Confronting Racism isn't Optional — It's Central

“Pastor, I appreciate that you preached about racism, today,” he said. “But, I always appreciate a good gospel sermon, too.” He shook my hand, walked away, and I moved on to speak to the next person. A small line usually forms around a pastor after his sermon, after all. But this man’s passing comment made a lasting impression on me. You see, this man probably didn’t mean anything by this phrase. I had, in fact, preached about racism that Sunday. I had also worked hard to make that sermon a gospel-saturated sermon. Yet, despite my best efforts, this man managed to walk away thinking I preached about race, and not about Jesus. There are race issues, and there are Jesus issues, with a semi-permeable membrane between them.

And that, right there, is the problem.

We white people have the luxury of thinking this way because we almost never, ever have to think about being white. We just are. Then, when confronted by our black, asian, or hispanic bothers and sisters about their experiences with racism we think, “Well why don’t they just think like me? I never think about being white, so they should stop thinking so much about being black.” When we think this way (or worse, talk this way) we do our non-white friend a double injustice: we misunderstand their experience, and we, white people, demand they change to be more like us.

Inability or unwillingness prevents us from seeing that most people of color don’t ever get a day off from thinking about their ethnicity. Why? Because we live in a culture that just won’t let them. So, we go on thinking that there are race issues and Jesus issues. “Systemic injustice may or may not exist,” we tell ourselves, “but I’m just going to preach the gospel.” And we are wrong, because race issues are Jesus issues.

A Tale of Two Scriptures

When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus he gave some of the most beautiful words to those Jesus issues. The glory and greatness of the gospel expound in Ephesians 2:1-10 is one of those well-worn paths in my Bible.

“You were dead in your trespasses … but God being rich in mercy made you alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved…”

Yet, despite my love for this part of Ephesians, I never saw how it necessarily connects to 2:11-22.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility … that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”

And as any good New Testament exegete would know (or at least, should know) these two passages are connected with the magic word “therfore” (v. 11) That is, Paul built his whole case for ethnic unity and mutual love atop the gospel, not apart from it.

A Tale of Two (More) Scriptures

Lest you think that such a connection is a one-off Pauline fluke, join me in 2 Corinthains 5. Again, this chapter contains one of my favorite Scriptures,

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

That is a wonderful bit of news: that God exchange my unrighteous sinfulness with Jesus’s perfect and beautiful righteousness. But that verse summarizes an entire chapter on reconciliation!

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 For 5:18-19)

In other words, the preaching of the message, “God wants to reconcile you to himself,” is organically connected to the message, “God is reconciling the world to himself.” So, as Paul says, “Be reconciled to God!” (v. 20)

The Cost and The Opportunity

For a long time the American church missed this connection. But God was not content to let people of color languish, so he raised deliverers out from under the white, evangelical church. But what if we white folks allowed that fact to wake us from the slumbering insufficiency of believing there are Jesus issues and race issues. If we go on thinking like that, then answers to our nation will seek answers to race issues from every other source but Jesus. That cost is too high to bear.

No, let it be said of us that we seized the opportunity to love God more, to love the gospel more, and to love our neighbors more be finally embracing the fact that race issues are gospel issues. Therefore, confronting racism isn’t an option for Jesus’ people. It’s built in to the great commission.

Paul seemed to think so. So, I wonder. Do you?

3 Lessons from Papa Bill

I loved my Papa Bill. This week, after 86 years of life, his body gave way to the entropy of time. When I found out the end was near I got in my car and drove to Florida from Boston. Normally I don't make that trip by car, but having just been hit with a blizzard, Boston was shut down. The 1,500 mile journey afforded me some unexpected gifts, one of which was the opportunity to reflect on my grandfather.

Those who know me know that my family is not picturesque. We're a messy patchwork with lots of frayed edges, for sure. But that hardly means that tender reflection is impossible. Of course, there are no perfect families. Yet, thinking on the life of my grandfather has produced three clear lessons I wish to learn from him. As a way of honoring him, I offer them to you.

It's About People

William Herman Hall was born May 22, 1930. Growing up in the midst of The Great Depression, he spent his days working in his father's grocery store and pinching whatever pennies came his way. Later in life, Bill would find great success in business. Yet, growing up in a depression had a different effect on him than it had on many of his time. Where lack made some miserly, it only served to show Bill what was really important — people.

As a businessman, and later on in retirement, he would become known as a relentlessly generous, jovial man who never missed a chance to be with his friends. Success was never about the stuff, it was just an opportunity to be with people.

As an achiever who often makes hitting goals more important than cultivating relationships, this is a lesson I want to learn.

Start Stuff and Mentor Men

Papa Bill went into business with his uncle right out of college. He took a small restaurant and innovated it into a career with multiple successful businesses. His entrepreneurial drive mingled with his love for people made him a business mentor for many. My own father has what he has and does what he does because Papa Bill approached my parents with an entrepreneurial idea. With capital both in money and wisdom, he did this with many young men, helping them build legacies that simply wouldn't exist without him.

I can't help but think this is incredibly Christ-like. As a dude who trying to kill his own messiah complex, I'm grateful to have the example of a man who didn't need to be the star of the show. He just needed to know that his creativity was catapulting other men into their destinies. I want to be like that.

Give Your Burdens to Jesus

Like all of us, Papa Bill had regrets. His was not a perfect life. There were particular tragedies that weighed upon him for too many years. Humans are not designed to hold the weights of our own difficulties alone. But strong patriarchs aren't quick to share pain. This is a tendency in my own heart — trying to pay forward the costs that my past follies wish to extract. But that's a bill none of us can meet, no matter how successful.

In what would be my final visit with my Papa Bill, I took him to lunch. After an afternoon together we sat in the car, talking. I loved to listen to his stories, so I'd ask tons of questions. This was also the moment where, for the first time, I got to help my Papa Bill give his burdens to Jesus. He wasn't a particularly religious man, but tears streamed down his life-worn cheeks as we prayed for the grace of God's great burden-bearer to help.

In a few days I'll drive back to Boston. The funeral will be over, families will return home, and the new normal will settle in uncomfortably, as it always must after a death. Time will probably afford me the chance to see much more to learn from my Papa Bill. But, if I can get these three lessons, I'll be a little more like him and a little more like Jesus, and I'm more than a little okay with that.


Of Discipleship and Destiny

It was a fresh, autumn day. "Fresh" is that euphemism that Scots use to describe utterly terrible, grey, rainy weather that most other places in the world would deride. Call it a coping mechanism.

Anyway, it was fresh with a bit of sun that day.

I just moved to Edinburgh with my wife, our three-month-old daughter, our dog, and her grand piano. I was 21, she was 22, and we'd been in country for a few weeks. All our earthly possessions had been delayed, not to arrive for another couple of months. But, it was time to get to work.

We'd moved to help a team of men and women plant a new church in the city, and the work couldn't wait for my couch to arrive. So, off to the train station I went to get to Edinburgh Uni. My job was to reach out to incoming freshmen (or freshers, as they're known there. Boy, they love that word "fresh,"...) I arrived to Teviot Square. I was to tell students about Jesus. This was the moment I'd prayed for, worked for, hoped for, and raised a small pile of money for. It had all come to this. I stepped into the square, teeming with students.

I was terrified.

I probably walked around that square for an hour, praying and asking God to open a door, to give me courage — to make it easier. Then, I spotted a Georgia Tech hat.

As a graduate of FSU, I knew what that meant. I'd found a southerner — a dude who rooted for an ACC school, no less. This was my man, so I approached him. "Are you from Georgia?" I asked this dude. Confused, he tilted his head and replied, "no."

As it turned out, this fellow had gotten the hat from his roommate, who was (and is) American. He borrowed it and stepped out to play a bit of frisbee there in the square. We struck up a conversation. He attended an outreach we were sponsoring. He and I began to get together for coffee. I told him about Jesus, and about the destiny and calling on his life. After a while, he began to believe me.

Weeks later, this young man found his way to the first few worship gatherings of our newly formed church — Every Nation Edinburgh — meeting weekly at the Dominion Cinemas. He joined our setup team. Then our worship team. This young Scot became one of the first men I had the privilege of discipling. By the end of his first year at University, God had done quite a work in his life.

For the five years that we lived in Scotland, I enjoyed this relationship with Gordon. I was mentoring him in the faith, and in a bit of life, too. I played music with him (since I was the worship leader), and I did a bit of campus ministry with him (since I was the campus minister, too). I got to watch a teenage boy who wandered to university become a man of God stepping into his destiny.

Seven years ago, I said goodbye to Gordon, to Scotland, and to many other young men into whom I had the privilege of investing a bit of my life. Hope and I packed our bags, a few more kids, and her grand piano, and moved home.

This week, I got to return.

The occasion was to be one of the many men who witnessed Gordon become the Lead Pastor of our church in Edinburgh. The dream of any missionary is to hand the work over to locals, and for the many of us who invested our lives into this place, it was a glorious occasion of thanksgiving to see this young man and his amazing wife step into leadership. Missionary dream come true.

I had the chance to catch up with many old friends this week, pray with many, encourage many. Now that I'm on my way home to Boston again, I can't help but draw a few conclusions.

Discipleship is About Destiny

Twelve years ago I could have never known that Gordon would become a pastor. That's not why I spent time with him. I invested my life and faith into this young man because Jesus calls his disciples to make disciples. The fun part, only known to the Lord at the time, is the result. I'm convinced, however, that if we'll stick by our calling to make disciples we will never cease to be stunned at the destinies that are walked into.

Discipleship is Not Automatic

I'm tempted to make discipleship a class or a program. And, while classes and programs are indispensable, discipleship ends up being about relationships. Those don't just happen. They aren't automatic. They require a high degree of intentionality.

Destiny is Up to God

We don't make disciples because we see their destinies. We never know what will happen, only God does. I think it's safer that way. God wants us to be faithful to invest in others. We embody faith in the gospel and trust in the God of the gospel when we leave the results to him.

I'm proud of Gordon. I'm grateful to God. And, I'm really humbled and stunned that this is the kind of work I get to do. By grace, it's work that, for me, will never stop.

7 Things Christians Must Not Do After the Election

My fellow Christian Americans, Last night, Donald Trump won the election and will become the 45th President of The United States of America. This mourning — I mean, morning — I saw a lot of sad, angry, rude, happy, anxious, fearful posts and faces.

I was disappointed months ago when the nominating process was over because both candidates embodied different anti-Kingdom values. The choice between a bullet and a noose isn't much of a choice, after all. I'll leave you to decide which one got elected.

We're Christians. We already have a King. He was King yesterday, and He's King today. Since we're citizens of a Kingdom that will never end, here's what we simply cannot do as we occupy this Republic that most certainly one day will:

  1. Do Not Panic Breathe. Neither Trump nor Clinton can destroy your reward. We elected a president, we did not install Emperor Palpatine. I understand that you may feel afraid, concerned, or upset. Grief is a perfectly acceptable and normal response. Panic is not — not for God's people.

    Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory... (Deut. 20:2-3)

  2. Do Not Gloat Half of you got what you wanted yesterday. Half of you did not. If you did, do not gloat. Spiking the ball and proudly declaring that "we got our country back," betrays your idolatrous allegiance to the wrong kingdom and the wrong king. If you voted for Donald Trump and you are happy today, act like a Christian. Seek to understand your brothers and sisters who did not.

    Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet 5:5)

  3. Do Not Judge Half of you did not get what you wanted yesterday. I've read your mean tweets ... "How could anyone who loves Jesus vote for this man." I understand your bewilderment, but these are your brothers and sisters. Jesus' injunction against judging them means that you can't allow their vote and your loss to break your fellowship. Love like a Christian.

    Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matt 7:1-2)

  4. Do Not Hate Some of you are angry. Righteous anger only takes a little sin to turn into hate. You cannot hate those with whom you disagree. If you voted for Hilary, you cannot hate the Trump voter — not if you love Jesus. This is your opportunity to feel what they felt 4 and 8 years ago. If you voted for Trump, you cannot hate the Hilary voter. This is your opportunity to practice humility in your temporal electoral victory. Love like a Christian.

    "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

  5. Do Not Fear Jesus doesn't want us to be afraid of anything we face in this life. We all must remember that King Jesus is King Jesus, and he's in charge of the world. Here are some words Paul wrote to a church ruled by tyrants:

    Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)

  6. Do Not Get Cynical Cynicism is just cowardice with sarcastic clothes on. Christian, you're called to engage the world, your neighbor, your political opponent, and even your political ally with the gospel of Jesus. Cynicism says, "There's no point" to gospel proclamation, acts of mercy, and social responsibility. Resist the temptation to get cynical.

    Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:8-10)

  7. Do Not Stop We are citizens of heaven, called to build the Kingdom of God and make disciples at all times, under any administration, with all our hearts, so that all the world can know King and Savior of all creation.Do. Not. Stop.Do not stop praying. Do not stop proclaiming. Do not stop repenting. Do not stop believing. Do not stop fellowshipping. Do not stop hoping. Do not stop giving. Do not stop loving.

    And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:9-10)

5 Axioms Shaping My Leadership Right Now

Leadership is a gift and a skill. I read a good number of books on leadership, some more helpful than others. But I find that Proverbs-style, pithy, and portable phrases are helpful to me. Like actual proverbs, you can chew on them. So, here are five (mostly unoriginal, yet totally helpful) axioms that are shaping my leadership right now. Leading Means Listening When I was a music student as an undergrad we took whole courses on listening. Why? Because you can't conduct a choir or orchestra well if you can't hear when one part, one section, or even one player is out of tune. Similarly, I've got to listen to my people. Like a great orchestra, the diversity of my people ethnically, socially, and generationally means that we don't all sound the same, and sometimes we're out of tune. I can't just charge ahead, leading means listening.

Do for One... Famous old Andy-Stanley-ism, but man it's still so good. The whole thing goes, "Do for one what you wish you could do for all." There are a lot of people in the church, and I can't personally help everyone. I can be paralyzed by that. But, if I can do for one what I wish I could do for all, I create a culture where all can be helped.

You Can Have Control or Growth, But You Can't Have Both Guys I'm such a control freak. I want it all a certain way ... my way ... the right way! That's fine as long as I'm willing to disobey the Scriptures and keep our church super small. But if I'm going to make leaders and grow a people, I've got to let go of a LOT. Don't remember who said this one, but high fives to them.

You Can't Over-Preach Vision and Values As an achiever, I suffer from serial boredom. Once I've done something, it's really hard for me to go back and do it again. It's crossed of the list ... next! But leading means taking those core truths about who we are and holding them up for all, all of the time. I can't say our vision and values enough. In fact, the only thing I should be saying more is the actual gospel.

Reaction isn't Leadership Being loud, angry, and reactive isn't leadership. There's a lot in this world that's truly horrible and worth getting loud and angry about. And, if I were only concerned with expressing myself, I'd go for it. But as a leader I don't have the luxury of venting my emotions at injustice and sin in the world. I have to orient a people toward action. So, I've got to constantly deal with the PH balance of my soul, and keep myself at a low state of reactivity. Otherwise, my words become acidic and my leadership bullying.

What axioms are helping you?

Leading Means Listening

As a leader, I'm often asked what other leaders should be doing to lead well. What techniques should we employ? What data are we missing? What styles of communication work best? Very rarely am I asked, "How should we leaders be listening?" But, when I see Jesus leading, I see him doing a lot of listening. Here are three ways I see that — for Jesus — leading means listening.

Listen Ahead

Leaders don't just look ahead, they listen ahead. On the cutting edge of every organization — corporate or church, government or school — there is unclaimed territory. What's the sound of that place? What to they believe there? What do they talk about? What's the accent like? Leaders can't lead the mission in a language that isn't spoken. Jesus spent 30 years listening, absorbing, and preparing. Leaders who would follow him must listen ahead like he did.

Listen Behind

Leaders must also listen to those who are coming behind them. Not only must leaders hear their followers, but also their future successors. What do they see? How do they feel? This doesn't mean leading by democratic vote. It means leading by love. Jesus asked Peter, "Who do men say that I am? Who do you say that I am?" (Matt 16:15-16) Leading well means hearing your people, even if they say things you wish they wouldn't. Think about how discouraging it must have been for Jesus to listen to his followers miss his message time after time! But if Jesus' followers missed the message of the master, it stands to reason your team might not get it the first time either. Jesus probably led better than you.

Listen Above

Leaders don't just listen on the flat horizon of human experience. We must learn to listen to God — to listen above. I find it fascinating that Jesus took time to go listen to the Father, not just talk. (Lk 5:16, Mk 1:35) If I'm going to lead well I need to listen to God. This is the distinguishing mark of Christian leadership which separates it from good advice. We're trying to lead where God wants to go. We're leaders under authority. You and I have to schedule time to stop, get away, and listen to God. Otherwise we might employ good leadership techniques to take our people to the wrong place.

Leader, listen well. Listen ahead, behind, and above.

How To Keep Going When It Sucks

Sometimes, life sucks. You get bad news. You feel depressed. Your kids act up. Your relationship breaks up. You're walking in the promises, alright. Just not the promises you wanted. You're experiencing that oft-ignored verse, "In this life you will have trouble..." (John 16:33).

I get those days. Here's how I get past them:

(Note: Since I'm a pastor, I'm automatically inclined to alliterate. So today's life insights are brought to you by the letter D.)

Don't Pretend

Don't pretend life isn't hard. There's a weird version of faith teaching that seems incapable of admitting when life is hard. Don't do that. That's not faith, that's just stupid. You can still be a man of God and say, "Man, this just really sucks right now."


Decide to deal with it, not to be dealt with by it. Seriously, this isn't some psycho-babble mumbo jumbo. You've got to get up and decide not to be dominated by the demonic forces arrayed against you, your bad habits, someone else's attitude, etc.

Don't Self-Pity

This one's tough. When things go badly, pitying self seems natural. Don't do that. Self pity is a sin. It seems attractive to imbibe in a little woe-is-me. But once you've come close to that siren, she'll eat you. Self pity is not the right way to deal with a rough day, week, or month.


I'm convinced that one of the reasons that God lets us go through hard times is to remind us to depend on him. I have to depend on Him. I don't "got this." I'm not a black-belt ninja master at life. I need a savior, and a helper. Dependance on God in the trial is, very often, the point of trial, I think.


Dispel the dark emotions. You can confess Scripture, pray, talk to friends, and tell your soul to worship God, even when life sucks. David did it. "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Hope in God!" (Psalm 43:5)

So there you have it. This is how I deal with the hard days. I hope this handy alliteration helps you when that promise of Jesus happens to you.

3 Axioms Helping My Leadership

  Axioms are self-evident, pithy truths that fit well in ones mental pockets. Here are three that are really helping me right now.

Small is Big

I struggled to believe this one. I like big. Big crowds, big results, big faith, big budgets ... all that sounds fun. But here's the deal, big is illusory. If I want to make a big change in my city, my kids' lives, my relationship with my wife, or my walk with Jesus, I must work the small things. Eye contact, consistency, prayer, kind words ... it's a game of inches.

Do For One...

This is an old, true Andy-Stanley-ism. "Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone." So, so good. As the church grows and my heart continues to see more and more of the world that needs so much help, the weight can be crushing. I can't fix everything, but I can fix something. I can't do for all, but I can do for some.

You Replicate What You Celebrate

This one is huge. If I want to see a disciple-making, Jesus-exalting, Kingdom-bringing movement in my house, my church, or my city, then I must shout and sing when ground is gained toward those goals.

I love helpful leadership axioms like these. Which ones are helping you?

His Faithfulness Observed

This Sunday we celebrated our fifth birthday at Aletheia. It was a great day—a wonderful moment to celebrate all that God has done over the last five years. Very often I will write to solve a problem, share a skill, or add a thought to an ongoing issue in church planting or in culture. But to commemorate all that God has done for me personally and for our church corporately in the last five years, I couldn't think of anything more appropriate than to briefly enumerate some of the amazing ways God has proven Himself faithful.

  • God called some of our best friends in the world to move to Boston with us. We would not be where we are if it weren't for Donny and Janna Fisher.
  • God gave me a supportive, prayerful, faithful woman of God in my wife, Hope. Without her, I would not and could not do this.
  • We were so scared to move up here, but God gave both our families beautiful, new apartments right on top of each other. Our kids got to play, we got to laugh, and our families grew in close proximity. This made the hard, early years so much sweeter.
  • God gave us a people from day 1. Not everyone gets that, but I never once had to bear this church plant totally alone.
  • God gave me two amazing ministry mentors in Jim Laffoon and Stephen Mansfield, who have walked closely with us for years, guarding me, my family, and our church, with selflessness and wisdom.
  • God provided a building in the perfect location for our launch.
  • God gave us every single dollar we needed, from partners who've given to our ministry for years, to churches who gave us enormous special gifts.
  • Through us, God has saved a lot of people.
  • We launched with 99 people.
  • We've never stopped growing.
  • God has given us hundreds of amazing volunteers. These men and women are selfless, Kingdom-minded, and joyful co-laborers for Christ. I am humbled to lead them.
  • God called and enabled the launch of a second location in downtown Boston.
  • My kids love Jesus and like me. Not everyone can say that, so I'm grateful.
  • All our gatherings are packed, and that's nuts to me.
  • God has allowed our spiritual family to be a diverse one, and I'm so, so grateful for that testimony of gospel power for unity.
  • When I was walking through the valleys of depression, God delivered me.
  • I get to preach the Bible for a living, and make disciples of Jesus Christ as a full-time job. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.
  • God has given us an amazing spiritual family in Every Nation. There's no other group of men and women I'd rather walk with in the world.
  • God gave us an amazing staff, and I love these men and women with all my heart. I love working with them, and think they're all rockstars.
  • I've lost count of how many people I've baptized in the last 5 years.
  • When church planting was hard, God never left me. His presence and power sustained me.

It's good to make lists like this. One thing is sure, not every day in ministry will be as sweet as a 5th birthday, but seeing just some of what God has done in the last few years reminds me that He is unstoppably faithful. I can't wait to see what the next few years hold!


3 Questions Pastors Shouldn't Be Afraid to Ask Their People

I love being a pastor. But, having been around a lot of pastors at our various confabs around the world, I've noticed something unhealthy. Some of my brethren are afraid to ask their people tough questions.

Actually, let me include myself in that. Sometimes I am afraid to ask my people tough questions.

But, ask we must. Why? Because Jesus has called us to tend his flock and to add to it. Our lives are, according to David Hansen's book The Art of Pastoring, to be lived out parables of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we're going to do that well, then we'll need to know the answers to some tough-to-ask questions.

  1. Are you actually following Jesus? Lots of people who do church things are not Church people. Notice the capitals there—they may be in your church but they're not part of The Church. There are those in all our congregations who act churchishly. They go to gatherings, give a little money, and appreciate that the youth group keeps their teen out of trouble. But, they're not Church people—part of the bought, bled-for, bride of Christ. They're not following Jesus. A pastor should never, ever be afraid of asking anyone in his church if they are actually following Jesus like a disciple should. "Is Christ your treasure? Is he Lord and Master of your life? Are you really trusting him as Savior?" We must ask these questions, often.
  2. Who do you hate / What are you angry about right now? You need to know what anger, fear, and hatred is living in your people right now. If we're going to shepherd the flock of God among us, then we must know what's hurting them. This is especially true if you pastor a church that isn't exactly like you. I pastor a rapidly growing, very diverse church. So I must ask this one, often.This question has helped me be a better pastor for everyone. For example, when some issue of racial injustice blazes across America, that will probably create some righteous (and maybe some unrighteous) anger in the hearts of the African-Americans in my church. I love them, but I might not automatically feel what they feel. I'm white, and have never been the victim of racism. I don't know what it feels like. I have to ask them, and not pretend I already know—because I don't. Or, if some issue of political scandal is raging in Washington, it will make half my church happy and the other half sad or angry (Party politics and all). I need to know that, if I'm to shepherd them well. So, I have to ask.Now, this question has brought up some hard conversations. Hard for some to say, and hard for me to hear. But Jesus didn't call us to skip the hard stuff. He called us to preach the whole counsel of God. Knowing what angers and hurts our people is critical to gospel application.

    Also, this question helps the people in your pews who aren't just like you know you love them, and care to understand their experiences. I really do care, but I can't actively pastor the people I care for if I don't ask this one.

  3. If you were me, what would you do differently? This is a dangerous question, because everyone has opinions on what we pastors do. And, just like I don't know what it's like to be a banker, mother, teacher, etc., no one but me knows what it's like to pastor my people. So before you ask, you have to decide you won't be defensive.This question helps your people understand that you love them, and what to do your best for them. Also, as a leadership tip, this question prevents blow-ups. I can say that up to this point we haven't had any major explosions in our church, but we've had a few near misses! Asking this question helped sniff them out before the bomb went off.And hey, Pastor, you just don't know everything you should be doing. Practice some of that Christian community you're always talking about and let someone speak some truth to you.

Ask these tough questions, brothers. They'll make you better and help you love your people more like Christ.

Trusting God Means Taking Risks

Trusting God means taking risks. The thought is pretty simple, really. Trusting God means trusting Him, not your ability to understand everything He does. As a pastor, I watch people get confused by this one a lot.

"Where's God right now? What's He doing"

"Pastor, why did He let me experience this?"

"I don't understand what God could be doing in this situation."

We seemed to be convinced that if we can't see what God is doing, then God can't be doing it. But here's the thing: God doesn't have to approve His plan with you. If He did then you would never have to trust Him. You'd simply be approving his plans. And, those are not the same. If you require a comprehension of God plans, you'll never take a risk and step out in faith. Why? Because you'll never do anything that totally depends on God and His character, just on you and your understanding.

What a lame way to live.

Trusting God means taking risks — stepping out in obedience doing things that have unclear outcomes (from our perspectives, at least). If you're afraid of risks, the answer isn't to just manifest some bravery. It's to remind yourself of the nature of God. He's the kind of God who can be trusted with your step of faith.

Jesus said, "Follow me." You may not be sure where you're going, exactly. But, you know you can trust your leader. Take the risk. Trust God.

Omnicompetence is the New Pride

"Just as there is no way we can serve both God and money, so there is no way we can (openly or secretly) believe in our personal omnicompetence and at the same time believe in Jesus as the Savior of sinners."(1) When you ask people about pride, few consider it a bad thing any more. School pride, national pride, (insert social cause here) pride ... pride has been moved off the moral no-no list in modern American Newspeak. That makes it very hard to locate. But, locate it we must. Just because we've become more cozy with the sin of pride doesn't make it any less that — sin. And I think I may have found where this particular devil has been hiding out: Omnicompetence.

Omnicompetence is not a word, but if it were it would describe our (my) deep, personal conviction that I can do pretty much anything, and that I need very little help. "I've got this," is its confession. "I can handle it," is its mantra. And, "I'll be alright," is its rather unformed eschatology.

I can see omnicompetence when I skip reading the Scriptures because I'm busy.

I can hear omnicompetence when I lie to a friend who asks how I'm really doing.

I can feel omnicompetence when I'm short-tempered with others and difficult to get on with.

Omnicompetence is the new pride. It's the way we modern people have made a virtue of personal utility and a vice out of humble needfulness. It's the rebranding of the one sin that lies at the root of all the others, and makes the heart so hard that it refuses to ask for help. In fact, if you're a devout believer in your omnicompetence, Jesus came to empower you, perhaps, but not to save you. I mean, you've got this, right?



Omnicompetence is the ultimate expression of practical atheism. But, take a minute to examine it up close. If you look deeply into the shiny surface of this idea, you'll begin to see the fissures. Those small, nagging ways we fail, falter, and miss the mark. Omnicompetence has a real problem with recognizing sin, and the humble vulnerability that such a recognition produces. But, like paint over rotting wood, omnicompetence can't hide our true nature for very long. No set of skills, no matter how great, can ever overcome our deep need for help.

For grace.

Lord, help me part ways with the belief in my omnicompetence — my pride. Hold my neediness before my eyes long enough to cause me to voice my need for the Savior.

(1) Alec Motyer, Isaiah by the Day, 93.

Social Justice Needs Personal Righteousness

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

We live in the day and age of the social justice warrior — the young man or woman committed the ideas of making the world "out there" more just. Conveniently, you can qualify for this job without any concern for your personal righteousness — a grave injustice itself. But, since today is MLK day, I feel it's important to remember that King (and Paul, and Jesus, and all the prophets) didn't share this rather modern (rather ridiculous) view.

When Dr. King wrote his now famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, it included the oft-repeated phrase, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." And, that's true. But before you ride your noble steed off into the unjust world to "fix it," it would be helpful to remember the rest of the idea. "We are caught in an escapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."

In other words, it's not just morals "out there" that matter — what we often call social justice. It's also our personal righteousness "in here" that counts — what we call morality. If we're really serious about pushing back racism, sexism, classism, and the many other ills from which our culture suffers, we must also be serious about personal righteousness. They are all connected — we are all connected. If I'm struggling morally, somehow that will affect society. Conversely, if society is riddled with injustice it will affect me. It sounds counterintuitive to us, but it's true.

Scripture declares that righteousness and justice are the foundation of God's throne. That explains why God connected the ideas in Jesus' great commandment — to love God and other people. Because, they are connected.

All this means that I'm personally very grateful for Dr. King. His struggle for justice is connected to even my personal righteousness. I can't be who I'm called to be without his efforts to make the world better. In response, let's commit to grow more personally righteous through Christ. Only then will this work look more like Heaven. As righteousness and justice meet in our lives, they'll meet in our world.

3 Reasons to Keep Going

You're in the middle of something right now — maybe even something great — and you want to quit. Don't.

Some activities, habits, and attitudes we should quit. I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about quitting on your calling, your relationships, your work — the things you know you should do. Do you ever just want to tap out on those things because they're just really hard?

Again, don't.

Here's three good reasons not to quit on good things:

Your Not Supposed to Quit Things like your calling — your real purpose in life — you're not supposed to quit. You can't tap out of being who God made and appointed you to be. "It's really hard, though," you say. Yes. Yes it is. That's because it's good, and everything good is hard. An unhealthy side effect of our overly-coddled culture is the belief that when opposition comes (or just when the good vibes leave) we must be in the wrong lane. That's not true. If God commands it, you're to do. Don't stop.

Jesus Didn't Quit Let's talk about the archetype for perseverance a moment. Jesus didn't quit. He didn't hang up his gloves because his team still didn't get it. He didn't roll back when his family thought he was nuts. He didn't even quit when the Roman soldiers were ripping the flesh of his back, nailing him to a cross, and watching him die, slowly. He didn't quit.

Maybe you're suffering right now. Suffering doesn't mean you should stop. God uses our suffering to build our character, purge our sin, and make us stronger. I'm really glad Jesus didn't quit when it was hard. Don't quit.

God Gives Persevering Grace to the Persevering God doesn't abandon you when it's tough. The genius of the Christian story is the way God remains omnipotent while entering into human suffering, and overcomes. Because Jesus overcame this world, he can now give overcoming grace to those of us still in it. I know it's tough right now. God gives grace when it's tough. He is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. His grace is there to sustain.

Whatever you're in the middle of right now, don't quit. Show up, ask God for help, keep going.

4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Planting

This post also appears at NewChurches.com As the entrepreneurs of the church world, we church-planters tend to have strong opinions on the kind of church we want. So once we get the idea of the future church in our heads, we go after it. We raise money, find the venues, and organize the team to get to the goal that (we hope) was given to us by God.

While this goal-oriented nature can be a huge blessing in the life of the planter, it can also be his demise if his goals aren’t good. I’ve had the privilege to train, equip, and coach a lot of godly planters with godly goals. I’ve also seen a few whose goals were suspect. So how do you know if your goals are godly? Try answering these four questions:

1. Why are You Planting this Church?

If I had a dollar for every guy I’ve met who had a bad answer for this question, I’d be able to buy myself at least two Ed Stetzer books. “There’s nothing like this church in my town,” or, “There’s no Reformed (or charismatic, or missional, or whatever your thing is) church around here,” are bad answers. Also unacceptable are, “I’m ready to be the boss,” “I’ve got a great vision for how church could be done better,” or my personal favorite, “I’m not really sure what else to do.”

The only correct answer to this question sounds something like, “Jesus has commanded me to go make disciples. Planting a church seems like the way God wants me to do that.” If you’re not doing this to form and fashion followers of Christ, you’re not doing it for a good reason.

2. What are You Reacting Against?

Many a church planter has a bad PH balance in his soul. You’ve probably met them — guys in their 20’s and 30’s who are reacting against their mega-church leading, boomer Pastor dads. Such reactivity makes their work acidic, dripping with the “I’ll show so-and-so,” attitude that may doom their work. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what you’re reacting against? What way of doing church, or denomination, or leadership style, or theology are you determined to avoid? Do you want to lead a house church on its merits, or because you just hate how “corporate” church has become? Is ancient/future worship your preference because you’re listening to the leading of the Spirit or because you heard about it through a podcast?

Church planter, don’t be reactive. All things are yours in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:21). Take the best, leave the rest, and don’t succumb to the pressure to form opinions on other church’s methods or leaders.

3. How Will You Make Disciples?

Do you realize its entirely possible to gather a mass of people without ever actually making a disciple? That’s the scary thing about church growth techniques — most of them work really well. When I’m coaching planters I always want to know how their why (Question 1 above) connects to their how (How they make disciples). Now I’m no anti-church-growth guy. Who doesn’t want the church to grow!? I simply mean that attendance and decisions are not the metrics Jesus asked us to track. He told us to make disciples. If you can’t figure out how to do that, you’re probably in the wrong business.

4. Who is Pastoring You?

Church planting is difficult, soul-draining, devil-fighting, marriage-stressing, and financially-challenging work. You need a pastor. Scratch that, you need pastors — individuals committed to telling you the truth, asking you about your marriage and kids, and keeping your soul healthy. Ideally they will be older and wiser than you — people to whom you’ve given permission to speak into the deep, dark recesses of your soul. Our church is doing really well right now, but I’m convinced I’d have wrecked it at least three times without the men who pastor me. Church planter, who is pastoring you?

Answer these questions, planter. The future of your work — and probably your soul — depend on it.

Data Streams | 6 Places to Go

What are your data streams? I've got a theory about data streams: most of us have way too few, or too many that are too alike. One of my aforementioned measurable goals is to add a number of new data streams to my life. Data streams are those watering holes of information from which you drink. For me, they look like this:

  1. Bible Highly important data stream for me. Should be for you, too.
  2. News You've gotta get yourself some diverse news sources. I'm talking to you both, Connie Conservative and Libby Liberal. Read Fox and Drudge and MSNBC and Huffington Post. And more.
  3. Tech If you live in the West, you live in a world increasingly dominated by technology. Get a few data streams about technology, and what's coming soon.
  4. Podcasts Super helpful data streams, especially if you're an aural learner like me. Get some good Christian podcasts, and also grab some things that will stretch your brain in different directions.
  5. Books Apparently folks used to publish their thoughts in an edited form on paper. I think that may be a fairy tale, but this website called Amazon.com may know something about it.
  6. Think Tanks These are groups of smart people who research stuff. Again, you need some good conservative and liberal ones, but know you know they're there. Go research some stuff.

A final word of warning... social media is an insufficient data feed. It's the junk-food of the mind. Easy, cheap, and tasty (who, after all, doesn't like to chow down on a good buzzfeed from time to time). But thinking well on the basis of social media is like trying to live well on Doritos and Skittles — not going to happen.

For more details on what exact data streams I enjoy, just ask :-)

Measure the Resolution

Each year around this time I engage in a little ritual. I review the passing year up against my goals that I set at its beginning, to see how I did. But here's the problem with a lot of this past year's goals — they're immeasurable. I'll give you an example. Last year, in a pious moment, I wrote, "Pray more powerfully." I also wrote, "Be a better father," and "work on my character."

"But Adam," you say, "how will you know if you've actually achieved any of these goals?" Heck if I know. And that's the point.

So here's my approach this year: Measure the resolution. I'm going to set goals that I can measure in some quantitative way. I'm reading a biography of Jonathan Edwards at the moment, and have been blown away by the specificity of his resolutions. So, here's mine:

Resolved: to make resolutions I can measure, so I can know if I've actually achieved anything.

If you make some measurable resolutions, let me know how it goes.


Vision Entropy

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy within a closed system will always increase over time. Or, put more simply, energy always runs out, but never gets automatically put back. Vision is the same way.

When we start, we usually start with vision. Motivated by a clear picture of the future and all the energy that goes along with it, we jump in with both feet. A few weeks in, we're not quite as passionate as we were when we started, but we're hanging in there. But years later? Vision entropy. The thing we're doing doesn't much resemble the vision we began with. Our souls have leaked the vision. Our spirits, like sieves, can't hold the momentum. Eventually, the Second Law of Thermodynamics claims another victim. Entropy has won.

The closed system of our lives simply cannot maintain the same level of passion, drive, love, hope, and work forever. We leak, dry up, and run out. But here's the catch:

You and I were never meant to be closed systems.

I don't know how to stop vision entropy, but I do know where to get more vision than I leak. That is the key. In order for our lives to radiate with more and more vision and passion, we've got to get it from somewhere (or someone) else. This is the greatness of Christian leadership — we have an unending, unyielding source of vision, energy, and passion for all our calling. Leader, you don't have to gin up your own momentum today. You and I can simply wait, ask, and trust that the same Spirit that hovered over the void and made the universe, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, now lives in you.

Will you leak vision? Yes. So ask for more.

7 #TrueFacts About Leadership

TrueFacts-Header It occurred to me recently that much of what I know about leadership I know axiomatically. There are some pithy truths that, while completely unoriginal to me, mark a how I lead. Here we go:

  1. Leaders Rise. This basically means that leaders will, more often than not, show themselves as leaders and get out in front of the pack.
  2. Shared Leadership Starts Nothing. I'm a big believer in shared leadership of a thing. But shared leadership can almost never start at thing. Or, as Bill Hybels like to put it, "Everything good starts with a team and a leader."
  3. Anger Confuses Leadership Decisions. Making important leadership decisions when you're angry is unwise, and you almost never make the right decision. Reaction is not a good starting point for decision.
  4. Say Nothing Important in Emails or Texts. A huge mistake I've made as a leader has been to correct someone through an email. Tone is hard to communicate for the best of writers. Probably best just to send an email that says, "Let's have coffee."
  5. Remember How Unqualified You Were. There's a tendency I see in myself: In handing off leadership, I feel like they must be more qualified than I was when I started. Never mind that God called me when I knew nothing. Leaders risk their reputation on newbies they believe in. If they don't they're not leaders.
  6. Leaders Follow Well. No one deserves followers who has never followed another well. Leaders who can't follow well are proud, and their demise is assured.
  7. Great Leadership Makes the World Better. Jesus was the greatest of all leaders — all powerful, completely humble, totally secure, self-sacrificial. Leaders who lead their homes, companies, teams, and churches like this will make the world better.

Church Planting and Me: A Love Affair

I've got a slobbering love affair with church planting. Not the conferences, books, and accouterments of American evangelical church planting culture, but church planting — the actual doing of it. I'm a bit of a purist. I love the start up riskiness, the way it forces the planter to trust God, and the way it creates new platforms from which to do it all again. Like most purists, I don't care much for trends. Every season (here please read that Christian word we all use for an unknown period of time) there's a "new" idea that's really going to revolutionize everything about planting. It's incarnational missional attractional monastic youth-oriented family-oriented purpose-driven seeker-sensitive ... well, you get the idea. Church planting isn't new, and it isn't easy. But if you're called by God to do it, it's still great. And I still love it for at least these 4 reasons:

Church Planting is still the best way to make disciples. Disciples are followers of Jesus and fishers of men, and nothing forces someone to live that rhythm like the planting of a new church. Like weight on the bar, you can't lift it and not get bigger. All the stresses of a start-up are the same pressures that make a great business leader. Church planting works very similarly, and it can produce some amazing disciples.

Church Planting is still hard work. I love the work of planting — the actual tasks involved. Heck, I even love teaching others how to do it. Any method that makes planting look easy, less costly, or overly simple is therefore wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. It takes a ton of work, and I love the work it takes.

Church Planting still takes great faith. Both in quantity and quality, church planting has increased my faith in God. The work is up to me, but the results are very much up to God. I love that.

Church Planting still shrinks me. I'm on my third plant (fourth if you count the new site of our current church, but I digress...). Every time something good happens — salvation, reconciliation, healing — I am struck with just how great God is. I decrease in those moments, because God gets bigger. That's a good thing.

So here's to church planting, and my deep love for it. If you feel inspired, maybe come on up and do some church planting with me.