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.