Latest Thoughts

To Boehner or Obama and the 27 Club

Posted by on Jul 25, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

The last three days revealed a number of high-profile examples of how broken our world is.  Below are some thoughts as to our Christian response.

To Boehner or Obama or Somewhere in Between

The inability to agree on a solution for the United States’ debt ceiling impasse has served as great fodder for comedians and newscasters alike.  The doomsday pronouncements are reminiscent of Y2K, leading a large portion of the country to question how much of the hype is fictitiously man-made.  Our world economy’s dependence on credit rating begs to disagree, however.

Regardless of the outcome, the path to resolution has elevated egos and finger-pointing to Everest heights where lack of oxygen leads to confusion and consternation.  All of which make for great entertainment in our sin-warped consumerist culture.

Our Christian challenge is to live in the culture while not allowing the roller coaster of fear and animosity to drive our present…or future.

No Norwegian Walls for Evil

Friday’s tragic bombing and shootings in Oslo—a peaceful, civilized city—remind us there are no walls that keep out evil since evil lives within (see “elevated egos” above).  The incredibly wicked act of hunting people as one would deer reinforces the terribly broken nature of humanity.   It is beyond education, legal or economic-based redemption.

The revelation that the shooter was attempting to hinder the tide of Islam leads also to more Christian finger-pointing.  Sharing Christ becomes synonymous with the politically-incorrect proselytizing, which is obviously at the root of shooting pro-Islamic leaders.  Or so the sin-warped insight goes.

Our Christian challenge is to denounce evil without one-way finger pointing, to mourn with those who mourn, and to allow the depravity of man to move us to share Christ, the only source of true redemption.

The 27 Club

For some time I have enjoyed the haunting vocals of Amy Winehouse.  A mixture of jazz and blues, her God-given voice drew the listener into the story, wrapping beauty around the stark, black lyrics of her life.

Her brief story of 27 years testified to the inner-demonic wrestlings present in us all to one degree or another.  In most of our stories her addictions remain only small-scale and private longings.  Usually not as publicly tragic.

Our Christian challenge is to embrace the beauty present in a broken world without espousing the sin interwoven in its midst, and to humbly live in thanks that as baptized children of God, His Spirit keeps the darkness at the outer edges of our lives.

With This Ring I Thee Wed

The redefining of one of society’s cornerstones—marriage—accelerated on Sunday with the civil weddings of 823 same-sex couples in New York City.  What was once universally understood to be a union between a man and woman for companionship and procreation has now become a union between any two adults.  One wonders in our libertarian, evolution-based society how long before adult/child and human/animal unions are recognized as well.

The Church in the United States will be persecuted and legally challenged—especially those denominations and congregations which do not define marriage as our government does.  Certainly their non-profit status will be evaluated.  Definitely will they be ostracized and belittled.

Our Christian challenge is to live well in the tension of God’s truth and God’s people. Jesus loves all mankind.  Jesus died for all mankind.  But His truth is not counter to His love.  Rather, His love demands His truth.  Join me in living in this tension so that God’s truth is experienced in the community of God’s loving people, which is the best way for truth to change lives.

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FiveTwo Wikiconference June 21-24

Posted by on Jan 24, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

One of the most exciting gatherings of LCMS mission-minded people in decades will take place this June in Katy, Texas.  It’s the FiveTwo WikiConference, June 21-24, an event designed to stimulate church replication in a variety of ways.  Whether you are a church planter, a sr pastor, a worship leader or a lay leader, considering missional communities or moving towards a multi-site model, forming a multiethnic ministry in the suburbs or downtown, starting new or seeking to revitalize, you’ll meet others like yourself while learning from those who have gone where you want to go.

Bring your entire team! Lay leaders, staff, launch team, worship leaders, anyone involved in helping you lead a replicating and multiplying effort in your congregation.

In addition to large group plenary speakers like Alan Hirsch of “Forgotten Ways,” we will also offer seven small group WikiTracks for individuals and teams.  These tracks are geared to increase your replication quotient, providing “how” in a personal, applicable way.

Seven WikiTracks

  1. Church Planting
  2. Missional Communities
  3. Multi-Site
  4. Revitalization for Replication
  5. Worship Arts
  6. Leadership & Coaching
  7. Multi-Ethnic

FiveTwo is a church planting network led by five LCMS pastors: Ben Griffin, The Alley, Cottage Grove, MN; Mark Junkans, LINC, Houston, TX; Scott Rische, City Transformation Ministries, San Diego, CA; Nate Schaus, Summit Lutheran, Phoenix, AZ; and me, Bill Woolsey, CrossPoint Community Church, Katy, TX.  

We love our Lutheran church and want to see it make great in-roads among God’s lost people of the United States. Plan now to attend June 21-24 for Replication, Collaboration and to Multiply.  Registration opens Feb 1 at fivetwo.com!

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Alan Hirsch Rocked It

Posted by on Nov 16, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

I am at a Missional Networks Summit in Dallas discussing how to throw gas on the replication aspect of the church. Alan Hirsch was the key provocateur yet. He stretched our minds with a key concept: christology -> missiology -> ecclesiology. What would the structure of your church look like if it flowed from missiology? How are the offices of apostle, prophet, and evangelist providing leadership in your ministry? These are game changing questions.

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Chicken or Pig? pt. 14

Posted by on Nov 5, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

Jeff laid out his conversation with Alex.  Wes, too, had heard the concerns.  Frankly he had some himself.  But in a true coach fashion he simply told Jeff a story.

“Have you ever heard the one about the pig and the chicken?  A pig and a chicken are walking down a road. The chicken looks at the pig and says, “Hey, why don’t we open a restaurant?” The pig looks back at the chicken and says, “Good idea, what do you want to call it?” The chicken thinks about it and says, “Why don’t we call it ‘Ham and Eggs’?” “I don’t think so,” says the pig, “I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved.”

“Jeff,” said Wes, “I’m the chicken.  I’ll donate money and time.  And I really want to see this thing work.  But you are the pig.  At the end of the day if it does not work, you are the one who will pay the price.  You will be out of a job.  Your reputation is at stake.  It is your bacon on the line.  You are the one who has to make the call.”

The honesty of Wes’ words and the reality of the risk convicted Jeff.  Not only was he risking his family’s well-being, but also that of two employees and the donations of 30 families.  And he would probably lose what he thought was a good friend.

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Chicken or Pig? pt. 13

Posted by on Nov 4, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

When the skeleton gets hair and eyes…

A few months earlier Jeff had encountered conflict of another kind, in the area of music selection.  While the group wanted to do a different kind of worship, the reality is that there is different and then there is different.

At that point Jeff visited Alex, a church planter in a suburb 30 miles away.  This pastor had planted a congregation using the “hive off” method—the mother church had sent 200 people to get the site going.  It was one of the fastest growing churches in the metro area.

Alex told Jeff that conflict in the pre-launch and post-launch stages was inevitable, no matter how much Jeff had communicated the vision.  “It’s like a skeleton,” Alex said.  “Before the worship really happens and the children’s and youth ministries begin, when everything is in a conceptual ‘on paper’ stage, everyone loves it. But what most people don’t realize is that they simply love the skeleton.  And more than that, in their heads they are seeing it differently than the other person.  He is picturing his daughter with blond hair and blue eyes, tall and thin.  She is seeing her son, muscular build, curly hair, dark complexion.  And no one sees it as clearly as you do.

“The point is that regardless of how often you share the vision, most of those in the launch are not living it like you are living it.  They have day jobs.  And because they do not—frankly, cannot—invest the hours you do, their picture of the future will be less defined and thus more open to them filling-in-the-blanks on their own.

“You, however, have filled in the blanks.  You lay awake at night fretting over details and praying over volunteer positions.  You have sketched and re-sketched  the future. You know what you want to see happen, and that clarity helps you lead with greater confidence, but that clarity also fools you into thinking everyone sees it as clearly as you do.  You see the entire house in your head, you hear the entire song in your ears.  You try to describe it all or strum it out with your fingers, but to no avail.  They don’t see it all.  They can’t hear the tune as clearly as you.  No way.

“So prepare yourself for losing some of your launch team.  You can’t keep them all.  You don’t want to keep them all.”

Jeff left that meeting thankful for someone who had gone before him.  He was not looking forward to the conflict ahead.  He often wondered which of those he was close to in the launch team would ultimately leave in disappointment.  The conversation had given him more confidence for moving forward, though.

And now, just weeks before launch one of the key donors was telling Jeff the launch was a mistake.

Jeff decided to call Wes.

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Chicken or Pig? pt. 12

Posted by on Nov 3, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

The campaign’s original plan called for the phoning to take place over four weeks.  With limited people and a desire to create more momentum more quickly, however, Jeff, his wife Terese and a team devised a one-week proposal.  They found a local insurance office with fifteen phone lines and recruited volunteers from local congregations in addition to their own.  Using a script and a cross-reference directory, they planned to dial the homes in seven evenings in February.  The campaign program assured them of a 10% return rate, which would identify approximately 1,500 homes.  From that they could create a database of people who were open to receiving more information.

The plan was not without risk.  What if the phone was not a good tool in this community?  What if they couldn’t get the volunteers to come help?  And was this a wise use of such a large proportion of the group’s savings?  The reality was existing funds were not going to last long if the launch did not result in a dramatic increase in attendance.  The February attendance averaged 65 a week. The financial burn rate of salaries and increased rent at the new facility meant the entire savings would be depleted in June if Palm Sunday was a bust.

Re-enter David Travis.  He and Jeff had become quite close over the past months.  David discipled Jeff in management and leadership.  Jeff discipled David in his Christian walk.  For Jeff it was a heady time, learning from someone so successful in business.  The new friendship was welcome by Jeff, having arrived in a new community knowing no one.  Which made David’s conversation even more painful.

“I don’t think this is a wise decision,” he told Jeff.  “And I’m not alone.”  David expressed his concern that the plan was too ambitious and fiscally irresponsible.  It jeopardized the entire ministry that the group had worked for over the past year.  He would rather the group slowly grow.  Maybe go to two services in the same location.  He never threatened to stop giving, but the message was received that they might not continue once their pledge was completed.

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Chicken or Pig? pt. 11

Posted by on Nov 2, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

How much risk?

In October of the first year, the worship leader and his family arrived.  A gifted musician, Sammy Lincoln shared the same values as Jeff.  He also brought organizational gifts, involving people from day one.  He was a true people-mover.

“You have six months to find and build a worship band,” Jeff told him.  “I want us to launch Palm Sunday.  That way we will also have a good repeat Sunday on Easter.”  No musicians existed in the launch team.  But the adage proved true: great musicians love to play with great musicians.  Sammy hit the streets, advertising a “Sunday morning gig: drummer, guitar and bass needed.”  His great networking skills immediately led him to a number of individuals.  There was never a doubt the band would be ready.

Sammy also set out to solicit and purchase all of the equipment necessary for this next phase: a trailer, sound system, staging, children’s ministry furniture, etc. The capital needs totaled a little over $30,000.

Another $15,000 was needed for marketing.  Jeff’s plan was to gather a large crowd from the community for the public launch on Palm Sunday.  To do that would take multiple contacts.  In Jeff’s research early on, he had learned that the PC-USA would not allow a launch to happen without 10,000 contacts having been made in the community.  That goal was partly behind the multiple coke and water giveaways throughout the first year.  But Jeff knew something intense and huge would be needed to create momentum so that the group could make a successful jump to a new facility with more people.

He had participated in a phone campaign before and decided to use that method to make the launch successful.  The goal would be to phone 15,000 residents in the Surprise community, seeking people who had no church home.  Each of those who did not have a church and were open to receiving information about Lighthouse would then receive five pieces of mail about the ministry over a six week period, concluding with a phone call inviting to the Palm Sunday worship service. They would also be asked to bring cookies for afterwards, immediately involving them in owning part of the ministry.

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Who’s Coaching You?

Posted by on Nov 1, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

I have a friend who lives in Kazakhstan. He heads the Asia office for United World Missions.  He’s seen the world from a whole different perspective from this Texas boy who’s only traveled outside the borders a handful of times.

For the last 8 months we have been Skyping monthly, predominantly for my benefit. Oh maybe I’ve helped inspire him somewhat, but mainly I’ve been soaking him up. He’s been pouring in and pulling out. And the outcome is I’m seeing things on a higher, macro level. Because he sees things from a global perspective—literally—he’s taken me up to his perch where the air is clearer and the view more far-reaching. And once you see from that level, your view in the here-and-now is richer.

If you’re leading a growing ministry—or aspire to do so—one of the most effective ways to grow is to find someone who knows how to see for miles.  Ask him if he can take you to that lookout point for simply 1 hour a month. Your  apostolic leadership will be better for it.

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Chicken or Pig? pt. 10

Posted by on Nov 1, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

Funding  

From the beginning Jeff sought to build the ministry on the gifts of the worshipers.  In his final interview before taking the position he asked every team member for a financial commitment, teaching on Luke 14 and the building of the tower:  “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?  For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30 NIV)  From the beginning all in the launch team were expected to contribute sacrificially in both time and money.

After one of the early meetings, after a Bible study on Malachi 3 and God’s promise of pouring blessing upon people as they were faithful in committing the tithe to the local congregation, one of the leaders pulled Jeff aside.  David Travis was a high level financial manager in a local corporation.  Everything he touched succeeded.  And through his wife, he was growing in his walk with Christ.  This tithe discussion was new.  David was fiscally conservative.  But he realized how blessed he was, and the call to return a portion of that blessing was compelling.  Then and there he committed over $20,000 annually to the ministry, one of the top three annual donations.  Jeff was elated.

The ministry plan would entail more than $20,000, however.  The ministry had approximately $30,000 in savings, and offerings were collected weekly.  The denomination had agreed to fund Jeff’s position for at least a year.  It was also open to co-signing on the land note and providing grant dollars.  The grant amount was never known until February of a given year, however, since other ministries also requested financial support.  So while the strong possibility that denominational funding would happen as long as things progressed positively, there was no guarantee.  This uncertainty led to increased concern in the leadership as staff and infrastructure were added, especially as Jeff began to express his desire to move from the recreation center to a larger, more accessible facility.

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Chicken or Pig? pt. 9

Posted by on Oct 29, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

A Large Church in a Small Church’s Body

Since Jeff’s past ministry experience took place solely in large churches, he approached Lighthouse in the same manner, seeking to position it so that it would grow as large as God wanted with minimal changes along the way.  He routinely reminded the group they were a large church in a small church’s body.  In this way he continually kept the desired future front and center.

He had also been taught that the longer a plant remains under 200 in worship—especially in a suburban setting like Surprise—the more likely it would never grow past that number.  Under 200, a guest in worship is more easily noticeable and potentially assaulted.  Upon discovering the congregation has existed for say 10 years with only 115 in worship, the initial thought would be, “Something is wrong here.  Why is it not growing?”  ‘Small’ becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sociological factors play hard and heavy.

Thus Jeff positioned the weekly worship experience as “launch team” worship.  It was worship for a purpose, namely to prepare for launch.  It was not the final product nor the ultimate size or location.  They were on a journey.  They had not arrived yet.  The sermons reinforced this season, focusing on values and what it looked like to love the community.  In many ways the group was learning a new way to worship.

During this time the group also learned new ways to reach the community.  The philosophy was three-pronged: go to where the people already gathered; go as a group so that the experience was shared; and give people something they did not expect to receive but that they could immediately use. This resulted in giveaways of water bottles on hot desert soccer fields, ice cold sodas on street corners, and coffee and hot chocolate at metro bus stations during the holidays.  No donations were allowed, which made the event memorable to the recipient.  And the event was limited to no more than two hours, making it manageable for volunteers on a busy Saturday.  The outcome was high impact, low threat and led to a growing awareness of Lighthouse in the community.

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