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.

So these three theologians walk into a …

Seminary’s a weird place. You’re learning a lot about God. Some of it’s even useful and incredibly beneficial. But you also get stuck in this “other world” with terminology and ideas that can separate you from normal, everyday life.

That’s why I love this joke a buddy sent me today. It’s the only seminary joke you’ll ever see on this blog. Trust me.

Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and Reinhold Niebuhr find themselves all at the same time at Caesarea Philippi. Along comes Jesus, and he asks these three famous theologians, “Who do you say that I am?”

Karl Barth stands up and says: “You are the ‘wholly other,’ the vestigious trinitatum who speaks to us in the modality of Christomonism.”

Following this, Paul Tillich states: “You are he who heals our ambiguities and overcomes the split of angst and existential estrangement; you are he who speaks of the theonomous viewpoint of the analogia entis, the analogy of our being and the ground of all possibilities.”

Reinhold Niebuhr gives a cough for effect and says, in one breath: “You are the impossible possibility who brings to us, your children of light and children of darkness, the overwhelming oughtness in the midst of our fraught condition of estrangement and brokenness in the contiguity and existential anxieties of our ontological relationships.”

And Jesus looks at them and says, “What?”

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.

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]

Do something. Just don’t do everything.

As you can probably guess from my quotes page, I really believe that what we DO gives us much more credibility than what we KNOW or what we SAY. We can hold a lot of beliefs and ideas, but how we live says a lot more about what we truly believe.

I’m beginning to realize, though, there’s something unique about this. In the ministry world, I’ve been in a lot of different circles, and they all value different things. Some folks value great communication – if you can preach a strong, clear message, you’re in. Some are incredibly evangelical. If you’re living a life that’s sharing with people who don’t follow Christ, you’re doing what you should. Others focus on mission – are you regularly serving the poor? The oppressed? The needy?

It’s tough because it leads to a lot of divided focus for people pleasers like yours truly. We should be living all of these things out in some way in our personal lives. But “professionally,” as a minister, I can’t be the champion of every cause. I care about them all deeply. But I guess I’m realizing I won’t be the standout in every field, and that’s ok.

I’ve written about it before, but I really believe that beyond strategy and vision and everything else, following God means listening and following him right here, right now. That typically means starting something small, incomplete, and imperfect and taking steps forward as he leads. Some of the most amazing churches (groups of people) started as a small crowd stumbling their way around and worshipping God together. I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.

The other thought is this: you/we/I don’t have to be great at every part. God shared something important with me through someone special a few years ago: you don’t have to achieve the goal alone. Whatever we’re doing – especially the spiritual things – isn’t meant to be just about us. Churches should have gifted evangelists, teachers, shepherds, and more. Follow God. Be who you are. Grow.

So here’s the deal. Start something imperfect today. And don’t do it alone. 

Presence and proximity

Real connection – real progress – is about presence and proximity. This even applies in businesses. Google talks about it below (From the Google Blog).

Traders in the same location tend to make the same trades at the same time. The trades of cubemates within a small radius is the best predictor we found. By using a record of historical office changes, we could observe that the correlation begins shortly after people are seated nearby. It makes sense, because the physical proximity enables easy communication. As Eric Schmidt (our CEO) and Hal Varian (now our Chief Economist) advised in 2005: “The best way to make communication easy is to put team members within a few feet of each other. No telephone tag, no e-mail delay, no waiting for a reply.” As you can see below, our finding about the importance of proximity holds, even once we account for many other factors.

This is stepping past what they were discussing, but I really believe that intimacy comes in moments. We get close to people over a long period of time, but it’s just because it takes a long time of having fun together, building trust, and spending our lives together for those moments to happen that bind us. It’s those memories of moments of laughter, of pain, of life-changing realizations.

Sometimes, the most important factor in connection is simply presence.


Keeping accountable to others can be the difference between finishing well and failing miserably. But most of the time, it isn’t done in a way that provides much more than a slap on the wrist and a guilt trip.

Usually there’s a list of questions regarding different sins you could have committed that week.

Did you lie? Did you cheat? Did you lust?

Did you have a quiet time every day?

You have two choices … you can lie or feel guilty. It’s even worse when the other guy had what was apparently a “perfect” week. The problem is, you end up simply looking to avoid certain sins, which has the potential to draw you even more to those areas. At the very least you’re focusing more on failures than on a positive vision.

I’ve recently started meeting with a couple of guys, and the approach has been different.

We talk about things like integrity (at work, home, school – how are you using your time?), evangelism, time with God, etc. We talk about how we need to grow, but we focus on where we want to end up.

Do we address each other’s blind spots and challenge each other? Absolutely. Life’s still a journey. It still takes work. We still need God to refine our hearts and characters. But the emphasis isn’t on the little stumbles we all make. It’s on the steps we’re taking to follow God daily.

Partner for impact


I mentioned Elevation in an earlier post. In my “research” (aka googling “Elevation Church”), I also found a site that tells how you can connect with the church. They’re doing something cool for outreach

“Instead of replicating ministries already doing a great job reaching out to meet specific needs in our community, we’ve identified the need and defined local programs we see as best matching up with the heart of Elevation’s Core Values.”

Partnerships to two things – they help churches multiply impact by not recreating the wheel and they allow Christians to form relationships with and work alongside people who aren’t Christ-followers.

In churches that stay busy, it’s easy to be doing so many things “on the campus” that all of your real friends are members of your church. By partnering with organizations – and actively pushing your church folk to get involved serving somewhere – you actively serve the community and develop relationships with others.

It’s one way to look outside as a church.

Another lesson from that coffee shop

I normally don’t write the “how church can get better by adopting business practices” posts. A lot of people are already doing that. Plus, I don’t believe it’s always a one-to-one comparison. There are different forces at work in church life (more community focused, outward oriented, God-driven) that don’t always neatly mesh with the consumerist-based end game of most business plans. And that’s fine!

But we can all learn from stories where people rise to the occasion and do what’s best for others. What makes this one even better is that the values were already instilled within the culture.

At Brand Autopsy, John Moore tells the backstory of a Starbucks manager featured in the new book, How Starbucks Saved My Life. He writes:

Tiffany helped to restore Michael’s belief system by being welcoming, considerate, and genuine. It just so happens those people qualities of being welcoming, considerate, and genuine are life skills Starbucks looks for in store-level employees, especially store managers.

On one end, that’s the type of thing churches are all about. At least, we talk about it a lot. But to what extent are those qualities valued in interaction between staff members? Between people within the church?

It’s easy to get bogged down or filled up with programs. It’s good to be busy – if it means actively helping and serving people outside the church. But often we’re so busy with busyness that the basic human values get thrown out the window.

So how are you going to value being welcoming, considerate, and genuine today?

Community takes work!

We just wrapped up an outdoor movie night in our apartment complex. As Community Coordinators, Grete and I get to plan periodic events for the community – this time we did an outdoor movie (that almost got rained out – it rained all day in Pasadena! I haven’t seen that in the whole year we’ve lived here!).

I’ve seen two movies in the last three days that have had strong messages about community. This time it was Pixar’s Cars. I love some of the messages in kids’ flicks. Maybe they’re just simple enough for me to understand! (That red car realized that winning isn’t everything – who we help along the way and how we get there matters! Got it!) But I get almost choked up any time a movie has a loner who is going his own way, runs into a group of people who show him life is about more than just his plans, has to go to some big thing from his previous life, and the whole group of his new friends come through at the last minute to support/help him out in some way. That “one guy (or gal) helping others out and then seeing the community come together to support him (or her) in the end” theme gets me every time!

Grete and I also saw an advanced screening of Into the Wild Thursday night. Good book, pretty good movie. But here’s what stood out to me (and I don’t think I’m giving anything away – it’s a book you probably had to read in high school or college anyway, but be warned…). Toward the end of the movie, this rebel, free spirited kid who’s running from a family he doesn’t respect and working to get away from everything finally writes in his journal that “happiness is meaningless unless it’s shared.” He trekked to the middle of nowhere to “find himself” and find true happiness. But once he got there, he realized that part of “himself” and “happiness” is dependent upon others.

Continue reading “Community takes work!”

Do two things well


In one way of looking at it, church exists for two things:
a message – to tell the world of God’s love. To share they have a way, a hope.
a movement – to be the incarnation of that love in the world. Here and now.

An exciting thing has happened over the past 10 years. Some churches have become really good at sharing the message of God. They decided that the greatest message of all time needs to be told with excellence. It isn’t enough just to expect people to come to us. We need to compel them to come. We need to encourage our people to invite others. We need to communicate that relevant, real, and powerful message in a way that’s understandable to outsiders.

And it has worked! Lives are changed. God transforms people and uses these messages and ministries.

But sometimes, something is missing.

Beyond the ministries within the church, very little is happening to impact the wider community. We market to get people to come in. But we do very little going.

We need to use the gifts and talents of our congregations to bless the city. Bob Roberts often asks (quoting someone), “If the church no longer existed, would anyone besides its members know or care?”

What are we doing to make people’s lives better because Christ’s love compels us? We don’t work to earn anything before God, but if we’re not working to bless the people around us, what does it say about our faith?

My next steps (part four)

Here’s my final “next step” thought from the class I took with Alan. I’ll process more of the ideas from the class later, but these are simply a few of the things I need to apply from the time personally. As with any classroom environment, it’s easy to get stuck in the theory and never get to the action. So, before any of the ideas are processed, it’s probably best to process those actions I feel God’s pressing in on my heart.

You can read the first three posts here, here, and here.

  • I am not, but I know I AM – This one isn’t a “next step,” but a feeling I have from the week. Louie Giglio spoke about this “I am not” idea once. I’m not much of anything, but I’m following the God of the universe. He’s where my worth and value come from.In a class like this, I’m always drawn to the people who are doing it –  people in the midst of ministry. I’m doing some things – but they’re very little. Very little. I don’t have much to offer in discussion. But I dive in anyway. It’s both a humbling, and actually freeing, experience.

    I’m excited to have the chance to be a small part of what God’s doing, and I hope that excitement overshadows any feelings of “I’m not good enough” or “I’m really, really good at this.” We’re all in ministry, and we all have the amazing opportunity to be a part of what God’s doing. It’s worth the risk, discipline, and sacrifice every single time. I want to live into that truth.

My next steps (part three)

The third post in my series of next steps I’m taking after a class with Alan Hirsch. Read the first two here and here.

  • Gospels – Most of the communities we talked about centered most of their learning around the Gospels. We get most of what we know about God from Jesus, so we need to spend time studying and understanding him. It doesn’t lessen the need for the Old Testament or the other New Testament writings, but sometimes we’re guilty of focusing mainly on Paul and forgetting about Christ.Jesus is sometimes hard to handle. He’s messy. He says things that challenge how we live life. I want to spend more time embracing that messiness and integrating his words into my life. That means more time focusing on and studying the Gospels.

My next steps (part two)

Continuing from the last post, here’s another next step I’m taking after finishing up The Forgotten Ways.

  • Practices – The Western church is all about knowledge. If we KNOW enough, we’ll start DOING the right things, right? It hasn’t really worked, has it? I love how some churches we discussed have embraced practices instead of values.

    Most churches have similar written values. But are most people living them out? Let’s decide as a group how are values are fleshed out in practices – the things we do as individuals and as a church. Humans want to find meaning in what we do, so if we start with the practices, the knowledge will happen as we begin doing them.

    I love the set Small Boat Big Sea uses – BELLS.

    BLESSING: Who have you blessed this week through words or actions and what learning, encouragement or concerns were raised by it?EATING: With whom have you eaten this week and what learning, encouragement or concerns were raised by it?

    LISTENING: Have you heard or sensed any promptings from God this week?

    LEARNING: What passages of Scripture have encouraged you or what other resources have enriched your growth as a Christian this week?

    SENTNESS: In what ways have you sensed yourself carrying on the work of God in your daily life this week?

    I don’t think I’ll simply adopt these, but they may be a good place to start. It’s not a legalistic thing. It’s more of a way to see concretely the things God’s leading me to and how I can make sure I’m actually living them out.

    If Jesus is Lord, how do we – how do I – respond to him in a way that reflects that?

My next steps (part one)

So I haven’t blogged much about The Forgotten Ways since last Monday’s class. The week flew by! But I will be writing more about some pieces soon.

We finished with the classroom portion last Friday. I’ll just say it was a powerful week – listening to Alan, processing the ideas, hearing other people’s stories and feedback. It honestly leaves me excited and hopeful for the future of church in America and beyond. That’s something I don’t usually hear when talking about new or existing forms of church in America – hope. Our conversations centered on Jesus – following him and empowering others to do the same. I love that it’s really that simple. It starts with a simple statement: Jesus is Lord. Do we understand it? Are we really living it out?

I’ll flesh some of this out later, but for now, let me start by sharing where I’m committed to go because of this discussion. Ideas are just ideas. They don’t mean much. So what changes has this course challenged me to?

Here’s the first one. I’ll post more later.

  • Third Places – Working in seminary and church worlds, it’s very easy to become part of that Christian subculture that doesn’t “get” any other culture. We’re completely removed.But it can happen to folks whose lives aren’t filled with seminary and church. We tend to spend most of our time in our first places – home – and our second places – work. But there’s a different kind of connection that takes place in those third places – where people go to hang out, relax, and have fun.

    Whether it be a coffee shop, a cafe, a happy hour, a sports team, or a hobby club, there’s a place where we all can be close to others. These are the places where real spiritual conversations can happen because real connections are made. I’m looking for places I can be intentional about spending my time off campus and outside of the church.