Good News | Culture | Leadership | Fun
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.
Here is my Best Books of 2014 list, in no particular order. This isn’t a list of books published in 2014. This list is of the books I read in 2014 that I enjoyed/benefited from the most. Click here for last year’s list: Best Books of 2013 (and links to past year’s lists).
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. Of all the books I read this year, this is the one that has impacted me the most. I’ve grown in gratitude and living more fully in the moment as a result of stewing my way through this book.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Originally I decided not to read this biography because I’d read a few reviews of it and concluded I already knew the gist of the book: Steve Jobs was an uncommon genius and jerk. But then a pastor friend told me he couldn’t put this book down and learned a lot from it. I picked up the book and experienced the same: I couldn’t put it down. This book is packed with leadership lessons (what to do and what not to do) and it provides a fascinating mini-history of Silicon Valley.
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller. For me, this book ties with Eugene Peterson’s, Answering God (noted on my Best Books of 2010 list) as the best book I’ve ever read on prayer. Peterson defines prayer as “Answering God.” Keller defines prayer as, “Continuing a conversation that God has started.” These two definitions are key to cultivating a rich prayer life–we first listen to what God says to us in his Word, then we keep the conversation going by responding to God in prayer.
Zero to One: Notes On Startups, Or How To Build The Future by Peter Theil. Thoughtful writing on entrepreneurship and leadership. I take back what I said above about One Thousand Gifts. Zero to One is a tie, I think this book has impacted me just as much. No, actually, it’s a three way tie between these two and Prayer by Keller.
Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit And the Primal Future of Fitness by J.C. Herz. I started doing CrossFit a year ago. I really like it. This book tells the CrossFit story and provides a great education on fitness. I couldn’t put it down.
Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul by Bill Hybels. Significant practical wisdom from a leader who has been around the block. I had two big takeaways from this book that I’ve carved into my life, and I’m better for it.
Looking for Alaska by John Green. One awkward character’s quest for “The Great Perhaps.” A good story. Good fiction.
Comfortable Words: Essays in Honor of Paul F.M. Zahl. Many of the essays in this collection are really good–great thinking on the gospel and our culture.
Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team Six Operator Adam Brown by Eric Blehm. The story of a man changed by grace, who then gave up his life for others.
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This summer I worked through much of this book in preparation to preach The Sermon on the Mount, which I’m preaching right now. MLJ’s material warms my heart and is, in my opinion, the best content out there on The Sermon on the Mount.
The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund. What makes this book so good is Ray’s articulation of a gospel culture, and the reality that Ray is the real deal–a man continually changed by and passionate about the good news of Jesus.
The Interestings: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer. I have 50 pages left in this 468 page novel. I started it the first week of January. Throughout the year I’ve put it down and forgotten about it, but then a few weeks later I’m so curious about what happens next that I pick it up and read another few chapters. What makes this novel shine is the length of time it covers and the depth of its character development. The narrator repeatedly returns to each character’s backstory, showing why people are the way they are. Note: There’s a good bit of depravity depicted in this novel.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull. You have to be proactive to stay creative and innovative, and to keep such a culture alive in your organization. I got a lot from this one.
At Garden City Church we’re working hard to build strong, healthy teams: our elder board, our staff team, our team of deacons, our various volunteer/serving teams, etc. I’m learning a lot along the way. Here are 10 keys I’m personally discovering to building strong, healthy teams.
1. Stay humble. Be open to learning a lot more about yourself, other people, and your organization as you build your team. You will learn and grow a lot more in a team leadership environment than you will in a solo leadership environment.
2. Be clear. One of the most important things a leader can do is be clear. As you develop your team, get rid of the murky confusion and clutter that creeps in and bring fresh clarity to the purpose of the team and each person’s role on the team. I don’t mean twice a year. I mean weekly. Every week you need to work hard to ensure clarity. This will never end.
3. Build a diverse team. Healthy teams are diverse teams. Put people with different strengths, personalities, backgrounds, etc. on your team. Read Team of Rivals for inspiration. Find out what is unique about each of your team members and utilize their unique strengths.
4. Pray a lot. It takes a lot of prayer and wisdom that you do not yet have to build healthy teams. Jesus got away to pray before building his team.
5. Introduce conflict. Introduce conflict to your team and watch how the team handles the conflict. Ensure that your team is unified around your values, not vague fuzzy feelings. If your team is truly united around your values, you’ll be able to navigate the conflict humbly and wisely and experience more unity and effectiveness on the other side of the conflict. Healthy teams argue.
6. Run to the tension. As you build your team, tension will come. It will never stop coming. Tension is inevitable in teamwork. Healthy teams “run” to the tension and directly deal with it. Unhealthy teams ignore the tension. Create a culture where “issues” are handled directly and quickly.
7. Remember: Culture is everything. Know in advance the culture you want to build in your church/team/organization and fight hard to protect and nurture that culture. Don’t think in terms of rules or policy, think in terms of the overall culture you are setting with your team. Ask questions like: Is our leadership nurturing or harming the culture we value?
8. Go slow. Don’t rush team building. Move slowly and make sure you’re putting the right people on the team. You’ll rarely regret moving slowly. You’ll often regret moving too quickly.
9. Enjoy your team. Don’t only lead your team. Enjoy your team. Make space to simply be together as a team and enjoy your relationships. I think it’s important for teams to have fun together.
10. Love your team. Don’t only lead your team. Love your team. People will follow you if they know you care about them.
We used to be different. I know I was different. The empty spaces of my day I gave to communing with God, silent little prayers, thinking, stumbling upon new ideas, and being fully present in the moment.
Things are different now. I’m different now. I’m drawn into the digital world/black hole, frittering away portions of my day and energy instead of investing them for fruitful, focused purposes. I’m waking up and realizing that I don’t like this. I thrive on focus, being fully present, making steady progress forward each day, and connecting often throughout the day with my ever-present God. I’ve always thought that my ability to focus was a great gift from God, an important joy-inducing discipline, and a way to serve others. I’m discovering that I’ve lost some of this muscle. I’m weak where I used to be strong.
I’m not suggesting we throwaway our smart phones and cancel our twitter, Facebook, etc. accounts. Created in God’s image, we are designed to communicate, connect, explore, and learn. Today’s technology gives us amazing opportunities to communicate, connect, explore, and learn. I’m going to keep leveraging technology to do that. But, I’m going to make some changes.
I’m not sure what the specific changes will be, but the over-riding principle is this: I’m going to do what I want to do instead of doing what I’ve become habituated to do. What I want to do is live free, enjoy God and his grace, live fully present in the moment and love others well, and give more time to prayer and thinking. What I’ve become habituated to do is lose energy and joy by too much digital distraction and frittering away of my time.
World Magazine recently ran a great interview with Elyse Fitzpatrick. I loved what she had to say about parenting. Here are a few excerpts (click here for the whole thing):
And none of us is consistent. Do you hear people tell parents that their children’s salvation depends on their consistency? When I hear that, the top of my head wants to blow off. Listen, if the salvation of our children doesn’t depend on Jesus Christ and Him crucified and the sovereign work of God through the Holy Spirit, if it depends on anything else, then nobody will be saved. I have never been consistent doing anything in my entire life. I write books about the gospel and I consistently forget it. That’s the only consistency I’ve got.
We press our kids to be good outwardly? I’ve heard parents tell kids that if you say “please” and “thank you” and you say you’re sorry, you make God smile. But self-righteousness was at the heart of why that rich young ruler went away sad that day. Jesus wasn’t saying none of us should own property. Jesus knew that the man really didn’t love his neighbor and really didn’t love God. He was able to perform all this stuff outwardly, but inwardly his heart was set on himself.
The prostitutes knew they needed help. Zacchaeus knew. And Matthew knew. But the Pharisees didn’t know, and the thing that guaranteed Christ was going to die on the cross was His love for sinners, because the Pharisees didn’t think they were part of that group. Yes, of course, we might sin somewhat if we take too many steps on a certain day, but we’re not really sinners. The thing that drove them to crucify Him, of course in God’s sovereignty, was that He didn’t pander to their religion. He told him their religion was the very thing that kept them from God. So we have to not only repent of our badness (I didn’t make this up) but also our goodness. There is nothing more difficult to accept than the truth that you bring nothing to the table except your sin, and He has to bring everything else.
I have a number of questions I like to regularly ask myself. These questions keep me focused on what is most important. One of the questions I regularly ask myself is, “What am I doing now (or not doing now) that I would regret in the future?”
This question makes me look at my life with a bigger-picture perspective. This question gives me a higher-up vantage point on how I’m currently investing my energy, the problems that are currently stressing me out, and the dreams that are currently exciting my heart. This question/vantage point brings me quick clarity. Exploring the regret question sharpens what is most important to me, showing me what adjustments and decisions I need to make–and what prayers I need to pray. This question has immensely helped my life, my marriage, my parenting, and my leadership.
It can help to attach a time frame to the end of the question: “What am I doing now (or not doing now) that I would regret in 2 weeks/4 months/1 year/5 years/20 years/etc?
I encourage you to ask yourself this question regularly. What are you doing now (or not doing now) that you would regret in the future? It could be a wise use of your time this week to take 20-30 minutes with pen and paper to wrestle with this question.