Natural Church Development, Part 2


"The key distinction is probably best expressed by the word 'empowerment'. Leaders of growing churches concentrate on empowering other Christians for ministry. They do not use lay workers as 'helpers' in attaining their own goals and fulfilling their own visions. Rather, they invert the pyramid of authority so that the leader assists Christians to attain the spiritual potential God has for them."

Most church leaders are either relationship-oriented or goal-oriented. Schwarz's studies found that the majority of growing church leaders are partnership-oriented. They view their ministry as a partnership with other Christians on all levels. They partner with lay-people to develop their gifts and develop them as leaders. They also partner with peers and mentors for encouragement, advice, and wise counsel.

Two statistics that blew me away: 85% of pastors of low-quality/declining churches were seminary grads, while only 42% of pastors of high-quality/growing churches were seminary grads. Now before anybody gets too upset, here's the flip side of that coin (the inverse, if you will): Only 12% of pastors of low-quality/declining churches say that they "regularly seek counsel from a trusted outside source", while 58 % of pastors of high-quality/growing churches state that they seek outside counsel on a regular basis.

It's obvious that the problem is not seminary itself. But for some reason, seminary grads are less likely to seek outside help. Just as we preach about the importance of spiritual accountability relationships, we also need to realize the value of professional accountability relationships. I think every pastor needs to have other pastors or organizations in their life that they bounce ideas off of and ask for ministry advice.

It's been my opinion for quite a while, that the thing that keeps most churches from growing to their potential is weak or unhealthy leadership. Unfortunately, leadership is not given a strong enough emphasis in our Bible colleges and seminaries. As Andy Stanley has said, "Leadership is a stewardship. It is temporary and you're accountable." So goes the leader - so goes the organization. One of the best things that pastors can become students of, is leadership. There are fantastic leadership resources out now. There are also some that go against Biblical principles, so buyer beware.

Two fantastic conferences are the Willow Creek Leadership Summit and the Catalyst Conference. Both of these use the wisdom of strong church leaders and strong leaders in the business and sports world in their training. Catalyst also puts out a regular leadership podcast on iTunes that is great.

My favorite leadership books are:
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team - Patrick Lencioni
  • Visioneering - Andy Stanley
  • The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership - Stephen B. Sample
  • FISH! - Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, & John Christensen

What are some of your favorite leadership resources?


Natural Church Development

Sorry it's been so long since I posted. Thanksgiving was great! Loved spending time with my family. When we returned home, we had no heat, so we've been displaced. Thanks to Frank & Debbie Webster for hosting us the last few nights. Hopefully we'll have heat sometime tomorow.

I've been reading a truly thought-provoking book called Natural Church Development by Christian Schwarz. It is the result of the largest ever sociological study of churches (world-wide). What Schwarz found was that all healthy, growing churches have 8 qualities in common (whether intentional or not).
  • Empowering Leadership
  • Gift-based Ministry
  • Passionate Spirituality
  • Effective Structures
  • Inspiring Worship Service
  • Holistic Small Groups
  • Need-oriented Evangelism
  • Loving Relationships

NCD is not a program. It's a tool for measuring the health of your church. They don't offer solutions, programs, or models. NCD is big on unleashing the unique make-up of spiritual giftedness that God has blessed your church with. Don't copy other models, because you only copy what you see. The problem with that is that what you see is rarely the cause of that church's success. The leaves don't make a healthy tree - the roots do.

I want to spend the next several posts commenting on this book, because it is blowing my mind. Feel free to put your own two cents in.


Great Weekend!

I had a terrific weekend in the Bay Area. It was really great spending time with friends and catching up. Everyone was a huge encouragement to me. The retreat was a lot of fun. The campground is stunning. I love being around redwoods. That has to be God's favorite tree. At Redwood Christian Park there is this one truly incredible spot. It's a little out door meeting area. There's a small stage and some simple benches. There's also a simple wooden cross nailed to a tree behind the stage. The things that makes this spot so special is that it sits in the middle of a small circle of redwoods. The trees are pretty close together so they form a natural cathedral. They shoot 70-80 feet into the air (or more) and the top branches criss-cross with each other forming a kind of God-made fresca. It's one of the most beautiful spots on the planet.

I had a blast preaching at the retreat. I spoke on discipleship and used a poker theme. The theme was All In: Are You Willing to Risk it All? My messages were:
  • All In: Am I a Disciple?
  • The Flop: A Life Without Accountability
  • The Turn: The Priorities of a Disciple
  • The River: Making Disciples (with an emphasis on discipling your family)

One of my favorite parts of the trip was my quick tour of restaurants. Before the retreat started I tried to hit as many of my favorite spots as possible. I landed around noon on Thursday and had:

  • Lunch at In-n-Out in Pinole (my all-time favorite burger joint)
  • Afternoon Snack at Noah's Bagels in Pinole (Asiago Cheese Bagel w/Sun-dried Tomato Shmeer & Plain Bagel w/Pumpkin Shmeer)
  • Dinner at Hunan Villa in San Pablo (my all-time favorite Chinese restaurant)
  • Evening Snack at Central Perk in El Cerrito (This one was new to me, but I loved it. Coffee shop with wall-to-wall pop-culture memorabilia. Very kitsch.)
  • Breakfast at Cafe Soleil in El Sobrante (Best breakfast in El Sob. I had an omelette that included avocado. I was surprised how much I liked it)
  • Lunch at Chevy's in San Pablo (Decent Mexican food. They call it Fresh Mex. But I really love the little pile of smashed up sweet corn they put on your plate - yummy.)

Anyway, it was a great time!


Men In Trees

Please pray for me this weekend. I've been invited back to the Bay Hills Community Church in the SF Bay Area to be the guest speaker for their annual men's retreat. I'm honored to be there and I'm looking forward to reconnecting with old friends. We'll be at a retreat center in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It's so beautiful there! I can't wait. But I have to get up at 4am to get to my flight in St. Louis on time.

Please pray for Jamie she'll have all 3 kids to herself this weekend (and the baby's sick). I know it's no fun to wrangle the kids with no help, but she's more than capable.


The Air Car

I LOVE THIS!!! I can't wait till this technology is available stateside. Last night I caught a glimpse of a report about a new car that's powered on compressed air. I looked it up tonight and sure enough it's true. This is far superior to electric car technology because the engine is extremely light-weight, it will travel long distances on a single fill, and will also run about 70 mph (most electric cars are only 30-35 mph). Oh yeah, and it's cheap too. Around $15k. I found this Australian video on YouTube about the MDI Air Car. It's really fascinating. The second half is about a different compressed air engine but it's pretty cool too. This looks like the future to me!


Sittin' Pretty

Isla has recently started sitting up by herself. Tonight she sat and watched a whole 30 minute episode of Classical Baby sitting up with no assistance. I took a ton of pictures. In the middle pic, she is definitely giving me a "Quit interrupting my show!" look.

One Semester of Spanish - Spanish Love Song

This is AWESOME! It could also be called the "One Short-Term Mission Trip - Spanish Love Song". There's another version on YouTube with subtitles (if you need them). Heads up to Marko for this one.


The Theology of "How Long...?"

I have to follow up my last post with some thoughts that struck me late last night. There is an element of worship you find in the Psalms that is pretty much completely absent from worship in the church today. The element is "How Long?". It comes out in two different forms in the Psalms. I'm going to list all the examples.

The first is God asking "How long...?"
  • Ps. 4:2 - O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?
  • Ps. 62:3 - How long will all of you attack a man...?

The second is much more prevalent and is the psalmist questioning God.
  • Ps. 6:3 - My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD— how long?
  • Ps. 13:1 - How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
  • Ps. 13:2 - How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
  • Ps. 35:17 - How long, O Lord, will you look on?
  • Ps. 74:10 - How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
  • Ps. 79:5 - How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever?
  • Ps. 80:4 - O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
  • Ps. 82:2 - How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?
  • Ps. 89:46 - How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?
  • Ps. 90:13 - Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!
  • Ps. 94:3 - O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?
  • Ps. 119:84 - How long must your servant endure?

When I read some of those statements, they strike me as having the kind of attitude that we are often told NOT to have towards God. Questioning God's timing, judgement, and wisdom is something that is generally discouraged in the modern church. I think the line of thought is that this kind of openness toward God lacks faith and trust and borders on being sacreligious.

But as I was meditating on these passages last night, I realized how healthy this attitude can be. By asking God, "How long?", we express an expectancy that is often lacking in the modern American church. We are so content with now and so caught up in now, that we forget how flawed the now is. We have something to hope for that is so much greater than what we're experiencing now. This is the "American" problem. We generally have it so good, that we don't really look forward to what will be ultimately better.

I also believe by openly questioning God, it can be an honest admission that God is in control. "How long?" is us coming to grips with the fact that we don't know it all or even know how to solve the problems of life. The solutions to life's problems are entirely in God's hands - all we can do is wait for God to reveal them. But, of course, because we're human, we struggle with being patient and waiting on God's timing. This is when "How long?" comes to the surface in those who walk close enough to God to ask such a bold question.

We need to re-embrace the "How long?" in our worship, in our quiet time, and in our overall view of the Kingdom.


How Long...?

I just finished watching U2's Vertigo Tour: Live from Chicago (recorded in '05) on the HDNet Channel. What an incredible show! I've always been a fan of U2. They are such a powerful band. I love the spirituality that comes out in their lyrics. They closed this show with their song "40". I have to say I was seriously moved by it. I was moved by the lyrics (which come from Psalm 40 and other Biblical texts). I was moved by the worshipful atmosphere they chose to end their concert with. I was moved by such a large number of people crying out "How long - to sing this song?" What a reminder that someday we WILL sing a new song! How much longer must we continue to sing imperfect, inadequate praise? I think I might add this song to our worship line-up at church. I found the clip on YouTube - ENJOY!


In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day

I'm reading another great book right now called In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day by Mark Batterson. In a Pit... is about seizing opportunities and chasing down your fears. Batterson is the pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC and is a tremendous pastor. I recently opened up a dialogue with him via email and he's been a HUGE encouragement to me.

In a Pit... centers around 2 Samuel 23:20-21 which gives an account of Benaiah, one of David's mighty men. Scripture records that Benaiah "went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen." Benaiah went on to become the captain of King David's bodyguard and the commander of Armies for King Solomon. The book is a lesson in how God can use our fears and obstacles to prepare us for our life's great successes. It really is a terrific read that I would recommend to everyone. Check out Batterson's blog (http://www.evotional.com/) and his church site (http://www.theaterchurch.com/).

On a side note: I walked into the living room with this book in my hand the other night and my son, Isaiah, asked, "Whatcha reading, Dad?" I replied, "In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day." To which Isaiah says, "Dad! Seriously...whatcha reading?"


Good Things

I just thought I would take a little time to list a few things that are making my life a bit more enjoyable lately. It's the little things in life that make you smile on the inside that sometimes help you get out of bed.

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte
Had my first one tonight and WOW was it good. I've always loved the Starbucks Peppermint Mocha. It's like Christmas in my mouth. The Pumpkin Spice Latte is a similar experience, but maybe better. It's like Thanksgiving and Christmas in my mouth!

Steve Fee
Steve led worship at the Catalyst Conference and I believe he leads on a regular basis at Andy Stanley's NorthPoint Church. He absolutely blessed my socks off in Atlanta and has continued to do so through his CDs since I've been home. Check him out. Some of his older CDs are just called Fee. We've been doing one of his songs recently at church - Glorious One. I get so excited every time we sing it, because I just know it's going to be one of those POWER moments.

The News from Lake Wobegon
Former president of Hillsdale FWB College, Jim Shepherd, turned me on to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion weekly radio show back in '97. I've been a huge fan ever since. The highlight of each week's two-hour show is his fictional News from Lake Wobegon. I've recently been getting my Wobegon fix via podcast. Keillor's smooth voice and artistry of words is honestly something to be savored like a fine wine or a juicy steak. I usually don't listen unless I'm totally alone and get to just "soak" in it. It's funny, it's heart-breaking, it's honest, and I don't think there is anything that represents America better.

Cool Air
I love that Fall is here and the air nips at your skin and helps you remember you're alive. I think I've posted about it before, but for the last 10 years or so I go through a pretty serious period of depression every October. Even though I love the Fall, I inwardly dread it because I know I'll be feeling low. It happens every year like clockwork. Every year, except this year. I've had a great October and haven't been depressed at all. I'm very thankful for that! I think a big part of it was attending the Catalyst Conference at the beginning of the month. I was telling Jamie earlier tonight that I've never had a "conference high" last as long as this one has lasted. I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life like never before. Every day He nips at my heart and reminds me I'm alive.

Driscoll on the Afterlife

I just heard this great quote from Mark Driscoll's sermon this last Sunday. He's preaching on death and Heaven and Hell and said this:

"If you are a Christian, this life is as close to Hell as you will ever experience. And if you are a non-Christian, this life is as close to Heaven as you will ever experience. For the Christian, this life is as bad as it can possibly be, and for the non-Christian, this life is as good as it can possibly get."

I love quotes that instantly put life into proper perspective!