Good News | Culture | Leadership | Fun
One of the most important discoveries you can make is this:
To encounter what is wrong and wounded with yourself, the blind spots you’ve been blind to all your life.
And to realize that God and your close friends already knew all of this about you.
And to discover that God and your close friends love you, are committed to you, and enjoy being in relationship with you.
This is called grace (undeserved love).
We enjoyed a celebratory Easter at Garden City. It was our biggest Sunday yet as a church.
Our favorite thing to celebrate as a church is baptism, people going public with their faith in Jesus. This Easter we heard powerful stories of lives changed by the love of God.
New connections were made at our 4pm and 5:30pm services. We’re grateful for the missional culture of our church, for how our people scatter out to love people in the city and bring new people into our church family both on Sundays and during the week to Neighborhood Groups.
On Easter we started offering ASL (American Sign Language) at our 4pm service. We have some women in our church dreaming big about how to reach the deaf community in Silicon Valley with the gospel. Here is my Easter sermon, “Believe.”
Some of the Garden City kids enjoyed an Easter egg hunt.
Like every Sunday, in-between services kids played and adults connected in our quad.
It has become a tradition for us to debut a new Garden City T-shirt on Easter.
This Sunday we begin a new three-week sermon series about sex. Join us!
The older you get, the more life beats you up. The betrayal, unmet dreams and expectations, painful surprises, loss, and death—it hurts. This pain is what causes many people to shut down their hearts. You are surrounded today by people who are not whole, people who have let large portions of their heart fall asleep and die in order to protect themselves from experiencing more pain and disappointment.
But wholeness matters. There’s a reason God constantly summons us in the Scriptures and in our experiences to love him and live life “with all of your heart.” You are designed to live before God and others as a whole person, with the complete mix and mess of your desires, joys, and sorrows.
I love how one wild man, beat up and blessed by life, expresses this theme. About 2,000 years ago a serial church planter named Paul wrote a letter to a mixed bag church in Corinth. Writing about himself and his partner in leadership, Timothy, Paul reveals his heart-whole leadership approach, “our heart is wide open” (2 Cor 6:11). And, Paul summons the struggling people in this city to also live full-hearted lives, “widen your hearts also” (2 Cor 6:12).
This is a life and leadership model of wholeness, of reclaiming the deadened chambers of the core of your being to live and lead with a wide open heart, come what may. It is risky. It is an adventure. It is how we come most alive. It is how God created us to live.
Fragmenting, compartmentalizing, locking up, and deadening your heart is a sneaky process. It often happens without noticing it. You go through some surprising pain, disappointment that knocks the wind out of you, and subtly you suppress some of what you once desired and unconsciously decide to feel less hurt in the future.
I’ve done this. Though I’d consider myself strong in being tuned into my heart and emotionally healthy, I’ve recently seen with fresh clarity the toll church planting has taken on my heart. The true story is that Jesus has vastly exceeded my dreams and prayers for our church these first 3.5 years of our existence. I’m amazed and full of thankfulness. And, the true story is that I’ve experienced significant loss and trauma over the course of these first few years, blows that have impacted my heart more than I knew. In some recent times of rest and prayer, my Father has been helping me see this and calling me to a fresh chapter of living and leading with a heart wide open. It’s been a call to quit numbing my pain and short-selling my hopes, a call out of self-protection and into full life.
2 WAYS: GRIEVE AND DREAM DAILY
Wholeness means you bring all of you, all of your story, before the presence of God (and the presence of those closest to you). In other words: honesty. The only way I know how to live and lead with a wide open heart is to daily do two things before God: grieve and dream.
Grief is a normal part of life in a fallen world. An honest heart expresses grief to God—grief over unmet desires, sin, personal failures, unanswered prayers, and the daily smog of living in a sinful world. God sees and cares about our grief, and a healthy heart freely communicates and emotes this grief.
Dreams are a normal part of life in a redeemed world. An honest heart expresses dreams to God—dreams, desires, and prayers for a better future for yourself and others in a world where the resurrection of Jesus has put death to death and is making all things new. A healthy heart freely communicates and emotes, often in a child-like way, outrageous dreams and prayers.
I recommend making grieving and dreaming a regular part of your prayer life. This is what’s modeled and taught for us in the Psalms. This is what’s modeled and taught for us by healthiest, wholehearted leaders who have gone before us (just think of some of your heroes in the faith, how their biographies or their lives revealed regularly laying out big dreams and big pain in front of God). And this is what you can model for others and the generations that come after you: a heart wide open, a heart fully alive.
6 Day Work Week
Since starting Garden City Church 3.5 years ago I’ve worked a 6 day work week, working Sunday-Friday and taking a restful sabbath every Saturday. When starting the church, my wife and I understood and committed to the reality that during the first 3 years of the church plant we would both work harder than we ever had before—I would put in long hours to get the church launched and healthy, and my wife would put in a lot of hours supporting me and caring for our 3 sons as a stay-at-home mom.
We’ve both worked really hard, but it’s also been sustainable for this season because of several key practices:
-Every night (except Sundays and Wednesdays) I stopped work at 6pm so I could spend the rest of the night eating dinner, playing, resting, and being fully present with my family.
-From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday we’ve kept a family sabbath full of rest, play, and adventure.
-We’ve taken extended vacation every summer, devoting the month of July to getting out of town and resting as a family.
-We’ve blocked off every Thursday night as date night.
-A year ago I tapered down my hours a bit and started ending my work week on Fridays at 2pm.
-I work a lot from home, so I’m physically present/able to engage with my sons at various moments throughout the day.
My wife and I viewed this 6 day work week as a season, we believed that after the first 3 years of the church plant things would stabilize to a level that would allow for less intensity and more rest. It is good to think seasonally. You can handle a very intense work load for a season, but eventually that season needs to end.
5 Day Work Week
I’ve been talking about this with the elders of our church. Our elders have seen my work load and, believing that I now have a great team around me and that making a change would be healthy for me and my family, they’ve asked me to transition to a 5 day work week. I felt so loved by this direction from them.
So, 3 weeks ago I started ending my work week on Thursday nights, now taking Fridays off in addition to Saturdays. It feels foreign, new, and refreshing. I’ve had to re-organize my week in order to make this happen. On some of the days (Sun-Th) I work slightly longer hours and I’ve had to change up some of my sermon prep routine. It’s a wonderful new experience to take two days off, both for me and my family. I’m too early into it to report on the benefits and results of this change, but I think it’s going to be good. I have struggled with thinking, “Do I really need 2 days of rest? I’ve already been off/resting for 24 hrs and I have energy to get back to work now, should I go back to 1 day off?” But, my belief is that this will probably pass and that what’s best for me, my family, and the church in this season is for me to take 2 days off.
I hope reading about this is helpful for you. The main points:
-You can work long, intense, extended hours for a season, but that season eventually needs to end.
-Pastors, have good elders around you who will make decisions that bless the long term health of you and your family.
-If, like me, you’ve been working a 6 day work week and feel it would be almost impossible to switch to a 5 day work week (this is what I used to think), consider giving it a try. It is possible and it is good.
On Tuesday we held our quarterly Garden City staff/elder/spouse bonding dinner. I collected everyone’s cell phones in a basket. The three life-giving hours we spent together flew by. We feasted, talked, laughed, and made memories. Not once did somebody check their phone and enter into the digital world. Our night together as friends/a team was so good, in part, because everyone was fully present, fully engaged with each other and the moment.
Next time you throw a party or enjoy a family dinner, consider setting up a basket for cell phones to help set people free to be fully present with each other.
This summer my family and I are taking a sabbatical. You could help me with my sabbatical in two ways, location and wisdom:
We aren’t yet sure where we’re going to go for this sabbatical. We have a bunch of exciting ideas we’re seeking to piece together, but I also wanted to see if some ideas get generated from this post. Does your church/ministry need someone to do a little bit of preaching/leading this summer in exchange for free housing (international possibilities are the most intriguing to us)? Do you know of a great location that provides discounted housing for pastors and their families in need of rest? If so, email me with what you’ve got. Right now we’re taking a look at all possibilities.
Have you taken a sabbatical before? Share in the comments (or email me, above) your wisdom on how to make the most of a sabbatical. What do I need to know? Any tips for how to best ease out and back in to work? Any book recommendations for taking a sabbatical?
February 7th. This date meant nothing to me, now it creates tears.
One year ago my mom died. Or, to put it another way: 365 blurry days ago I lost my mommy—the person on the planet I’ve never not known. I came from her. She taught me to pray and tie my shoes and talk to girls. She bandaged my wounds. Next to my wife, she understood me better than anyone else. She relentlessly fought and prayed for me. She called me on my crap, and she was aware of her mess and regularly said sorry to me (one of the most powerful ways a parent can parent). She created a relationship with me where I could talk to her about anything. She charged life with fun and laughs and songs, even though her home life was the opposite—she transformed her suffering into something beautiful. From boyhood, she gave me a huge vision for God, marriage, fatherhood, and friendship. She made me who I am today. I know what grace means, what it feels like even, because my mom embodied this foreign wonder.
How do you lose someone like this? How does a boy lose his mom?
I don’t know. This year has been a blur. As I was touching and saying goodbye to my mom’s dead body (a sight you’re never prepared for), a man in a uniform driving a long car came to take it. That day was filled with disorienting details—a casket to choose, an obituary to write, a funeral to plan, papers to fill out, tears to shed with my dad and brother, and trying to process the news with my three young sons. Two days after her death I was back at Garden City, preaching a sermon titled after her famous last words to me, “See you in heaven.” A week later we held the funeral. And I jumped back into life, leadership, fresh challenges, and hard things I can’t write about while feeling the ever-present absence of a voice, presence, person who was no longer there.
The older you get the more life beats you up. This presents a challenge. I think the great challenge in life is to keep your heart alive in the midst of loss and pain. The more we experience loss or the possibility of loss, we face the quite logical temptation to protect our hearts from further pain. And so we quit our vulnerability, quit our risks, quit our dreams, and quit loving with abandon. Follow that path and you’ll be “safe,” assured that nobody and nothing can get too close to you and hurt you, but you’ll also be less than alive—never chasing the dreams, loving the people, and feeling the joy and the loss and the adventure of a life well lived.
What I’m trying to communicate is that this blurry year has been a lesson in the life of my heart. How am I doing a year after losing my mom and in the thick of other sadnesses that have accompanied this story? I don’t know. On the one hand, I think I’m “healthy.” On the other hand, my heart feels messy, I’ve felt disoriented at times, and I don’t know if I can handle getting the wind knocked out of me one more time this year. I’ve felt the limits of my own strength and wisdom this year more than ever before. But, actually, I classify all of this under the banner of “healthy.”
What is spiritual and emotional health? To face reality. To feel reality. To be desperate and cry out to God and friends for help, comfort, wisdom. To be poor in spirit. To be alive—to refuse to deaden your heart and instead keep dreaming, risking, loving, feeling, befriending, and giving while simultaneously mourning our losses. Isn’t this the Psalms? A book that teaches us how to live. A book that teaches us the secret of life to the fullest: to both daily desire and grieve before the face of God. A healthy heart is not a safe heart. A healthy heart is an emotive explosion of longing/desire/joy and loss/grief/sadness.
It seems we have three options:
Option 1, The Superficial Optimist: The person who expects a great life of smooth sailing and hasn’t yet been colored by bruises in a fallen world.
Option 2, The Heart-Deadened Pessimist: The person who has felt the scars of life and sealed off their heart to protect themselves from bad news and loss.
Option 3, The Death/Resurrection Optimist: The person whose faith rests at the 2,000 year-old Jerusalem crossroads of death and resurrection, understanding that death and loss are real, but don’t have the last word. The Death/Resurrection Optimist has experienced his/her own death and resurrection through personal suffering, a personal encounter with Jesus and his resurrection power, and through the daily choice to advance their role in the story about a vulnerable God who faces and feels reality in order to redeem a happy ending.
Only option 3 requires courage.
February 7th. One year after a great loss my Father in heaven has me, I think, right where he wants me.
About a year ago I gave a talk in Nashville for Church Planting Leadership Fellowship. The theme of the event was Alpha Cities and my talk, rooted in my book Why Cities Matter, was about 15 life-giving habits/priorities for church planters to cultivate in city environments (this content should also be helpful to those not in city environments, and to pastors who are not church planters). I received a great response from this talk and people have asked me for the notes. I finally got around to turning a condensed version of my notes into a brief blog post.
1. Know and love your city
I would live in Silicon valley even if I wasn’t a church planter. I love living here. Having this kind of love for your city helps you contextualize the gospel from a place of deep understanding and genuine love for your city, and it ensures that you’re not simply using your city for ministry–you and your family genuinely enjoy living there. Do you know and love your city? The best way to start is to approach you city like you’d approach knowing and loving a person.
➔ Action Question: What is your city’s history, values, dreams, fears, and ethos? (see chapter 4 of Why Cities Matter for a more on the 5 key questions to ask of your city)
2. Prioritize friendship
Most church planters are lonely, and it’s most often their fault! Don’t settle for superficial relationships or building a church where everyone has deep friendships and you sit alone at the top. If Jesus needed close friends, then so do you. It’s how God made us. So make pursuing and enjoying real friendships a normal part of your week. Perhaps you should put it in your job description. I think planters/pastors should be men who have incredible friendships, there’s just no way to navigate this calling well without great friends.
➔ Action Question: Who are your friends?
3. Disciple men
Jesus invested his life in a handful of men and changed the world. As the lead guy, investing your life in a handful of guys will set the culture of your church. Don’t spread yourself too thin, pick a few guys who will invest in others and invest yourself them (2 Tim 2:2).
➔ Action Question: Who are your guys?
Church planting is a creative profession. If you do not rest and refill yourself along the way, you will burn out. Find your own rhythms to rest daily (unplug/play for some portion of each day), rest weekly (sabbath), rest monthly (I take a monthly headspace day where I get away to fill up), and rest annually (my family gets out of town for the entire month of July). For more: See my interview on Sabbath/rest here.
➔ Action Question: How are you resting?
5. Unleash your rookies
Some of your best ministry will happen through new believers. Don’t wait for people to ripen on the vine, we have an enormous mission and the best news in our city! God is able to use anybody, and seems to love doing a special work through new believers, so give them vision for this and set them loose (even before they feel ready). Sameer is just one of many examples of how the Lord has blessed this at Garden City.
➔ Action Question: Who do you need to set loose?
6. Play big
Too many church planters settle for a ministry that can be explained by their own resources and abilities. Jesus loves your church/city more than you do (Matt 16:18). Push into the impossible and trust God to show up. This is the kind of ministry worth giving your life for.
➔ Action Question: Does your current ministry require a supernatural explanation?
7. Resist the devil
Satan hates you, and he is tricky. He will seek to breed disunity in your church, discouragement in you, speak lies, and seek to get at you through your family, etc. You have to be a fighter (1 Peter 5:8-9). Church planting will always feel like a fight. Embrace this reality, and fight.
➔ Action Question: Where do you need to resist the work of the devil?
8. Go to where men work
Nine years ago I started to visit men in their workplace. I realized this was the first time anyone had done this for many of them. This is a great way to care for the men in your church, spur them on mission, and get to further know your city (#1) as you see and observe these work environments.
➔ Action Question: Whose workplace can you visit this week? For more, read my post: Go To Where Your Men Work.
9. Do what you love
“One of the quickest way to burn out is to stop doing what you enjoy.” – Mark Sanborn. Most church planters stop doing what they enjoy. What do you love to do? When is the last time you did that? I’m hyper-responsible, so I have to remind myself at times to “be irresponsible” — go surfing, running, exploring–to push my work aside do something that has nothing to do with my work.
➔ Action Question: Ask “What do I want to do?” for the rest of your life.
10. Date your wife
I wrote an entire book about this, because If your marriage is strong and healthy, you can face almost anything. Pastors are in the unique position of having the one job where marriage can disqualify you. Men, we can do what we do because of our wives. Don’t forget this.
➔ Action Question: Are you taking good care of your wife?
11. Set the culture
The values written on your walls won’t matter if your culture does not reinforce them. Culture trumps everything. As the planter, you set the culture of your church. Set it intentionally, set it early, and realize that you are always setting and protecting it.
➔ Action Question: How can you nurture the culture of your church this quarter?
12. Take care of yourself financially
This one is easy to ignore, but nobody will think of this but you. Cities are expensive and you will need to have a plan for how you will take care of your family so you are not constantly worrying about providing for them.
➔ Action Question: Are things set up such that you and your family are adequately provided for financially?
13. Get your sermon done earlier
I have found it works much better for me to aim to get my sermon done by Wednesday afternoon, giving me the rest of the week to be with people, handle other responsibilities, and not have my sermon hanging over my head all week. Discover what works best for you, your family, and your church and do it.
➔ Action Question: What’s a good time of the week to finish your sermon by, a new deadline to aim for that would free you up?
14. Let God wreck you
Shortly before planting Garden City Church, I had my idolatry exposed and crushed as a result of some very difficult circumstances in my life. The Lord used that to build me into the man who is leading my church today. Church planting can be the best education/sanctifier of your life. Embrace what God is doing and you will be a better leader as a result.
➔ Action Question: What is God teaching you in your pain and weakness?
15. Stay excited about Jesus
This is the single most important thing you can do for yourself and the church. Your leadership flows from your relationship with Jesus, so your most important meeting of the day is connecting with him. Staying encouraged and excited about Jesus = healthy leadership.
➔ Action Question: Have you lost your wonder and fascination with Jesus? How can you get it back?
Moody Publishers recently asked me to write 350 words to pastors about preaching, story, and non-Christians. What follows is what I wrote for their newsletter.
Everybody in your city has a story. Preaching is your opportunity to share the Bible in a way that engages each one. But how do you do this with both Christians and non-Christians at your service? Effective preaching is preaching directed at both the people who are already part of your church and people in your city who are not yet part of any church. Story is the key to engaging both of these audiences well. If you can connect with each person’s story, challenge it, and recast it with your preaching, your Sunday gatherings will be increasingly filled with people who are following Jesus and people who aren’t.
Step 1: CONNECT WITH THEIR STORY
It is natural for most pastors to connect their preaching with other Christians, but they must also connect their preaching to the very different storylines inhabited by the non-Christians in their community. If you’re not yet doing this, now is the time to start. Start preaching each week as though there are non-Christians in the room, even if there aren’t. You will learn to do this better by having non-Christian friends and by knowing the pulse of your city. Eventually, non-Christians will start coming—the Christians they know will invite them because they know your preaching will speak to them.
Step 2: CHALLENGE THEIR STORY
After you connect to the storyline non-Christians are living in your city, challenge it. Use your preaching to show how the story has a bad ending—how faith in atheism, success, power, etc.—leads to disappointment instead of freedom and joy. This isn’t just a technique. This is a way of preaching that grows from a heart that wants to know and love the diverse people in your city who are far from God.
Step 3: RECAST THEIR STORY
After connecting with and challenging the non-Christian storyline, retell people’s story with the happy ending found only in the gospel and the particular text you’re preaching. For example, if you’re preaching John 10:10 in Los Angeles, a city obsessed with image and fame, you can show people that the abundant life, love, and excitement they’re searching for is found only in Jesus—the One who laid down his life and fame in order to give us true life. Such preaching is relevant to non-Christians, but it also equips the Christians in the room to better understand their faith and how to thoughtfully share it with others.
Everyone on the planet believes some sort of story to make sense out of their life. Only the story of the Bible is big enough to make sense out of both the beauty and the brokenness in people’s lives.