Archive for September, 2016

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 348

September 30, 2016 Leave a comment
  1. Jesus said, “Feed My lambs” (John 21:15).

There seems to be so much happening in this conversation that it’s difficult to imagine what it would have been like to be a part of it. Jesus is restoring Peter to both his place among the disciples and to his life mission. He is testing the growth Peter has achieved through his failure. He is giving His troubled disciple the window he needs to reaffirm his love for Jesus. And He is clarifying what love for God really looks like–feed my lambs. When Jesus queried Peter, “do you love me more than these?” He could see if any of the competitive fire to be the best, to never abandon though all others might, still remained. Obviously that fire hadn’t been sufficient to get him through a single night alone. Now, he says, these that you thought you were better than…these that you have wanted to exceed, feed them…serve them…love them…for this is what it means to truly love God.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 347

September 28, 2016 Leave a comment
  1. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? (John 21:15).

Peter had said it–even if everyone else fails you–as though his commitment to Jesus was second to none. Now, without a previous conversation to soften the crevasse Peter had carved in his own heart with his denial, the fisherman faces the guilt of his own words. But Jesus isn’t demeaning. He doesn’t throw Peter’s words back at him in sarcasm. Instead, one can almost feel the mentor asking His pupil, what did you learn from this path? All Peter can muster is all we can muster in our weakness as well. “Lord, you know that I love you.” And the wounds begin their healing.


Categories: Leadership Journeys

An Important Look Into Your Church’s Culture – Part 9

September 28, 2016 Leave a comment

As we have said, momentum is critical in helping a struggling church move in a new direction. Momentum comes when there is a slowly rising ground swell of new thinking, even if that shift has yet to produce new results. When there are signs that church is beginning to think differently, it’s time to start reinforcing that shift with new actions.

Many churches are unaware that their seemingly normal actions are actually working against them. Now certainly, unhealthy actions are easy to spot–unfriendliness, unresolved conflict, and public criticism of leaders top this list. People who act in these ways put themselves ahead of what is healthy for the local church. No one needs to be told that these matters are an ongoing problem for the church.

But less obvious are some of the “good ideas” that aren’t so good after all. Like lengthy, detailed announcements aimed at providing seemingly-needed information for some in the congregation, but hardly appropriate for those less involved. Or a cluttered main entrance area filled with evidence of much church activity, but hardly an inviting area for guests that might visit. These well-meaning acts chase a purpose that’s largely internal and actually hinder the church’s effectiveness in connecting with new friends.

In the church I pastored, one such well-meaning effort was standing in our way. In an effort to demonstrate compassion for the existing congregation–an aging collection of dear people–church leaders had reserved parking places and front area seating for senior adults. A half-dozen of the best parking spots were marked with “reserved for senior adults” and hard plastic signs with the same message were velcroed to about a dozen of the best seats in the house.

Now, such efforts were made with genuine kindness toward our older adults, a level of consideration any pastor would be proud to see his people demonstrate. Unfortunately, though, this signage was sending a different message to guests, especially young adults. When such folks entered a room flowing with silver hair and saw that the best spots in both the parking lot and the sanctuary were reserved for these insiders, it was easy for them to decide that this church was a place for older people…and not them. The act of kindness completely undermined the congregation’s genuine desire to connect with young people.

You may think, Well, they should have been more understanding, but no one seemed to feel these efforts were inappropriate. They just sent a first-impression message that this church isn’t for us. (By the way, visitors shouldn’t be expected to look past our stuff and like us anyway.)

So one night, a leader complained to me that some of the high school students were sitting in those front-row seats. Did you hear what I said? Complained that students were sitting in the front of the church! After we both took a minute to reflect on his complaint and chuckled a bit, he disappeared and returned with two handfuls of “reserved seat” signs, and I never saw those signs again. The parking signs remained (I believe to this day), but we no longer would forbid young people from sitting as close to the front of the church as they might choose.

When churches have been inward focused for awhile, there are likely a few behaviors that reflect such focus. As you build momentum toward new ideas, carefully identify and root-out some of these choices, but be sure to do so as a team. Help people see their behaviors through the lenses of outsiders who aren’t aware of the not-so-obvious reasons we do things. In fact, begin challenging your new-thinking friends to start viewing a lot of things through those lenses. Remember that outward focus drives the local church toward better health.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 346

September 23, 2016 Leave a comment
  1. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish (John 21:13).

More bread…more fish. No, this isn’t just evidence of the typical dietary realities of their culture. Surely on some level this is a reminder of other moments. Already he had redirected their nets, like he did when they first abandoned their boats. Now, he presents already-prepared bread and fish from an unknown source, much as He had done on more than one hillside. I have what you need, He might as well have said. No one asked Jesus where He got His fish. They didn’t need to. He clearly knew where every fish in that great sea could be found, and if that proved insufficient, He could produce them in an instant. This is a scene of sufficiency. He always has enough because He always is enough.


Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 345

September 21, 2016 Leave a comment
  1. They saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it (John 21:9).

“He doesn’t need your fish, Peter. In fact, your familiar place–the one you run to when you need to cope with uncertainty, the thing you do to prove your worth and meaning, isn’t necessary. You’ve been called to a new day and a new direction which makes the former path obsolete. It’s time to fish for men, or don’t you remember His promise for your future?” Oh, that we might find the faith and the courage to chase what Jesus has pointed out ahead. Instead, we rely on our own capacity and our own guaranteed success stories. The new road is filled with uncharted twists and turns. It’s the road He wants for us because it’s the road that requires Him. “So put down your nets, Peter, and join Him for breakfast. It’s been cooking for awhile.”

Categories: Leadership Journeys

An Important Look Into Your Church’s Culture – Part 8

September 19, 2016 Leave a comment

Once you get a bit of momentum moving in the direction of new values, you can begin identifying places where the old ways aren’t contributing to your new values. Now, be careful here! Momentum doesn’t mean you preached it and they said “Amen” a lot (though that’s a good day).

Momentum is seen when people start acting on the new values without prodding. It’s when they ask you questions about how we can better live the new values. Momentum is in evidence when it’s clear that the people are starting to be intentional in seeing their church change.

I remember one difficult Sunday night when our old values were on display. A young man entered our worship service a few minutes after the first song had begun. He was dressed like most guys his age would normally dress on the weekend and he was wearing a hat…oh no! A hat! In a room dominated by seniors, a hat isn’t to be worn (unless you’re a woman and this is a new hat you want others to notice). So, before I could launch myself from the platform and fight my way through the throng to prevent the inevitable, it happened. One of our ushers stepped up, grabbed the hat from the kid’s head and slapped it to his chest. No handshake, no “nice-to-meet-ya,” Just an overpowering message message that his hat wasn’t welcome in this house of worship. Can’t imagine the young man felt welcome either.

But that’s values in action. One generation feels strongly that men respect a house of worship by removing their hats. Of course, the Jews would never enter God’s house without a head-covering, but many feel strongly that our hats are a no-no.

As I watched this awkward scene unfold, my heart sank at the realization that weeks of preaching on love, belonging, hospitality, friendliness and a welcoming spirit (a somewhat redundant sermon series) had failed to produce the desired fruit in the moment of truth. A much-needed visitor was abruptly corrected before anyone had said, “hello.” Amazingly the kid came in, took a seat, and even became a part of the congregation. Of course, he had a great story to tell of his first visit–one that made me cringe afresh each time he told it.

But something else happened that night. A half-dozen people came to me, horrified by what they had seen. “Pastor, I feel so bad about that” and “Pastor, that’s not the way we want to treat guests, is it?” I could see in their eyes that these weren’t elementary school tattletales. They’re values were on display (new ones for many). They wanted that young man, and many others like him, to find a place in our family and they were ready to tackle an offending usher if necessary. By the way, it wasn’t. That usher later apologized for his lifelong reflex and quickly agreed that his well-meaning action didn’t send the message we all were wanting.

It was when the congregation reacted to this act that I realized we had momentum toward new values. Most who were upset by this lapse in kindness would have cheered it a few months earlier. But something was changing. And it would go on to change even more. A new day was coming…now it was time to look at a few other actions that needed changing (we’ll talk about that process next time).

The point this week is that the leader in a struggling church needs momentum before making significant changes. A few sermons isn’t momentum. Evidence that your congregation’s values are shifting can be. Remember that values change is a movement, a sweetness that’s working its way through the lump of dough. How can you demonstrate that this new way of thinking and acting has affected the lump enough to really change the recipe? If two or three agree with you, momentum isn’t yet on your side. Get a few more. Wait for some folks to surprise you with your own words and ideas. You see, it’s that momentum that will stir the crowd when you begin making changes to your ministry methods. Make sure momentum is moving your way before taking the steps ahead.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 344

September 16, 2016 Leave a comment
  1. He wrapped his outer garment around him and jumped into the water (John 21:7)

No dreams of walking on water this time. Peter has sunk deep into remorse over his thrice-in-a-night denial of Jesus. Now the one he betrayed stands on the beach and Peter is desperate to repent. So he jumps in the water. Maybe the rowing wasn’t fast enough. Maybe he wanted a private moment before the others made land. Or maybe, he wanted to sink in the water and have Jesus rescue him as He had done once before. Regardless, Peter knows he won’t walk across those waters this time, so he determines to run through them. Jesus has come back to Him and the guilty disciple can’t get to Him fast enough.

Categories: Leadership Journeys