like our leader, our goal is not to make it difficult for people to get into the kingdom of God. We must be people of the easy yoke, the light burden. Our goal is to put the cookies on the lowest shelf where everyone can get at them.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


The first and great commandment is the first and great commandment because it is the first and great commandment! "No other gods before me." God has to be first. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment he pointed to commandment #1, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, your strength." In other word, God first.

When God is first, the other commandments come easier. When God is #1, you don't want to take his name in vain. When God is #1, you want to take a weekly sabbatical with him. When God is #1 it radically affects how you relate to others. You don't want to lie, cheat, steal, covet or commit adultery or murder. When you counsel people, it almost doesn't matter the issue, the cure is commandment #1. When someone says, "Pastor, I'm having a challenge with my teenage son" the reply could be, "Let me ask you first, in your parenting, is God #1?" If someone asks me about how they can get along with their boss, I might reply, "As an employee, is God #1?" Interpersonal challenges can be symptomatic of a much more fundamental issue: God is not first.

Recently a young man asked me for prayer because he was having difficulty finding a job. I asked him if God was #1. He admitted that God has not been first. I told him that God had to be the first priority in his life. But his follow-up question was, "If God is first in my life, will I get a job?" That's a fair question, and one that many will ask. I told him that God needed to be #1 because God needs to be #1, period. No matter what our circumstances in life, God has to come first. I also told him about the story of Job, and how Job was dedicated and yet was brought through some challenging times. But all things being equal, there is an interplay between putting God first and our needs: "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." This is a principle of provision, that we can count on God for physical things, when he can count on us for spiritual things.

At CTK we have tried to narrow our focus to "Love God and Love people." But if you really want to narrow it down, just put God first.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Is our society on the brink of collapse? Could that be a good thing?

Ok, I know there's enough bad news out there. And I also know that it's a pretty cheap thrill to predict the demise of the world (Y2K anyone?). But it does appear that our present system is not sustainable. We cannot be great unless we're good, and the goodness is gone. Shortsightedness and greed have conspired to bring about an explosive cocktail. Those in control are apparently going to ride this horse until it drops. And drop it will. In James Kunstler's The Long Emergency he says, "(Those in control) will not surrender to circumstance until it is simply no longer possible to carry on...meaning there is not likely to be any planning or preparation for change." Abba Eban counseled, "History teaches that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives."

Once, when he was stuck in a cab in a traffic jam in London, G.K. Chesterton began musing on the breakdown of civilization. "Comunications may break down, and men may be forced to live where they are as best they can. I think how probable, after all, is the prospect of a relapse into barbarism." A sign that we might be getting closer? The rapid rise in gun sales. Gun shows are crowded. Gun prices are rising. Vigilante law may be lurking around the corner. Depressing, isn't it? Not in Chesterton's estimation. He suggests in The Outline of Sanity, "by this broken road simplicity may return." He is hopeful: "Man has before now broken down in the elaborate labors of empire and bureaucracy and big business and been content to fall to a simpler life. He has been content to picnic like a tramp in the ruin of his own palaces....We will not be downhearted. Our cities may also be deserted and our palaces in ruins; and there may be a chance yet for humanity to become more human."

A couple developments that may speed humanity becoming more human: the end of the age of cheap oil, and the escalating pricetag (either environmental impact if we let it go, or in cost if we don't) of coal-generated electricity. Just imagine in the next 20 years being priced out of these commodities. Bye-bye American way of life. Kunstler suggests that American suburbia be retrofitted "into the kind of mixed use, smaller scaled, more fine-grained walkable environments we will need to carry on daily life in the coming age of greatly reduced motoring." In Hope for the Coming Collapse, Robert Moore-Jumonville says, "Those places to which we can jog...may soon define the parameters of community." By the way, if CTK can continue to keep the main thing the main thing, and continue to break down into smaller communities of caring, we may be ideally positioned for what is about to come.

In any case, it's not if our civilization will collapse, but when. Kingdoms come and kingdoms go. Christ's kingdom is forever. It is the rock hewn out of the mountain that strikes at the feet of the statue, crumbles it to the ground, and then becomes the mountain that fills the earth. I'm glad it's not my job is not to prop up this world's system. As author James Baldwin remarked, "I'm optimistic about the future, but not the future of this civilization. I'm optimistic about the civilization which will replace this one."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Communication isn't what it used to be. My mother kept my grandmother updated with letters (sent one of those lately?). My father used to complain about the length of our phone calls. Now we have Facebook, email, texting, blogs and Twitter (where you can send periodic "tweets" about your day). I contend that there is still nothing that beats a face to face conversation, when you get to enjoy one of those. But those conversations can actually be enhanced digitally. Here's how:

1. Speed. When you stay in touch digitally, you can more quickly catch up personally. Instead of having nothing to talk about, or fiddling around and wasting precious time with the "What's up?....Nothing much really" conversations, you can get right to the heart of life: "I saw that you are getting baptized this weekend" or "What's this about your kid getting a CT scan?" Now we're talking! Our friends have done us the favor of providing the topic. Now we can engage, share and pray with each other.

2. Depth. When you stay in touch digitally, you can take your personal conversations deeper. In an ironic twist, people are more apt to share something significant in a blog posting than they will across a coffee table. The sense of anonymity and safety that comes when you are hiding behind a computer screen can seduce you into a vulnerability that is unusual. How many times have you heard a concerning report about someone and thought, "I just saw them and they didn't say anything about that!" With digital, there's a greater likelihood that you'll know the skinny.

3. Constancy. When you stay in touch digitally you can avoid long intervals without any contact. With the various digital outlets, you can maintain at least a trickle of information between personal visits. This reduces the need to get "caught up" and allows you to both talk about the present more than the past when you see each other. My sister uses the phrase "ambient awareness" to describe the benefit she receives by being connected to others on Facebook.

The digital revolution is not a very good replacement for face to face community, but it is a pretty good enhancement to it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Jesus not only came to save us from our sin, but to teach us how to live. Some have called their commitment to Jesus' teaching being a "red-letter Christian" (red-letter edition bibles highlight the words of Christ in red). The most extensive record of Jesus' teaching comes from the Sermon on the Mount. In that message Jesus said:

- You have to have the right spirit to make it into God’s kingdom.

- Even if you go through tough times here, you are going to be all right, because you’re looking forward to heaven anyway.

- To a certain extent you need to stick out in this world, like salt, or a light on a hill, so that other people can see the difference.

- God is mostly interested in what is going on inside of us…..that’s why the ante is going up, from not just murdering someone, to not even hating someone; and from not committing adultery, to not even looking lustfully at a woman.

- If you are wanting to do something religious, but remember that you have a conflict with someone else, go resolve the conflict first (this is first priority) – try to solve these conflicts without going to court.

- You may have to take drastic action to keep from succumbing to temptation….do what you need to do

- Divorce is sometimes the only thing that can be done, but if people are breaking up for reasons less than that, I’m not just going to hold them accountable, but anyone else who enters into that relationship and shouldn’t be there.

- Don’t get into swearing and oaths, just make sure your yes is a yes, and your no is a no.

- If people are going to take advantage of you, so be it. Go the extra mile, turn the other cheek (God’s keeping track).

- Don’t just love the people who are easy to love…anybody can do that. – love like God loves, regardless of how much they deserve it.

- Don’t be a performer with your good deeds….if that is your intent, you’ve already got your applause. The people who are going to get my applause are people who were willing to serve without recognition, and pray without anybody knowing.

- When you pray to me, address me as your father….then ask for what you need – everything from the food you need for that day, to forgiveness.

- Remember that the stuff of this world is temporal and temporary – it’s either going to rust, rot, or be stolen. The stuff that they can’t take away, is the stuff you should invest your life in.

- Don’t worry so much about physical things – I’m taking care of the birds with no worries….I’ll take care of you.

- If you are going to be the judge of others, be careful. I may just turn around and use the exact same standards to judge you.

- If you ask me for something, know that I’m going to give you my best. I’m not going to withhold what you need. You can count on that.

- If in doubt about how to treat others, ask yourself this question: “How would I want to be treated if I was them?”

- Not everyone is going to be able to stay on this path. It’s hard. It will be easier for people to go down the same path as everyone else. But the path I’m laying out actually leads you somewhere.

- You can tell a lot about what’s inside of people by what you see come out of them (kind of like fruit on a tree). Just keep watching….you’ll see.

- There are going to be some folks who in the end will stand before me and act like they were my buddies all along. I’ll wish they had been. I’m going to put it straight to them, and honor the choice they made to live their life without me.

- Be careful about what kind of life you are actually building. Some buildings don’t stand up when the storm comes. Make sure you build on the right foundation.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Resentments. Don't have any big ones. But lately the Lord has been revealing to me that I may have a thousand little ones.

With a men's group I've been going through the workbook "Twelve Steps - A Spiritual Journey." There is a section in that book that states "Resentment is an underlying cause of many forms of spiritual disease. our mental and physical ills are frequently the direct result of this unhealthy condition. No doubt others have harmed us, and we have a legitimate right to feel resentful. However, resentment doesn't punish anyone but ourselves. We can't hold resentments and find healing at the same time. It's best released by asking God for the strength to forgive the offender. Learning to deal with resentment in a healthy way is an important part of our recovery process." As I reflected on that statement, I was satisfied that I am not harboring any big resentments at this stage in my life. But I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me, "Little ones count too."

When we resent we may be feeling injured, violated, left out, angry or bitter. The ministry is filled with opportunities for these feelings to arise. Remember how Jesus asked us to "take up a cross" and follow Him? Yup. It's going to be painful. Remember how Paul spoke of "the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings"? Uh-huh. Some of us have the wounds to show for it.

In Iran they still do stonings for political dissidents and criminals. They bury the person so that only their shoulders, neck and head are above the ground. Then the government provides special-sized rocks for the public to throw. Not just any rock will do. If the rock is too big, it could kill the person immediately and ruin the stoning. If the rock were too small, it might not inflict sufficient damage and pain. I never really thought before about the art of stoning someone, but it makes sense when you think about it.

Sometimes ministry can feel like death by a thousand cuts. You might think back over the criticisms, the departures, the disappointments and find that they were just the right size. Not big enough to kill you. Not small enough to shrug off. The perfect size to cause you maximum pain short of death. Go ahead and feel it. Then let it go.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Would groups be better off without a defined leader?

You hear sometimes about "leaderless organizations." I'm not buying it. Oh, I agree that there are leaderless organizations! I just don't buy that they are going anywhere, or that this is what we want. Everything rises and falls with leadership.

There is much being written these days about collaboration and teamwork. Truly, there is nothing more exciting than seeing a group of people come together to accomplish something extraordinary. But make no mistake. There are no great teams out there without great point guards, quarterbacks, coaches or captains. Leadership is to a group what a spark is to a flame.

One of my earliest memories helped me define leadership. The little Alaskan church I attended as a boy called a new pastor after a protracted vacancy. The church lacked morale and momentum. We were occupying a half-finished church building, having run out of funds to complete the project. The surroundings were crude – floors without carpets, unfinished walls, rudimentary furnishings. Our numbers were small. But the first action of the new pastor put in motion a virtuous cycle. He removed the makeshift communion table (a flimsy garage sale castoff) from the front of the church and raised money for a solid, wooden one. It was a symbolic act, but a powerful one. As a boy looking on, this made quite an impression on me. It was a microcosm of leadership. He saw what needed to be done and he did what needed to be done.

CTK takes a different approach to leadership in a couple respects. First, we see the role as more important than most. Second, we see the personality as less important than most. So we differ, not in regard to leadership's importance, but its implementation. We want to be a leaderful organization. We just don't want to be leader-dependent or leader-focused.

There is no question that leaders are sometimes self-absorbed, domineering jerks. But in an effort to avoid that distasteful possibility, we don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water. We still need leaders. They just have to be humble, servant leaders instead of pompous, selfish ones.

Monday, March 23, 2009


The 11th commandment is "Keep it real." The Secret Life of the American Teenager (on ABC's Family Channel) keeps the commandment. Shailene Woodley (who stars as teen Amy) says, "A lot of teens respond to it because it's so true to life in so many ways." In it's first season the show has drawn up to 3.4 million viewers, the highest for viewers age 12 to 34. An example of the realism: Amy gives birth to a boy in the last show of the season, about nine months after the premiere. She got pregnant through a one-time tryst. The show explores the unplanned pregnancy, and all the attendant relational challenges that presents, with parents, friends and extended family. It's a raw take on life, that has opened up avenues for parents to talk with their teens about hot topics like sex, drugs and alcohol.
Can we, as church leaders, get a clue? Reality is where it's at. There is a great opportunity here for leaders and churches who will apply real faith to real life in real ways. And if you stay in reality, there is always material. As I thought back on this past week, here is some of the reality going on for people in my congregation:

- an expectant mom had a miscarriage

- a young man was overwhelmed trying to process the fourth step (getting ready for forgive) of the twelve steps

- an expanding family is finding it difficult to find a bigger home

- a banker was faced with the dilemma of reworking a loan for a friend, even though the loan was processed originally by a different loan officer

- a woman was looking for a $1000 car that would run well

- a man led worship for the first time in a couple years

- a father and grown son had a significant argument about politics

- a couple decided that they needed to get back into marriage counseling

- a military wife was trying to make a decision about divorce

The one charge that has never been leveled against the Bible is that its characters are not real people. Even its greatest heroes, like David, are presented so unvarnished, so “warts and all,” that the Book of Samuel has been called the most honest historical writing of the ancient world. We've got reality in the text, and we've got reality in the world, can we get reality in the church?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Some times big steps are in order. At other times you advance by a whisker. Tough circumstances call for smaller goals.

In Dr. Robert Mauer's book One Small Step Can Change Your Life he writes about a patient of his named Julie who was 30 pounds overweight. She was suffering from depression and fatigue. The doctor did not ask her to "lose 30 pounds." His prescription was much less rigorous. He said, "How about if you march in place in front of the television for one minute every day." It was the kick start she needed. By taking that one step, she got moving again. And once she got moving, she kept moving. And over time, the weight came off.

There is an organizational guru called the Fly Lady, who offers a 5-minute remedy to home cleaning. She suggests setting the alarm for five minutes, and then go into the messiest room in the house and start clearing it. When the timer goes off, you can stop with a clear conscience. What happens, of course, is that most people don't stop. They keep going. Because now they have momentum on their side.

Ken Blanchard gave managers a powerful tool when he wrote the classic One-Minute Manager. Knowing that managers dread giving employees feedback, he proscribed a smaller dose. He gave managers a whisker goal he call "one-minute praisings." Just catch them doing something right and give them an atta-boy. See, that's not that hard! He knew, of course, that once managers start talking to employees about the work that is being done, these conversations are likely to continue, and that's a good thing.

Whisker goals are particularly helpful when the challenge seems monumental. For instance, some folks are looking at overwhelming financial challenges - huge debts and hostile creditors. Financial guru Dave Ramsey speaks about creating a "snowball" by combining small amounts of money that are spent on frivolities like coffee and candy bars (the "snowflakes") to address these creditors. Start with the little things, and let the little things build up.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


It is in the heart of a Christian to glorify God. How do we do that? What Paul indicates is that glorifying God is more of a why than a what. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 he writes that whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we should do it for the glory of God. The what can vary. The why (who we're doing it "for") remains the same. Glorifying God is not so much our actions as our motivations.

In the background of the first letter to Corinthians is an issue around eating and drinking. Meat that was offered to idols would show up in the local market. There was a disagreement among believers whether or not such meat should be purchased. Eventually Paul weighed in and said, "Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God."
Some people have some very particular ideas about what you should be doing or not doing to please God. Glorifying God is a heart matter. No matter what situation, there are five ways we can glorify God:


Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. (Jeremiah 17:7) In any situation we can bring God glory by trusting him. In our current political and economic conditions, we have a great opportunity to express our trust in God. As the Psalmist said (20:7): Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.


Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. (Deuteronomy 11:1) We glorify God by obeying him. At the marriage in Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle, Mary's instruction to the servants was worth the price of admission: "Whatever he tells you to do, do it." We can go a long way toward glorifying God by simply saying to him, "Whatever you ask me to do, the answer is 'Yes.'"


To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21) Someone was recently describing a conflict they were having with someone, and said to me, "I am not going to back down from telling this person the truth!" I reminded them that it was said of Jesus that he was full of both grace and truth. As a Christ-follower you could just as easily say, "I am not going to back down from showing this person grace!" It is hard to do both. But in any and every situation we can glorify God by imitating him.


In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:6) When I officiate basketball games I have a little ritual I go through during the pledge of allegiance. I look up at the ceiling and God and me have a little conversation. I say, "God, help me in this game to represent you well. In all of my interactions with coaches, players and fans, may you give me grace." Some might look at a basketball game as a secular activity, but I make it spiritual by invoking Christ's presence.


Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. (Psalm 103:2) No matter “what,” you can praise him. There is a lot of goodness in the world, and we have a chance to glorify God for it. This, as the Westminster Catechism says, is the chief end of man.

Along that line, I want to share something that I read, but I’m not sure where (I hate it when I can't give credit where credit is due). But it speaks to the immense role that we play in the grander story:

We live in a far more dramatic, more dangerous story than we imagined. The reason we love The Chronicles of Narnia or Star Wars or The Matrix or The Lord of the Rings is that they are telling us something about our lives that we never, ever get on the evening news…Without this (truth) burning in our hearts, we lose the meaning of our days. It all withers down to fast food and bills and voice mail and who really cares anyway? Do you see what has happened? The essence of our faith has been stripped away. The very thing that was to give our lives meaning – this way of seeing – has been lost. Or stolen from us. Notice that those who have tried to wake us up to this reality were usually killed for it: the prophets, Jesus, Stephen, Paul, most of the disciples, in fact….

Every mythic story shouts to us that in this desperate hour we have a crucial role to play….For most of life, Neo [from the Matrix] sees himself only as Thomas Anderson, a computer programmer for a large software corporation. As the drama really begins to heat up and the enemy hunts him down, he says to himself, “This is insane. Why is this happening to me? What did I do? I’m nobody. I didn’t do anything.” A very dangerous conviction…though one shared by most…What he later comes to realize – and not a moment too soon – is that he is “the One” who will break the power of the Matrix.

Frodo, the little Halfling from the Shire, young and naïve is so many ways, “the most unlikely person imaginable,” is the Ring Bearer. He, too, must learn through dangerous paths and fierce battle that a task has been appointed to him, and if he does not find a way, no one will. Dorothy is just a farm girl from Kansa, who stumbled into Oz not because she was looking for adventure but because someone had hurt her feelings and she decided to run away from home. Yet she’s the one to bring down the Wicked Witch of the West. Joan of Arc was also a farm girl, illiterate, the youngest in her family, when she received her first vision from God. Just about everyone doubted her; the commander of the French army said she should be taken home and given a good whipping. Yet she ends up leading the armies to war.

You see this throughout Scripture: a little boy will slay the giant, a loudmouthed fisherman who can’t hold down a job will lead the church….things are not as they seem. We are not what we seem.

Of all the eternal truths we don’t believe, this is the one we doubt most of all. Our days are not extraordinary. They are filled with the mundane, with hassles mostly. And we? We are….a dime a dozen. Nothing special really. Probably a disappointment to God. But as C.S. Lewis wrote, “The value of myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’” You are not what you think you are. There is a glory to your life that your Enemy fears, and he is hell-bent on destroying that glory before you act on it.