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.