Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Many money managers diversify. They attempt to spread their risk by placing smaller bets on a broader number of stocks. But that is not what the best money managers do. The best money managers (Bruce Berkowitz, Warren Buffett) have narrow portfolios, maybe 25 stocks in which they are heavily invested. These are stocks in which they really, really invest, and from which they expect big, big returns. Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger: "Why would you want to put money on your 35th-best idea?"

That is a great question for ministries - particularly those that are trying to do too much in too many areas. Why not put more emphasis, resources and talent toward a few things that you have reasonable certainty will pay off? Throughout history CTK has placed more resources into fewer areas - Worship, Community, Outreach - and it has paid off. The challenge, of course, is to keep doing that.

In The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams there is a graphic showing the sections of the strike zone where Williams hit for highest average. For a hitter, certain pitches are more hit-able than might call it the hitter's sweet spot. For a pitcher, you definitely don't want to throw to the batters sweet spot. Part of being a great hitter is being a picky hitter. Not only will the great ones not swing at every pitch, they won't even swing at every strike. They put all their energies into the pitch that they can hit the absolute best. They put the "deliberate" in deliberate simplicity.

Do you need to double-up this year on what will really pay off? Do you need to cease doing some things that, while well-meaning, are essentially drawing resources away from what really needs to be done? Where's your sweet spot?

Monday, December 20, 2010


To be a person of integrity you must be the same person in private that you are in public. Some are publicly "big" but privately "small." In fact, men and women with great talent to lead others and organizations have found themselves unable to lead themselves.

King Saul was publicly big but privately small. He presented much better than he was. In contrast, David was publicly small (a simple shepherd), but privately big. Like King Saul, Pharaoh was publicly big but privately small. On the other hand, Moses was publicly small - a solitary shepherd on the backside of the desert - but privately big. Not coincidentally, Saul and Pharaoh wanted to be leaders. David, on the other hand, wasn't looking for leadership when it came looking for him, and Moses didn't feel at all qualified. (It is a danger sign when being publicly "big" is more important than being privately big.)

Private success precedes public success. Jesus said, "When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6:6). Your ministry must come out of the overflow of what God is doing in your private life. A branch can only produce fruit out of the excess of the nourishment it needs for its own life (John 15). Psalm 1 says, Blessed is the man who is planted by a stream. If you stay close to God, and close to God’s word, (like a tree) your leaves will be green, there will be lots of fruit for people to see. If you don’t stay close to God (like a tree) you will eventually wither up and die. Cause and effect are separated by time and space.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Larry King, the suspender-wearing minimalist talk show host, just retired after twenty-five years on television. Larry has interviewed some very notable guests; politicians, celebrities, athletes. But on his last show, the table was turned and King himself was interviewed. The questions were predictable. "What was your favorite interview?" (no straight answer to that one), and "What question did you ask more than any other?" To which King immediately replied, "Why?" When the interviewing then asked, ahem, "Why?" King went on to explain: "Why is the best question for two reasons. First, because the question does not allow for a one-word answer. And second, because it requires the person to actually think."

My twenty-five years of pastoral experience have told me that in the church we don't ask why nearly enough. We love to ask "How?" We gravitate toward "When?" We even like "Where?" But church leaders tend to stay away from "Why?" Why opens up a can of worms sometimes. Why do we worship on Sunday mornings? Why do we meet every week? Why do we teach for thirty minutes? Why do we sing first, then teach? Why do kids ministries happen during the service? Why do we advertise in the newspaper? Why do we use the word "program" instead of "bulletin"? My point is not to supply answers to these questions, but to say they all begin with the right word.

In the coming year maybe we can all resolve to ask deeper, better questions. The next time you get together with your team, if your team doesn't ask you why, ask them. After all, if Larry's gone, somebody needs to wear the suspenders around here!

Friday, December 10, 2010


There is something in us that wants to be "super." Faster than a speeding bullet. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Long after we lose our fascination with comic-book characters, we still dream of being extraordinary, and once you are born again, you begin to think about how the Holy Spirit - his giftings, his power - can make your dreams come true.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul was writing to a group of believers who were in search of the "super gift" - the gift that stands apart from other gifts as particularly other-wordly. Was it prophecy? Was it speaking in tongues? Paul gives the answer in chapter 13. The "super gift" - the one that tops all others - is love. Love is, far and away, the greatest spiritual gift. While some gifts are distributed by the Spirit specifically, this one is given generally, to all of God's children. While other gifts are restricted, this gift is always appropriate, in every context. Even if you can speak in the tongue of an angel, you'll find that nothing beats love. And when it beats out faith and hope, you know it is truly "super."

At CTK, love is our (not so) secret weapon. We don't have a lot going for us, other than this. Our people are not particularly charismatic, or bright, or photogenic. We have, however, gotten reasonably good at loving. And it is amazing what doors are opened by love. If, like Clark Kent, we keep stepping into our prayers closets, and keep clothing ourselves with compassion (Colossians 3:12), the church of Jesus Christ will be unstoppable.

Friday, December 03, 2010


I finished reading David Platt’s book Radical, while waiting for a flight from New Delhi to Hyderabad, India. The book had been recommended to me by several friends, so I decided to throw it in my bag for my recent tour (training pastors in the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Kenya and South Africa). The book calls us to a much deeper commitment to following Christ, and reaching others – two themes that get my blood going. So thanks to David Platt for stoking the fire. For the most part the book accomplished its mission well.

On the other hand, there were places where Platt got my blood boiling in a not-so-helpful way - a little too radical. In an effort to make his points, I felt that Platt pressed too hard, and stretched the supporting evidence. I would chalk it up to “too much of a good thing.” Here are my (hopefully) gentle critiques:

1. I feel like a radical life for Christ needs to be motivated by radical love for Christ. We need to be givers, but cheerful ones, not from compulsion. I felt there was a little too much compulsion in Platt’s book. I didn’t find much sense of cheer. While I can tell that Platt is on the move from his legalistic up bringing, I get the feeling that he has a way to go. At several points in the book I got the distinct feeling that Platt was preaching at me, instead of to me (maybe before the book went to print he had already received that feedback….he seems to apologize on p. 214). In my opinion there wasn’t nearly enough of “the love Christ compels me” and a little too much of “come on, you guys, you should be ashamed of yourselves!” Granted, we all need a kick in the pants now and then, but there’s a line we can cross where we can “exasperate our children,” particularly if you are a child who wants to do what is right. Count me among the exasperated.

2. Platt tends to overstate things a bit in order to make a point, particularly in his chapter How Much is Enough, critiquing the American dream:

a. “Caring for the poor is one natural overflow and a necessary evidence of the presence of Christ in our hearts. If there is no sign of caring for the poor in our lives, then there is reason to at least question whether Christ is in our hearts.” (p.110)

b. “If our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is really in us at all.” (p.111)

c. (on the story of Lazarus) “This story illustrates God’s response to the needs of the poor.” (p. 114)

d. “Isn’t the hidden assumption among many Christians in our culture that if we follow God, things will go well for us materially? Such thinking is explicit in “health and wealth” teaching, and it is implicit in the lives of Christians whose use of possessions looks virtually the same as that of our non-Christian neighbors.” (p.117)

For me, these over generalizations tended to lessen, not increase, the impact of his argument.

3. Platt has problems with the American church and I share his pain. But while He diagnoses the disease as largely spiritual, I think it is largely sociological. The church turning in on itself is quite natural – it is what organizations naturally do. By virtue of being organized together, over time, we get to know each other. As we get to know each other we become aware of each others’ concerns. As we become aware of each others’ concerns, we create programs to meet those concerns. In the end, our own concerns end up being plenty to keep us busy, and the mission is largely forgotten. It is purely natural. Of course, God does not call us to natural, but to supernatural. What I see happening in the American church is not unspiritual as related to spiritual, but natural as related to supernatural. I think the hearts of most Christians are well-meaning. I think they are just trapped in a self-reinforcing system where they can’t see beyond our own needs. If nothing else, I can see Platt’s book as a huge favor to get us to look up and see there is far much more beyond ourselves.

4. There is a lot of classic either/or (black/white) thinking in this book. For example, “We can stand with the starving or with the overfed. We can identify with poor Lazarus on his way to heaven or with the rich man on his way to hell. We can embrace Jesus while we give away our wealth, or we can walk away from Jesus while we hoard our wealth.” I’m not sure that those are the only choices. There may be some other combinations or shades of gray, but Platt doesn’t allow for the possibility of being interested in the plight of the rich man, only Lazarus. In response I would cite Jesus’ second great commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself” and his great commission, “go into all the world.” He could has said, “love your poor neighbor as yourself” but Jesus is interested in everyone, rich and poor, Lazarus and rich man. He could have said, “go into all the poor world” but Jesus is broad, not narrow, in his instructions. Jesus told us to go into all the socially and economically diverse world.

5. It would be possible, not popular, to make the argument that the church has spent more of its efforts reaching the poor, than the rich. Perhaps not in America, where the cost of the mega-model draws our attention to the rich suburbs (nearly all of the top churches in America being precisely located). But in other parts of the world, where poverty reigns, the church has done little to target political and business leaders, instead going to the people with the least power, and least ability, to change the system.

6. In some cases possessing great status and wealth may be precisely what God wants for a person’s calling (see Joseph); at other times such wealth and status should be forsaken (see Moses). One size does not fit all. Platt “cherry picks” the passages that fit his argument.

7. Platt tries to make me feel guilty for the price I pay for food, relative to “half the world struggling today to find food, water, and shelter with the same amount of money I spend on french fries for lunch.” This is a superficial argument, and contrasts like this abound in our world. Having just come from the Philippines I could say that they are enjoying much better pineapple than I am where I live, and a fraction of the cost. In India, their transportation costs (per person/per mile) are pennies on the dollar. So? The cost of something in one culture, relative to another, is sexy, not substantive.

8. Culture is water to fish. If you live in it, it’s hard to describe; if you live outside of it, it’s hard to understand. I wonder if the two-thirds world misunderstands America about as much as America misunderstands the two-thirds world, in their actual experience. If so, Platt seems to reinforce these misunderstandings. Many in the two-thirds world live very simple lives, with a daily diet of inexpensive rice and chicken. They do not have electric bills, insurance, health care, automobile repairs, college bills, a mortgage or debt. (Remind me again, who am I supposed to be feeling sorry for?) I guess what I am saying is that Americans are not nearly as “wealthy” as people think. At times, I have to say, when I travel in the two-thirds world, I don’t feel as guilty, as I do jealous. I think they may be rich in ways that matter.

9. I think it is important to make a distinction between struggling and suffering. Platt makes no such distinction, putting the cost of daily living on par with how many children die of malnutrition every year. It seems to me that a believer’s primary concern should be those who are suffering, a smaller subset of those who are struggling, and certainly a much smaller number than “half the world.” Ironically, it is a particularly western point of view to blur the two. As Americans, we don’t like to struggle (I think we think it is suffering), but sometimes we are spiritually richer for it. After all, it is in the Lord’s prayer where we read, “Give us this day our daily bread.” For most people in the world, this prayer actually makes sense, and the people praying it are blessed for doing so.

10. I think Platt’s interpretation of the rich young ruler negatively colors his perspective on wealth throughout the book. I like that story a lot, but I don’t come at it from a money-centric angle. Simply put I don’t think Jesus talked with the man because he was interested in the topic of money. I think he talked with the young man about the topic of money because he was interested in the young man. This was a personal challenge that came out of personal concern: “what do I still lack?” (what is in the way?). The answer? Whatever is in the way of him, and it could be (maybe often is) money. But Jesus made it clear in other contexts that is it could be relationships (mothers, brothers, sons or daughters) or something else valuable to us, like our time, our job, or our ideas. It would be a mistake to say that money is everyone’s issue, or every American’s.

11. One question that naturally arises for Platt and his church, which is of the “rubber meets the road” variety: What are they doing with the greatest accumulated asset of their ministry – their multi-million dollar church facility? He is obviously aware of the question, but there is not even so much as an oblique answer (“Every Sunday we gather in a multimillion-dollar building with millions of dollars in vehicles parked outside” (p.115). Platt comments negatively on how much money has been spent by others on such edifices (I pastor a multi-national church where we spend 13% on facilities in the US and less overseas, so I appreciate frugality here). Platt even suggests downsizing our homes (something else I am all for). But Platt doesn’t take his reasoning to its natural, radical conclusion: Shouldn’t the church sell its “home” and give the proceeds to the poor? I raise the question, not because I think they should sell their building, because I’m not sure they should. I raise the question to point out that there are times where it is more strategic for the overall mission to keep an asset than to give it away. The old fable, “Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg” comes to mind. At a certain point I don’t become more effective for Christ without a car (or phone, or laptop, or roof over my head), but less effective. For example, I work closely with an apostolic leader in India, and I think he needs to have more in the way of resources, not less, even though his standard of living already exceeds that of most Indians. This makes me think that the real challenge – largely missed in Platt’s book – is stewardship more than sacrifice. Shouldn’t our objective be to steward the resources of the world, particularly our own, in such a way that we “seek first His kingdom and his righteousness”?

12. I wish that Platt would have spent more time on Christian strategies to relieve suffering, beyond “give more.” What is a Christian strategy for alleviating suffering altogether, beyond writing a check? For those who “have something” to “sacrifice it” only addresses matters short-term. Shouldn’t we consider Jim Collins’ advice to “strengthen the core” while we “expand the frontier”? Doesn't justice need to be paired with mercy? While it in no way alleviates my moral responsibility to respond generously, even sacrificially, I believe that thoughtful people want to understand how their gifts are really making a difference. The situation in Haiti comes to mind, for example. If there is a gigantic hole in the bottom of the bucket, no matter how many resources we pour in the top, we are going to end up with an empty bucket.

Monday, October 04, 2010


In case you haven't noticed, I enjoy interacting with ideas (my top result from Strengthsfinder: "Ideation"). For that reason I enjoy reading thoughtful authors who write creatively about the church, men like Neil Cole and Alan Hirsch. I am in sync with these guys in so many ways that we could be the "three amigos" (I would be the Steve Martin character, I think). So I hesitate to differ with their points of view. O.K...I guess I'm not going to hesitate to differ, partly because in the world of ideas, significant differences are what lead to great conversation. So I'll get the dialogue started. Here are two differences I have with Cole and Hirsch in how I view the church.

1. I don't think there's anything better than the early church. Neil Cole, in his book Church 3.0 uses the analogy of software and it's evolution, from version 1.0 (usually glitchy and unstable) to 2.0 (better) and 3.0 (best). as a way of thinking about the evolution of the church. By way of this analogy he puts the Jerusalem church in a less-than-adored light. Cole says that it can be and has been improved upon. I beg to differ. I don't think that it "gets any better" than what we read in the brief description of Acts 2 - a church that was seeing people come to Jesus every day, meeting needs even at the point of personal sacrifice, experiencing great unity, convening in private and public spaces, and changing the world. I think a technological analogy breaks down when you are dealing with something organic, like the church (ironic huh, since Cole's most popular book is Organic Church). What I believe we need instead is an aesthetic analogy - something from the realm of beauty, or art. A beautiful woman (say, Sophia Loren) is a beautiful woman and always will be. There will be other beautiful women, to be sure, but I'm not sure I would say there will be women who are "more beautiful." The language of technology differs from that of the aesthetic. In technology we talk about "glitches." In art we talk about "beauty marks." Take the Mona Lisa, for example. There will be other great paintings, but the Mona Lisa is a singular work, and most artists can only dream of doing something so significant (you wouldn't probably hear an artist say, "I think I just painted something that's better than the Mona Lisa."). I see the Jerusalem church in that light. We are all trying to get back to that beauty, and maybe some are getting closer than others, but I don't believe we've seen a more beautiful form of church than we saw in the original.

2. I don't think that ecclesiology necessarily follows missiology; it can be the other way around. Alan Hirsch has laid out three priorities for the church: Christology, Missiology, Ecclesiology, in that order. I absolutely agree that Christology comes first. Jesus is the alpha, the omega, the beginning and the end. There is no question that Christology gets the gold. But does missiology earn the silver, and ecclesiology the bronze? It is at this point I slightly diverge from the "missional mindset." I see ecclesiology having every bit the value as missiology. In fact, I would tend to frame the three concepts as a triangle, with Jesus (Christology) at the peak, and both missiology and ecclesiology on par, below. I hear what Hirsch is saying - our mission should shape our community. I wouldn't disagree with that. All that I would say is that at times our community is going to shape our mission, too. And this is also quite biblical. In the first epistle of John you hear the apostle say that we have a fellowship with the Father and with one another, and it is out of that community that we are inviting others. So I see a dynamic interplay between mission and community. The arrangement varies from time to time. Missiology precedes Ecclesiology sometimes. Sometimes, Ecclesiology precedes Missiology.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


HERESY ALERT: The following dMail could get me branded as a heretic. It contains new takes on "tried and true" ideas. Read at your own risk.

Radio personality Paul Harvey popularized the saying “Now you know the rest of the story.” Often there is more to the story than originally thought. I have made "The Rest Of The Story" an acronym: TROTS. As CTK evolves we gain further insights into ideas we’ve held dear, such as:

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

TROTS: Leaders have a role to play in architecting and even initiating ministry activities. Sometimes we have to engage in the ministry to model effectiveness.

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

TROTS: The goal is meaningful, Christ-centered relationships. Small groups can deliver that, but so can coffee times and parties if they are intentional. While small groups are still our "plan A," it doesn't hurt to have a "plan B." Alternatives need to be explored, particularly to meet the needs of the time-challenged.

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

TROTS: There is a certain percentage of the population that would just as soon come to us. Some actually appreciate having a larger service where they can "hide" while they explore the claims of Christ.

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

TROTS: This assumes a number of things on the part of the person wanting to "do something": correct motives, general alignment with our mission, vision and values, and some reasonable expectations of effectiveness.

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

TROTS: We are a hybrid of intimacy and impact. We are a blend of small and big. At times we need critical mass for impact so we centralize. At other times we break things down for intimacy so we decentralize.

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

TROTS: Physical structures do impact our ability to relate to people. We shape our building and our buildings shape us. The shape of the environment can’t be totally disregarded. The same group of people can meet in a cozy coffee house, or a sterile gymnasium and have a very different experience in how they relate to God and each other.

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

TROTS: There is an information exchange at every stage of IDTS. The more information we can exchange in the identification (I) stage, the better for them and us.

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

TROTS: Be aware of “focus fatigue.” Leaders will become weary of being a one-stringed banjo long before people will. It takes a lot of discipline and hard work to stay focused, which is why most don’t do it.

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

TROTS: Theologically and philosophically this is a fixed reality. Relationally and politically, not as much. To restore sinners to fellowship sometimes requires coaching and management on both sides.

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

TROTS: Good enough really does need to be good enough. Good enough varies with each context, and the bar does get raised with growth.


Pride is a problem. I think we all know that. What we sometimes miss are all the forms in which it shows up. It shows up as overconfidence, obviously. It also shows up as underconfidence.

You've probably all met the Christian (maybe it's you) who, when asked to serve in a capacity for which they are clearly gifted, responds meekly with, "Awe, shucks. I don't think I could do that. Surely there's someone more qualified than little ol' me. But thanks for asking." Their face says, "humble." But what is going on inside? Sometimes, ironically, too much worry about self: how self will be perceived, whether self is too involved, whether self can pull it off, whether there is someone more qualified than self, etc. In other words, they are self-ish. There is way too much self involved. True humility is to be so God-focused that His kingdom's agenda matters more than self.

Ray Stedman once said, "We all tend to fear rejection if we are seen for what we are. The Satanic lie is that in order to be liked or accepted we must appear capable or successful. Therefore we either project capability (the extrovert) or we seek to hide our failure (the introvert)." Currently, for every believer who is over-confident in their area of giftedness and passion, there are ten who are underconfident. Sadly, some are thinking that sitting on the sidelines is actually spiritual. It's not. It's tragic. The body is made up of parts, and all the parts are vital and necessary. It's time for us to get over ourselves, and that means selflessness - thinking of our selves less.

Monday, August 09, 2010


A team of four just broke the record set in 1896. They crossed the Atlantic in a rowboat. It took them 44 days, eleven fewer than it has ever been done before. Of course, they had more gadgetry on board, too. Unlike previous crossings they had advanced communications and tracking devices. They had up-to-the-minute weather reports. Solar panels generated electricity. This was not your father's row boat, to be sure. But in the end, none of that sophisticated technology got them from one side of the ocean to the other. As the team captain said, "Every bit of technology that we had seemed to break. In the end it came down to four men and four oars." Four men. Four oars. Lots of rowing. That is the formula.

Ministries today are blessed with more gadgetry than at any other time in history. PowerPoint. Email. Acrylic pulpits. Mixing boards. But in the end it comes down to rowing. What is "rowing" in a ministry context? Loving people to Christ. The way it is put in our mission statement is: effectively reaching out to unchurched people in love, acceptance and forgiveness so that they may experience the joy of salvation and a purposeful life of discipleship. The most basic thing we have to offer is salvation through Jesus Christ. Not marital or financial advice, though sometimes this is needed. Not 10 steps to a better (fill in the blank), though sometimes this is helpful. In the end it is about seeing as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, come to a life-altering relationship with Jesus. Every person matters. Every person deserves to be loved. Reaching out effectively in love, acceptance and forgiveness is hard work. So hard, in fact, that many ministers prefer the digital to the personal. But the kingdom of God advances one person at a time.

Friday, July 30, 2010


In our never-ending quest to firm up our leadership, many of us take inspiration from Paul's words to Timothy: "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." Truly, the greatest amplifier of our impact is leadership development, as described in 2 Timothy 2:2. But that is the second verse, not the first. The first is, "You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." Before we strengthen others, we strengthen ourselves. And in a very particular attribute: grace.

It seems like a mixed metaphor to be "strong" in "grace." But if you're Paul, you know all too well how the two go together. After his conversion, Paul was not readily accepted by the Christian community. He had an unsavory past. Fortunately for him, Barnabas (an established Christian leader at the time) was strong in grace. He put his arm around Paul and welcomed him into the community. It was a strength that Paul would evidently develop within himself, as he continued to face doubters throughout the rest of his ministry (in nearly every book Paul wrote, he included some "defense" of himself). Such, you might say, is the life of a murderer who comes to Christ and becomes an outspoken apostle. But when Paul tells Timothy that he will also need to be strong in grace, he reveals an important insight: a Christian leader needs to be strong in grace, not by virtue of the fact that they have a dark past, but simply by virtue of the fact that they are a Christian leader.

When I became a pastor I didn't realize that I was stepping into a storm. The storm goes by different names - legalism, moralism, judgmentalism - but it is always driven by winds of fear. There are always people in your ministry who will try to blow you and others off course from the life-changing, life-giving message of grace. Like the Galatians of old, their skepticism will be clothed in religious-sounding garb. They will use words like "accountability" and "protect the flock." Only, they won't be talking about the standards laid out in scripture, they will be talking about their own list. They will try to exert control over the ministry and the people in it. Frankly, these moralists will dominate the church, if you let them, and have done so in many ministries across the country. What is the antidote for these fear-mongers? Leaders who will stand strong in God's grace. If you don't, who will?

Monday, July 26, 2010


Peter Bloch writes, "Possibility without accountability results in wishful thinking. Accountability without possibility creates despair." Which comes first, accountability or possibility? We need them both, so don't feel like you need to embrace one and neglect the other. But which one will be in the driver's seat, and which one will be in the passenger seat?

The church in which I grew up put accountability in the driver's seat. If we could just be dedicated enough (or fill in the blank, sincere enough, holy enough, etc.) we would become a great community. We never got there. Accountability is a great passenger, but a lousy driver. We spent most of our time pulling ourselves out of the ditch. At CTK we've made it clear that possibility is in the drivers seat, and accountability is along for the ride, to fix sandwiches, engage in conversation, and switch the channels on the radio. Now we're getting somewhere!

Possibility is made primary in various ways, but largely through the hope-filled language we use to describe the community we are creating together. Phrases like "hope for the future and forgiveness for the past" or "an authentic Christian community that effectively reaches out" let people know that this is an enterprise filled with possibility and that they can come along for the ride. It's a fun ride when possibility is at the wheel. On the other hand, possibility won't get to reality without accountability riding shotgun.

When you have a vision of a preferable future, you are ready for accountability and will respond to it well. If you have a goal to become a judo master, you are far more open to the instructor's training, and correction. When the instructor says, "Jump" you ask, "How high?" But if you don't have a goal to become a judo master, and someone comes into your life and says, "Jump," you don't respond with, "How high?" but "Say what?!" This explains the rebellion that has been seen in many legalistic settings, where accountability in a leadership role, instead of a support role. Accountability is a handmaiden to possibility.

Monday, July 12, 2010


I was asked to speak about the organization of CTK recently, and instead of whipping out the org charts and bylaws, I decided to share more on the idea-level about how we are structured. Here are some of the organizing principles behind the CTK story.

• Christ is the head of the church. “Christ the King” is not just our name, but the starting point for our organizational structure. Jesus owns the church – He paid pull price for it. We are clear on this point. The church is his body. We are depending on God for His leadership of our lives, and our story.

• Our organizational philosophy is “freedom, with handrails.” Within the handrails of our “beliefs” and “brand” there is freedom granted for individuals to do what needs to be done to achieve the mission Christ gave us. We are more committed to the Master and the Mission, than the Method and the Manner.

• We are minimalists when it comes to structure. We only want the minimum amount of structure with maximum flexibility. Our structure is “chaordic” – a combination of chaos and order. We have often referred to it as “following the bread crumbs.” We first try to discern where God is going, then we try to follow Him there, organizing accordingly. As a multi-site story, CTK closely resembles the apostolic organization of the early church.

• Two key words that serve as filters for our organization are “virtuous” and empowering. By virtuous we mean “inherently good.” The word is defined as “having or showing moral goodness or righteousness.” The word can apply to groups as well as individuals. A second guiding light is the word “empowering.” One of the defining questions for any organization is, “Who gives power to whom?” In a bad organization, the organization receives power from the participants. In a good organization, the participants receive power from the organization.

• “Staff are to create and sustain an environment where the people of CTK can carry out their ministries with minimum obstacles and maximum fulfillment” (CTK Job Description). We want our organization to serve the people, rather than for the people to serve our organization. The key word is not control, but empower.

• The “Jesus style” of leadership is servant-leadership. Greatness is found in serving rather than being served. The emphasis at CTK is on leaders who are higher in the organization serving and supporting the leaders below them.

• We want to be efficient with things, effective with people. Effectiveness with people means treating them as individuals and getting to know their story. Ministry is simply helping people where they are, with what they need, to get where they need to go.

• We see our various Worship Centers as “beads on a string”…different shapes and sizes held together by a common thread. The common thread is our mission, vision and values. The mission we share is more important than our diverse opinions. The needs of the group outweigh the needs of individuals. We major on the majors and minor on the minors.

• There is an invisible line in any organization between faith and fear. We are clearly trying to operate in faith, with hope for the future and forgiveness for the past. To this end we are not only trusting the Lord with the church, we are trusting the Lord’s people with it.

• The Church Council is the official governing body of CTK. The Council consists of the Lead Pastor, Elders, and Consultants. The Bylaws outline the powers and responsibilities of the Council. The Council is responsible for hiring and evaluating the Lead Pastor. “Primarily, the Council will ensure that the Lead Pastor is guiding Christ the King Community Church in accordance with its stated mission, vision and values, and that the business side of the church is administrated with excellence” (CTK Bylaws, Article IV). The council appoints an “Executive Review Committee” each year that is chaired by one of the Regional Pastors. This committee is in communication with the Lead Pastor throughout the year, reviews the leadership of the Lead Pastor through an annual report, responds to concerns as they arise, and, if necessary, initiates disciplinary action, calling upon an established group of outside pastors. They also maintain a succession plan in case of the Lead Pastor’s death.

• The Lead Pastor oversees the CTK network. The Lead Pastor is responsible for the hiring and placement of department heads and pastors. The Lead Pastor works with an Administrative Review Team and Regional Pastors to give support to the network.

• The Local Pastor oversees the spiritual and ministry aspects of the Worship Center in accordance with established priorities. The Local Pastor is responsible for the hiring and placement of local directors and group leaders. Pastors may designate individuals to help give oversight to the local ministry, and are free to utilize language as they deem appropriate for those who are their colleagues; including staff, directors, associates, assistants, leaders, advisory team, etc. These individuals do not have a standing office, but serve at the will of the Pastor.

• Accountability and authority flows through relationships. We ask everyone to be a part of a small group for friendship, growth, encouragement, and outreach. It is in the small group that we can take “relational responsibility” for each other. Organizational authority is mediated through pastoral relationships. All Pastors are asked to have monthly meetings with their supervisor and colleagues. The lines on the flow chart represent “advice,” which flows in both directions. This responsibility is managed by different people at different levels of the organization.

Small Group Leader - Cell

Ministry Director - Community

Local Pastor - Congregation

Area Pastor - County

Regional Pastor - Country

Champion - Continent

Lead Pastor - Church

• In a relational church, relationships are the end and the means. Many questions that get answered “organizationally” in other churches are answered “relationally” at CTK. A phrase to describe our commitment to relational infrastructure is “Span of Care.” Ideally we ask leaders to limit their Span of Care to not more than five to seven people for themselves and those they support.

• From time to time, differences may arise with the authority placed over us, particularly when authority blocks our goals or challenges our will. When we have a difference of opinion with authority, we need to learn how to make an appeal. An effective appeal requires a right attitude, humility and a teachable Spirit. In moments of conflict, what is happening in us is the most important consideration. Appeals should be directed first to the person to whom we have the conflict, then, if necessary, to their supervisor. An ultimate appeal can be made to the Church Council: “Should any individual, participant or guest feel aggrieved by the action of any officer acting in his or her official capacity, said individual shall have the right to appeal to the Church Council. The Council, after hearing such evidence as it deems appropriate, shall have the authority to affirm, modify or reject the action of the officer” (CTK Bylaws, Section VIII).

• We believe in strong church leadership that serves the best interests of God's people. The church needs to be led thoughtfully, Biblically, and aggressively by spiritual men who care about God's work and his people (1 Peter 5:1-4). Biblical leadership is sensitive to the needs of the followers, is motivated by service, and built upon trust (Ephesians 5:22-29).

• God has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to the church and it is important to us to support them in their ministry. Ideally the church should be led by leaders, pastored by pastors, taught by teachers, etc. Good leadership and good followership are partners.

• The office of Elder is designated in the Church Council. “The Elders shall assist the Lead Pastor in the administration of the church and in all matters of business pertaining thereto. Further, the Elders shall act, at the direction of the Church Council, in matters of personal discipline and restoration” (CTK Bylaws, Article V). Only male pastors may serve in the office of Elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7).

• Though we have many deacons, we do not have an office of Deacon because in scripture deacons (diakonos, literally “servants”) were not decision makers but individuals who carried out responsibilities. In our story we are less interested in the title, and more interested in the behavior of servanthood, which has been modeled so well by so many.

• Our objective is to become an organic, relational movement, not an institutional, attractional ministry. Organisms are alive, with inherent energy. Growing and expanding stories require organizational flexibility. In an organism, cells regenerate and grow naturally by multiplication. An organism continues to branch and seed with spontaneity and mystery. The cells reproduce and self-organize at all levels with fractal similarity. Paul deployed Timothy; Timothy deployed others, and so on. It is everyone’s job to identify, deploy, train and support leaders.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


There are great ministries all around us, and we can learn a lot from other Christian leaders and churches. But Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, encourages us to try to glean transferable "disciplines" rather than models or practices:

"Practicing a discipline is different from emulating "a model." All too often, new management innovations are described in terms of the "best practices" of so-called leading firms. While interesting, I believe such descriptions can often do more harm than good, leading to piecemeal copying and playing catch-up. I do not believe great organizations have ever been built by trying to emulate another, any more than individual greatness in achieved by trying to copy another 'great person.'"

I believe that every ministry story has its own personality, unlike any other. If this is true, the key for leaders is to not so much script a story as to discern the nature of the story in which a leader finds himself. At the end of the day, every ministry is custom built to unique specifications, and the blueprints are not transferable to another job site. There may be ways in which you ministry resembles others, and that is ok. But there should also be ways in which your ministry is unlike any other one in the world. Embrace the uniqueness of what God wants to do in your situation. Some might call it walking by faith.

Monday, May 10, 2010


The Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer has said that there are no small churches and no big pastors. Nevertheless, it does take a “big” pastor to cooperate with another pastor, and a “big” church to cooperate with another church in the building of Christ’s kingdom.

Clay Shirky suggests a hierarchy of social arrangements—sharing, cooperation, collaboration, and collectivism—that can bring us together. There is increasing coordination with each step. Sharing involves things. Cooperation involves ideas. Collaboration involves projects. And collectivism involves vision. The sequence of these steps is quite logical. But even before you get to the first step, there is a preliminary threshold you must clear: communication.

One thing is for sure: interdependence is hard, wherever it is attempted. I’m a fan of marriage, but when you think of it, it is a really challenging proposition. Marriage is two people, of different genders, from two different families, trying to do life together as a unit. Good luck with that, especially when visions collide. Everything is cool until the visions vary, and then cool quickly becomes hot. It’s a collision course that I’m not sure can be negotiated, at least in our own strength. But God is not beyond asking us to do something that can’t be done apart from His help. In the movie A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks’s character responds to a complaint of hardship by saying, “Hard is what makes it great!” Perhaps the best part of coordination is what God will have to do in us for it to happen.

To validate those whose ministry is different from ours, we need to recognize, rejoice in, and report on what God is doing throughout the world, particularly in ways that are different from what we’re used to doing or are doing. His work is much bigger than any of us. Other churches can reach people that your church cannot, and in ways that your church does not. Do I hear an Amen? Validate the thing that is different from you, maybe the opposite of you. For those of us in less structured, organic settings, it might mean expressing thanks for the ministries that are programmatic, institutional, or traditional. For those of us in a church that is traditionally organized, it might mean expressing thanks for those who are less structured in their approach. When was the last time you said to a pastor of another church, “I thank God for what you are doing over there”?

In our CTK services, I like to pray publicly for the other churches in the community. I think it sends an important message that there are other family members around that have valid ministries, even though their perspectives may differ from ours. As I pray for different denominations by name, I can sometimes discern that some of “our” people are squirming. We have done too good a job of differentiating ourselves from other churches, and not a good enough job of communicating our mutual dependence. But this can change. Sheep are prone to follow. And if they have followed us to independence, I believe they will also follow us toward interdependence.

The slogan we need for the church in America is the one printed on our money: E pluribus unum (out of many, one). At times in the church, there has been too much pluribus and not enough unum. Of course, the Lord’s Prayer (not the one He taught us to pray, but the one He actually prayed) was for unity. As Christ is praying for unity, there is also an enemy roaming who is intent on division. C. S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce, illustrates this point as he recounts a bus ride from heaven to hell. Instead of finding fire in hell, he finds a neighborhood full of empty homes on deserted streets. Lewis asks what has happened, and he gets a chilling answer. There used to be a great population in hell, he is told, but on the first day when someone would arrive, he would start quarreling with his neighbor, and within a week he would move to another block. Of course, someone else would move in next to him in that neighborhood as well. So the person would have to move again to get away from his neighbors. This cycle was repeated many times, until the person had moved to the edge of town, where he had to build another house. And that was hell—a constant drive to get away from others. Hell meant growing—rapidly—apart. That is a metaphor for hell on earth, and also an indicator of what heaven on earth must be like: coming together.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


A friend of mine said something pretty interesting to me: "I came to my first pastorate looking for a group of people who would affirm me. But what they were looking for was someone who could lead them to hope in Jesus."

I found this to be an especially honest reflection. The fact is, a person can find a fair amount of affirmation in ministry. Maybe you've heard this before: "Thank you Pastor. That was just what I needed to hear!" Or this: "That was such a beautiful prayer." Or: "I want you to know that you are a blessing to me." God's people can be awfully kind sometimes. When I was a young pastor I didn't know what to do with the encouragement, so on the surface I was way too godly: "All the glory goes to Jesus sister!" Meanwhile the "internal me" was far too human. Secretly I would look forward to these comments far too much and feel like I was going through withdrawal when they were not forthcoming. I think I've grown a little since then.

1. I got clear that my ministry is unto the Lord and people are just the beneficiary of that, instead of the other way around.

2. I started living for the ultimate, final affirmation - "well done good and faithful servant" - instead of the temporal, passing affirmations.

3. I understood that the same people who shout "Hosanna!" on one day will cry "crucify him!" days later. If I put too much stock in the compliments it is harder to divest myself of the criticism.

4. I realized that the truth was somewhere in the middle - I'm not quite as good as my best day and not quite as bad as my worst day. While people tend to notice the unusually good or bad, I've tried to put more energy into raising my average.

5. I got clear that "It is not about me." Truly, as my friend said, I just need to be a finger pointing to Jesus.

As I began to grow in my character something interesting started happening in my response to affirmation. I started saying, "Thank you, I appreciate that" to compliments, but in my self talk reminding myself that I am holding treasure in a jar of clay. I'm doing much better, if I do say so myself.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Post cereal introduced product sampling to American commerce. The concept is simple; before someone commits to a larger purchase, let them try it first. After the concept caught on, it expanded significantly, with test drives, introductory offers, and money-back guarantees. Maybe the church could learn a thing or two.

I learned something about sampling recently when a man called and set up an appointment to talk with me. He said he wanted to talk with me about the church. I found this odd, since I knew this man from the community and had never seen him attend one of our services. In fact, he hadn't. But when he showed up for our meeting he was carrying with him all manner of CTK literature: brochures, DVDs and printed pages from our web site. He even had a dog-eared copy of Deliberate Simplicity with him. He was studying up on us, he said, because he wanted to know what we were all about before he came for a visit. The care he took in his investigation was every bit as intensive as that of Consumer Reports. He had particular ideas about what he was looking for, and he was not even going to visit until his curiosity was satisfied.

Clearly my friend is an "outlier" when it comes to being an information hound. But in an info society, where people are used to being able to browse a book online before buying it, or play a clip of a song before downloading it, it makes sense that the church provide options beyond "attend the service and you'll find out." So here are some questions:

Does your ministry provide samples of recent teaching? How about a video or audio of a recent service? Handouts? Maybe a copy of the Sunday program? Giving people a sample will make them feel that they already know you, before you even meet.

Does your ministry give guests pictures of what they can expect to see when they visit? Is there a map of the facility that they can peruse? Some may be worried about "what's behind those doors." Put their mind at ease. Take a few snapshots of the entry, hallways and auditorium so it's not such a mystery. Remember, people are already used to zooming in on buildings through Google earth and getting a roadside view. Let them come inside before they come inside.

Does your ministry allow people to "meet" some of the important people before they meet them? Is there a brochure of the directors? Are there bios on the web site? Maybe you think it's obvious who the worship director is, but for newbies they are wondering, "Who's the guy who gets up there every week and plays his guitar?"

Does your ministry give people a chance to "try" a small group, before committing to one? Some are skeptical about jumping into community with both feet. Maybe we should whet their appetite for it, by offering 5-10 minute small group opportunities in the worship service, or limited-duration groups that let people get their feet wet first.

Don't allow the enemy to use the fear of the unknown to keep seekers at bay. Give people a chance to "taste and see that the Lord is good." Sampling is a preventative strike at fear.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Jesus said, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and you 'No' be 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." Jesus encouraged an honest life that has eluded many Christian leaders. I find many leaders are frustrated, saying "Yes" when they mean "No," then resenting others for it. The anger stems from a lack of honesty with themselves, first of all, then with others.

It is dangerous to your health to be a "yes man." Jesus gave us permission to say both yes and no. I know this is hard for some Christians to believe, but sometimes the best answer is "No." We have a limited amount of emotions, time, money and strength. When someone asks you to engage, and you don't have the emotional strength to do so, the answer needs to be "No." When someone asks you to participate, but you don't have the time, the answer needs to be "No." When someone asks you to contribute, but you don't have the money, the answer needs to be "No." When someone asks you to help, but you don't have the strength, the answer needs to be "No." And Jesus says you don't have to explain or excuse yourself either. Just say "No, I'm sorry, I can't." Let your "No" be "No."

If you really want to frustrate the rest of us, keep saying "Yes" when you should be saying "No." After awhile it will become clear that you don't really have the ability (emotions, time, money, strength) to follow through on your commitments (ummm....overcommitments) and we will start wishing that you had just been honest with us to begin with: "If you didn't have the time, I wish you just would have told me." Other people cannot read your mind, so when you say "Yes" they actually assume you mean "Yes," with all that attends that word.

I was once doing marriage counseling with a couple, and finding it very difficult to make any progress, until one session the wife turned to her husband and blurted out, "I don't love you. I haven't loved you for a long time." It was a difficult session, but in some ways it was a turning point. The husband, afterward, told me, "It was hard to hear that, but I needed to hear that." Up until her statement neither of us could figure out why the pieces were not coming together. She had said that she loved him, so we both took her word for it. The minute she got honest, the marriage had a chance at survival. Prior to that statement, we weren't even working on helping her to love him, because that had been assumed. Once we knew that she did not love him, we could go to work on that. And we did. And she did. And eventually that marriage came back together. But it required honesty to get there.

If we as leaders don't show a degree of care with our "Yes" and "No" we can unwittingly show our people how to become really good at being dishonest, and subsequently, unhealthy. After all, we are as sick as our secrets.

Monday, January 11, 2010


When you encounter a CTK participant (we don’t have “members” but “active participants”), you will hear them tell different stories about what they appreciate about CTK. One might say, “This is the first church where I have really gotten to know people, and where people have gotten to know me. I have grown so much because of my small group.” Another might add, “I enjoy the weekend worship services. I feel the presence of God when we get together.” Still another might say, “I love the fact that we are reaching out and starting new Worship Centers in new communities.” The point being, we are not all one thing, or another. We are both intimate and impacting. We are Hybrid.

Intimacy…when the church is personal, relational and inclusive.

Impact…when the church is powerful, missional and transformative.

Hybrids are sometimes a transition between one methodology and another. In between epics, we often find transitional forms with one hand reaching into the past, and the other reaching forward to the future. This is likely true for the automotive industry, as refined fossil fuels become less plentiful, and new forms of power, like electric and hydrogen, become more useful. Some would see the Hybrid Church in this light, as a way station between the corporate church (viewed to be analogous to the combustion engine, a popular but endangered species) and smaller house fellowships they project will ultimately replace it.

I personally do not view the Hybrid Church as a transitional form. I view it as a preferred design. That is, we may prefer a hybrid because it brings together two things in a way that is synergistic. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich, for example, is a long-time favorite hybrid. We prefer the two together because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When the church combines intimacy and impact it gets the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


At a conference I attended, the facilitator said: "It's more important to be kind than to be right." At first blush the statement resonated with me. I’ve certainly seen rightness expressed at the expense of kindness. But upon further reflection I think it was unfortunate that the conversation was being framed as "kind" versus "right." Can’t we be both? I think a better statement for the facilitator of this meeting to make would have been, "It is important to be right. It is just as important to be kind."

It’s ok to be extreme, but it’s not ok to be imbalanced. It was said of Abraham Lincoln that he was "a man of steel and velvet," extremely strong at the core with a very gentle exterior. It was said of Christ that he was “full of grace and truth,” completely truthful, but clearly gracious. That is what I want to be when I grow up. Both. And that is God’s dream for all of us in His church, that when we grow up we will “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:7-16). Greatness appears to be balanced extremes.

Balance is not very sexy, or cool. What is deemed newsworthy is often excessive in one direction or the other. The media tends to amplify the highly unlikely outliers, and tends to minimize the middler. This is true in Christianity, as well. The ministry that is extremely (and then fill-in-the-blank…large, evangelistic, Calvinistic, dogmatic, etc.) gets noticed. But for long-term effectiveness balance yields the best results, in your personal life and in your ministry.

A wise, older pastor advised me in my youth to “Lean against the prevailing wind.” He had used this phrase as a sextant for his personal life, leadership and teaching. He counseled, “If you find yourself preaching about grace all the time, maybe balance that with a message on holiness; if you’ve focused for a while on outreach, teach on discipleship.” So much of spirituality, he told me, is both/and, not either/or.