Cool church?

This is so encouraging to read – especially from a church with the size and influence of Life Church:

The American Church is not lacking for “cool” pastors. Like a single guy who is trying just-a-bit-too-hard to impress a girl, some churches are simply trying too hard to be cool.

I’m very encouraged to see a shifting in direction. For years, many of us seemed focused on:

  • Designing relevant church experiences.
  • Producing entertaining videos.
  • Creating inviting environments.
  • Crafting sermon series to draw a crowd.
  • Writing sermons with shock value and plenty of humor or stories.

While all of the above can be effective tools, many of my friends are intentionally moving in a stronger direction. So many great Christian leaders are seeing far better results with:

  • Bathing a sermon in prayer.
  • Fasting regularly.
  • Practicing personal confession and repentance.
  • Preaching from the overflow of time alone in God’s word.
  • Caring deeply for others in biblical community.

I’m thrilled so many leaders are placing less emphasis on being cool and more emphasis on being like Christ.

Relevance matters as long as we define relevance as meeting people where they are at a point of need. But it’s so easy to spend time fighting a battle we won’t win. We can have fun and tell great, meaningful stories. That’s good and important. But if it’s about the flash and cool-factor alone, we’ll never beat Hollywood, Comedy Central, or even SNL! Creativity is great, but there’s something more to our message.

Why bivocational? (You can’t do it alone)

We’re at the end of a discussion about why bivocational ministry is a needed, and positive, idea for the church. To read the beginning, go here.

6. It forces you to build teams

I mentioned it in the first post, but one of my biggest struggles with bivocational ministry has been this idea of focus. I really believe it’s powerful when someone can discover their core passions and giftings, hone in on the thing they do best, and run hard toward that goal. Seth Godin talks about the power of being the best in the world at what you do and not letting other things distract you from that focus.

Well, if you’re ministering bivocationally, you’re guaranteed to have a divided focus. How does that work? First, I think it’s important to do your job well. I would never want my employer to feel like they’re getting anything less than excellence because I’m a Christian involved in a church. So, “slacking” (giving anything less) in that arena isn’t an option.

Instead, you have to realize you can’t do it alone, focus in on your core gifts, and build good teams to do the work of supporting the church structure. I think the core leaders’ main jobs should be meeting with, encouraging, and investing in other leaders. Honestly, all churches should look like this. But in a more traditional model, it’s easier for the main pastor to believe he or she can carry the load alone. Often they’re talented people who can carry it – at least for a while. But it ends up wearing them down, hampering the growth of the church, and robbing others of the chance to use their gifts. But when you’re bivocational, you have no choice! You can’t do it alone! Your first goal has to be building a team to sustain the work of the church.

So there are a few of my thoughts. As we wrap it up, I think it’s important to say that “bivocational” isn’t just about having to have a “secular” job (though something outside of the Christian world is helpful). Instead, it’s about your machine for making a living coming from outside of the church. I believe pastors are perfectly within their rights to “make a living” from ministry. That’s not the issue. It’s about what is sustainable for new models of church. So whether it’s a job in a separate field in which you’ve been trained, as a manager at the local Starbucks, or as the head of a non-profit that supports and enables the church, I believe that something outside the church that keeps you in the community and engaged with society can be healthy for both the church, and the minister.

Why bivocational? (You’re not special)

We’re in the middle of a discussion about why bivocational ministry is a needed, and positive, idea for the church. To read the beginning, go here.

5. You’re just like anyone else

I know. We all want to be special. But here’s the deal. It’s always a challenge when a pastor gets up in front of a congregation and tells them they need to spend time with God daily and look to follow God and serve others. “Sure,” most of the people think, “It’s easy for you to say. That’s your job! I don’t get to have my ‘quiet time’ at work.”

When you’re bivocational, you have a job that plays by the same rules as everyone else. You have to be wise about your job, your family, your ministry. You also have an opportunity for friendships outside of the church. You get to share life with people who aren’t Christians. It can happen when people are vocational pastors as well, but it’s much more difficult. Plus, if you want to talk to someone on the plane or at a sporting event, the conversation won’t end as soon as they ask, “What do you do?” 🙂

Why bivocational? (It’s sustainable)

We’re in the middle of a discussion about why bivocational ministry is a needed, and positive, idea for the church. To read the beginning, go here.

4. It’s sustainable

The truth is, church planting (and church “long-terming”) has to look different as our culture changes. As I mentioned earlier, it takes a lot of resources to do church the way we’ve been doing church. Planting a church bivocationally means you’re not in a rush to reach a certain number of people so their tithe can support your salary. When you’re in a rush, it’s easier to gather a big crowd – mostly of Christians transferring from other churches – than it is to do the work of getting outside, meeting people, and building relationships. When you gather a big crowd, there’s less of a need to get out, listen to people’s needs, and serve the community. It’s easy to feel successful with just a Sunday show.

Sustainable planting also means you’re not in a rush to reach a certain type of person with a certain income so their tithe can support your salary. Instead, you can focus on anyone – college students, people in the margins, lower income people.

That slow growth means that more of the people who join your church/community may join because they’ve come to Christ from relationships within the community. That’s a powerful way to grow.

Why bivocational? (A good kind of messy)

We’re in the middle of a discussion about why bivocational ministry is a needed, and positive, idea for the church. To read the beginning, go here.

3. It’s messy

This isn’t a thrilling reason. But sometimes ways that are easier are only easier because they cover over problems – not because they avoid them. Working with a more flattened system of power may mean more discussion, but that discussion (or even arguing and wrestling with different opinions) means that people are more engaged and that everyone is learning and moving forward. People are going to have opinions and thoughts. The issue is whether they have enough stake in something to voice them. If church = a show, then there’s not much reason to push back on something you don’t understand. If church = life, people are more likely to care. If a conversation/discussion/argument arises, that may be beneficial.

Why bivocational? (Money goes to ministry)

We’re in the middle of a discussion about why bivocational ministry is a needed, and positive, idea for the church. To read the beginning, go here.

2. Money goes to ministry, not overhead. And decisions are made at the ground level.

I understand it on a certain level, but it’s sad how much of the church’s God’s money has to go to maintaining infrastructure. After salaries, benefits, building maintenance, building expansion, and more, a little is left to send to a mission program or to fund a local charity. But when you move to a bivocational, decentralized model, suddenly the tithe of individuals stays within the group. A group of people who meet together, serve together, and learn together gets to sit down and have a conversation.

“Here’s our money. What needs do we see around us? How can we bless the community? How can we partner with others to serve?”

If someone has a coworker going through tough times, the group can decide to serve that person with money, time, or some combination. They see the tithe at work. It’s not some distant thing. Ministry becomes personal and real.

Now, this may complicate people’s end of year tax statements. Things like this probably aren’t tax-deductible. I’m sure there’s a way to push the money through a 501c3 and get it back to the groups, but I’m not sure that’s the point. It may be helpful, but I don’t think the purpose of a tithe was a tax deduction!

Why bivocational? (Shared responsibility)

What will church look like in the future? Culture’s changing, the world is changing. How will it affect the church?

I’m sure of a few things. One: We’ll always have something that looks like what we have now. Two: If the church is going to resist becoming a marginalized, non-influential part of society, other models must continue to take root to connect with new parts of the population.

I think one piece of that transition will be a move toward more bivocational ministry. Some people see that as disappointing – a loss of something. I see it as a good thing, and over the next few posts, I’d like to share a few (ok, about six) reasons why.

This isn’t meant to bash what “is.” There are a number of churches I really respect that are built on a more traditional model. But we need all types of churches to reach all types of people, and I’m being pulled in a different direction – one that looks more like a network of small groups or house churches that gathers together periodically. To be a part of that model, I think you have to be bivocational.

I’ll say it again. I’m on the front end of this thing. I’m thinking about it because I’m doing it now and plan to continue on this path. I don’t have all the answers. But here’s where my thoughts are right now on why bivocational ministry is important…

1. It says we’re all responsible

When you remove the idea of a “professional Christian,” it means that we’re all responsible for learning, caring, and serving. There’s no professional for the hospital visits, so we’re all responsible for sharing the care for others. There’s no professional to study the Bible, so we’re all responsible for digging in and gaining insights. There’s no professional to decide what needs to happen in the community, so we’re all responsible for opening our eyes and carrying on conversations with our neighbors. We’re all doing this with jobs and lives, so it means we have to stay tuned into people’s gifts and allow people to minister and serve each other where they best fit and have gifting, knowledge, and experience.

What are your thoughts? I’ll share more in a couple of days…

This is the first in a multi-part series on bivocational ministry. Read the rest of the posts here:

Why bivocational? Shared responsibility

Why bivocational? Money goes to ministry

Why bivocational? A good kind of messy

Why bivocational? It’s sustainable

Why bivocational? You’re not special

Why bivocational? You can’t do it alone

Leaders in action

I’m working to build our website for life groups at Oasis. We’re going to try some new things with it, which I’ll share about later. But for our leader profiles, I decided to go a little retro – taking a few photos and turning them into animated GIFS (like all websites in 1994 had). I just told them to do two actions that, when put together would look like a movement. I gave the example of a wave.

Well, this is what the leaders so far have come up with. I have to vouch for their creativity. So far, they seem to be turning out a little …. violent. Except for our Hawaiian at the end. He’s just crusin’. Right Ernie?

Oh, and no babies were harmed in the taking of these photos. Promise. It looked a lot less troubling before they were put together!




Simple wins.

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz writes that too many choices can actually be a bad thing.

Let’s say Ted to buy a new television. He walks into his local Buy More and is confronted not with two or three tvs, but with a wall of options. Now, he knew he wanted a new flat-panel. He knew what size he wanted. He even had an idea of price. But now he has to choose between plasma and LCD. He needs to decide whether he wants a screen refresh rate of 60Hz or 120 Hz. He even has to choose between models by Samsung, Sharp, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Insignia, Toshiba, Westinghouse, Dynex, Philips, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Pioneer, HP, and Magnavox!

Faced with those decisions, Schwartz says that someone like Ted – with cash in hand – is more likely to make no decision at all. Rather than pick something, he’ll wait – thinking he needs more time to figure it out. Amazingly, studies have also shown that more options usually also means more regret. Ted may eventually get that perfect television for his needs, but he had to turn down many more. What if there was another one in that mix that was more perfect?

The truth is that most of the time we complicate things as leaders – particularly in church, where we want to offer something for everyone. But the truth is – simple wins.

Three ways simple wins:


Does your vision or plan pass the napkin test? Can you explain it by writing or drawing something on a napkin over a drink at Starbucks? Can you explain your purpose – or your discipleship process – or your ideas for reaching a city – in a sentence or two?

Some churches have pages of visions and values, but no one “gets” them enough to be able to explain them to others. A simple focus is more likely to stick. And before anything else can happen, an idea has to stick.


Maybe people understand an idea. What’s next? Simple makes the first steps easy. There’s no “decision paralysis” like with the television purchases.

Let’s say you’re looking at the core building blocks for a church. How many things are you going to do as a body? Will you have four different types of small groups, Sunday school classes, Wednesday night gatherings, Sunday night events, and more? Or will you say that the three things you do as a church are (some forms of) worship, community, and mission. Worship together. Get involved in a group where you can learn about God and apply that knowledge. And serve the community through your gifts and passions.

A simple vision or message levels the playing field. It lets someone know that “these are the two or three things I need to do right now. These are the three things I need to continually embody in my life.”

If I’m supposed to do one thing, I’ll probably start. If I need to do 12, I’ll spend all my time deciding where I should start and what’s most important.


Let’s say you’re looking at how small groups are structured. You can have a complicated leadership structure with multiple curriculum options and multiple styles. You can offer training classes and trained facilitators. You can set certain ways things should be done. But eventually, the systems can bog down the process.

What happens when you simplify it where anyone can lead? What if the focus is on a structure of mentors instead of a structure of processes? What if each group got together, studied the Bible, asked basic questions of the text, and worked to apply it to their lives? Every week. And repeat. Suddenly, if a leader moves, someone else knows what they’re doing and can pick it up. If a group gets too big, it’s easy to send a few people to start something new.

The same thing works with churches. The more we make it about the Sunday show, the less likely we’ll start more churches. It just takes too much work, specific talent, and resources. But if church is more about a community worshiping and following God in mission, then that’s something anyone can be a part of and a lot of people can help lead.

Catch some behind-the-scenes interviews on church planting and more

For those of you who may not follow some of the big blogs that are involved in it, Rick Warren is hosting a summit for a select group of pastors, and a group of bloggers has been busy live-streaming interviews all day. I just watched an interview with Rick McKinley and Bob Roberts – two guys I really respect for how they’re actually engaging the culture around them and the world. As a church we’re getting better at talking missional, but it’s great to hear some stories from some folks who are actually doing it.

Oh, and don’t tell my wife, but I’m about to order three books because Bob recommended them.

They’ll just have to sit on the shelf for a little while, but I’m excited to dig into some brain-stretching thoughts on how we can engage the world in a global society.

If you want to check it out, the interview is here. Seriously. If you’re interested in church planting or what it means for a church to step outside of it’s walls, this is a good place to learn a little about missional thinking, global engagement, and finding mentors.

The live stream is here with links to all of today’s interviews. There are a lot of big names – Perry Noble, Nelson Searcy, Mark Batterson, Kerri Shook, Mark Driscoll and more…

Becoming missional communities

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be a “missional community” – how small groups can organize around outward mission that enables those relationships with God and each other to grow and be developed along the way. Alan Hirsch has a lot of great things to say about this here.

The problem is, life isn’t giving me much time to think, and I haven’t been able to put much of it into words to share here. But never fear! There are people much smarter than I’ll ever be talking about the same stuff. Here are a couple of pieces of good “thought food” from Drew Goodmanson.

I’m serious. It’s good, thick stuff. Take some time to look at it. If you need more of an intro to some of the ideas, read the Hirsch article above first. It’s from a different perspective, but it’ll begin to give you a framework through which to process the ideas.

Organic Movement – Reverse Church Planting
Today, a lot of what is called church planting is really starting a new 1 hour service for people to attend.  There’s a belief that just by opening your doors and great preaching, you will start a revolution.

Leading a Missional Community
A Missional Community (MC) is a committed core of believers who live out the mission of God together in a specific area or to a particular people group by demonstrating the gospel in tangible forms and declaring the gospel to others – both those who believe it and those who are being exposed to it.

Multiplying Missional Communities
As our communities gather rdinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality, we should both pray for and expect the Spirit to work among us.

Pieces of paper can’t tell the whole story


Today’s been an organization day in Sampson world. I’ve spent the morning sorting through piles of papers that have accumulated over the past few months as well as scanning some older files I want to keep around.

One folder I ran across was filled with church plant proposals from different church planters I’ve met with. Looking at the pile of proposals was interesting. Less than half of the churches are around today, and those that are look nothing like those sheets of paper.

I’ve heard many church planters say the end result will never look like that ministry prospectus. That’s not surprising. I guess what surprised me is that it was 100% true. Not often true. Not true most of the time. It was true in every case.

When starting something new in God’s kingdom, it’s important to have a vision and call. But maybe it’s better to start with a page or two of ideas and let God flesh out the book as we move forward following him.

Learning from other pastors…

David Fitch (author of The Great Giveaway) writes about the things he wished he’d done more of during the past few years as a missonal pastor. I found them enlightening and encouraging. The first three are below. Click through to his blog at the end to read the rest…

Over the past several years of church planting I wish I had done the following:

1. Spend less time writing sermons, more time listening and speaking truth relationally lovingly into people’s lives. My goal, when I am preaching, is to never spend more than twelve hours a week writing sermons. Preaching the Word is important. It takes skill and practice. Yet the sermon is for speaking truth over people’s lives, not for entertainment. Sometimes the “entertainment” piece takes too much extra work. The sermon proclaims the true reality as it is under the Lordship of Christ and calls people into Him. It is my opinion the reason why sermon prep takes so much time is that often pastors place too much self-importance into it. How many hours a week do you spend on sermon prep?

2. Spend less time reading-writing on leadership and more time walking with/mentoring young leaders, speaking into their lives, having them with you when you minister, in the hospital, in the coffee house… in the homes, in the neighborhoods. I am finding less and less time to do this but am aiming to make for more. How much time do you spend mentoring leadership? It is absolutely essential to missional community.

3. Spend less time planning the worship gathering – more time in silence before God on a quiet hill overlooking the missionfield of NW Suburbs (this place is Walter Payton Hill – Arlington Hts.) Sunday morning gathering is liturgy. It has its moving parts. It is people coming together organically to be centered in God thru Jesus Christ thereby being re-centered for Mission Dei. My theory is, that even if everyone who was participating in the service somehow came up sick 5 minutes before service, everything should be able to go smoothly. This makes possible more time for mission. How much time/energy does your church spend on the worship gathering?

Read the rest here.

[ht: pastorhacks]

Linkage: Alpha male pastors, commitments, and following Jesus


>> Death of the Alpha Male Pastor || Los talks about something I’ve been mulling over. The one master leader thing just isn’t sustainable in the long term. What do more sustainable models look like? (Someday we’ll talk about that some more here, but until then, I think everything Alan Hirsch talks about gets us headed in the right direction. He has a lot more answers, and much more wisdom/experience than I can ever hope to have …)
Update: Shaun Groves also talks about Los’ post here.

>> Rick Warren talks about growing through commitments on || “We grow by making commitments. Rick said you don’t grow to commitment. You grow through commitment.”

>> Bob Roberts talk about how that book or conference isn’t going to change your life. Doing something will. || “Books and seminars should be reflections of what we are living out and fruit that is remaining–not theories, ideas, or future projections. This is the Jesus way of learning. You learn by digging in the dirt and thinking while you’re out in the hot sun, following Him in bringing reconciliation to the world–not sitting in a cozy room or coffee shop snuggled up with a good “change the church” book.”