Wednesday, December 24, 2003

New Year Resolution

Can you believe it's already a new year? The start of a new year always prompts me to "clean house". Don't you love "New Year's Resolutions"? I think the only reason they exist is to teach me how really little self-control I possess. I remember what last year's resolutions were... They're the same as this year's, only with 12 months more guilt tacked on them. These are my standards; study the bible more, pray more, yell at my kids less, more diligence in quiet time, exercise more, less television, better husband, EAT LESS. If I knew these last year (and most years previous) why am I still struggling with them? Paul knew this frustration. He writes in Romans 7:18,19, "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing."

We are all performance driven to a great degree. If you'll notice the adverbs I used in my resolutions; MORE, LESS, BETTER.... they have no measurement, no goal, they just simply reflect the fact that I'm not meeting MY expectations in that area. What that means is that we will never achieve a level that will satisfy us. I will never be perfectly content with my prayer life, my bible study habits, or my girlish figure.

So, what do we do? Should I just altogether abandon trying to do better? 2 Corinthians 5:17 says "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" Part of the package when we accept Christ and receive the Holy Spirit is that we have become a "New Year". Just like we can't go relive 2003 nor can we reverse any of the events that occurred last year, our old nature is gone. Our sinful nature has been buried and the old ways no longer bind us. We have been made NEW.

Why does that sound inconsistent with what I just said about never being good enough to meet my expectations? Because I haven't learned to view myself through the eyes of the one who's judgment counts. Just a few verses after Paul confesses his frustrations he resolves the issue for himself. He writes in Romans 8:1,2, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." Jesus isn't condemning you. He isn't even disappointed in you. He knows who you are, where you are, and what you're doing. He is calling you to a holy life, but that is one step at a time, and he has the time (and patience) to lead you there.

That brings up one last point! All of the verses I have shown reflect one thing, that our relationship with Jesus is the only way we have freedom over the old nature. According to Matthew 9:17 "Men don't pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved." What does that mean? It means that all of the changes (new wine) in the world is pointless if it is poured into an old wineskin. The old wineskin represents the person that has not received Christ as their Lord and allowed the Holy Spirit to regenerate their spirit. All change is in vain without Jesus, for you will never earn His approval or acceptance. It is given freely because He loves you without reserve. He made a resolution at the cross on your behalf and he has never wavered.

This is the heart of my New Year's Resolution this year, "Let me know Jesus more and serve Him with diligence and enthusiasm."

Have a great year in Jesus.


Saturday, November 22, 2003

Freedom in Limitations

I know it seems self-evident when you look at things with hindsight but part of the job of leadership is to give people boundaries. Boundaries are what creates safety and freedom.

Freedom? I recently talked with a teenage boy about his lifestyle... drugs and such... in a very introspective moment he said "I wish my Mom would give me some rules because without them I'm trapped in this lifestyle." He had hit on something most people don't understand.... freedom isn't the ability to do anything you want... true freedom is based in security... I am free when I know the boundaries within which I can act in safety.

Have you ever worked at a job where you didn't have any real direction? I had positions where I never got feedback, good or bad! I didn't know if I was doing well or not... I thought I was doing what I should but I could never find out what my supervisors thought. In the end I quit in frustration... always feeling like I needed to look over my shoulder. Between the lack of feedback and my own insecurities I created an environment that I couldn't work under.

In the church we must tell people what is expected... how far they can go and how well they are doing. These simple measure will eliminate most conflicts. My last two church related conflicts occurred solely because the parties involved were never told the boundaries. I recently wrote that "knowing the expectations is our key to unity and peace. We owe it to the volunteers to give detailed guidelines... otherwise we owe them carte blanc access to the hearts and minds of the body because we have given away our right to criticize and direct. "

We have a misconception that putting too many rules on people cripples their creativity. In some ways it may but for the most part the narrowed focus will increase their useful creativity and will inspire by virtue of its directed nature. Give people directions... give them vision... give them purpose... and give them scope. When they know what is expected of them there is almost never a place for conflict and resentment to reside. Conflict is caused by inconsistent or unexpected reactions.

Another cause of conflict comes when we are less than honest. In our attempts to be gentle with people we often fail to actually critique them honestly. When someone is performing in a way that is unsatisfactory or worse, counter to the vision, then leadership owes it to all parties to be direct and honest. People hear what they want to hear and if you mask criticism in too much honey the message is lost. The leader believes correction has been given and the receiver believes they received approval and license.

There is safety and freedom in strong leadership that places clear boundaries and provides true critique.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Naturally Supernatural

Do you ever wonder what is natural and what is spirit... when you have a 'word' for someone... how much is just understanding people and recognizing signs and body language and how much is divine revelation?

It's always left me wondering if I were hearing God or hearing intuition and it bugs me sometimes. Not long ago there were several people gathered around the front of the church for prayer and I eyeballed one couple that I had never met before... and their body language, the way she gripped his arm, communicated a message to me... a very obvious message... so I went up and said "It appears to me that the two of you are dealing with a recently revealed infidelity and you don't know if there's hope for your marriage... if its worth the effort to try to stay together". WOW... they freaked... he couldn't believe I knew and she began sobbing uncontrollably... It was right where they were at... he had confessed less about 2 weeks ago and she was totally broken... and they had told nobody. I ministered to them for an hour. In my wife's opinion (and most anyone else, I suppose) that is a word of knowledge or wisdom... and I honestly don't know if its that or just a natural ability to read people combined with the boldness to act on it.

This is not a new struggle for me... I have asked this question many times throughout the course of my ministry. The Lord did make it pretty clear to me a few years ago to not attribute to my own wisdom the gifts he gives me but I obviously haven't completely resolved the issue. I am still reluctant to uncategorically call what happened that night an exercise of the gifts of the spirit because it seemed like such a natural understanding. Maybe that's what John Wimber used to call "Naturally Supernatural".

There are good reasons I believe for some caution. If you have been around groups like the Vineyard where personal prophecy and words of knowledge are prevalent then you have certainly encountered many well-meaning but utterly ridiculous "Thus saith the Lord" moments. There are several spiritual no-no's that I really work to avoid. My least favorite one is the 'generic word'. I was praying for a lady a few days ago and another person joined me to minister to the woman. They began to pray things like "You struggle with self-esteem issues and God wants to show you his love". Although the truth of the message that God wants to show his love is undisputable the "revelation" of a woman with low self-esteem is kind of like shooting a shotgun into a birdcage. You're not likely going to miss! Statistically low self-esteem is the major issue in almost every woman's life. You could do the same with men by having a word that they "struggle with a pure mind".... duh!!! That type of 'word' amounts to manipulation and I hate it with a passion.

I'm rambling now, but this brings up a point. God does not reveal his power to people who are not put at risk if he fails to move. That sounds pretty dogmatic, I know, but what I mean is that if you are not willing to step out on a limb and risk failure you are not likely to hear many real words of knowledge from the Spirit... and "self-esteem" or "pure mind" words are not usually risky... the corollary then is that they are not likely real words from the Spirit but are more likely a projection of the person praying's own battles. We assume that what we struggle with is likely everyone else's struggle and it works its way out in our prayers.

One of the other things I try to avoid is giving a statement a "The Lord Says..." prefix. Some people we minister to can distinguish on their own what is and isn't from God... but many can't... and we tread dangerous territory when we attribute words coming from our mouth to divine authority. If we "know in part and prophesy in part" (1cor 13:9) then it's obvious that what comes out our mouth is filtered by our own mind, experience and interpretation. Then it seems much more prudent to deliver a word with something like "It appears to me "... or "I believe the Lord may have shown me...." This type of delivery leaves people an option of receiving or rejecting the word as divine and anything less than that is manipulative. It is not our job to coerce a response... only to deliver a message.

While I'm on the subject... the types of words we should be offering...1 Cor. 14:3 says words are for strengthening, encouragement and comfort. The beauty of this is that anyone is free to offer words that strengthen, encourage and comfort. Is my word from God? Run it through this filter... then, even if its totally a product of your own imaginings then the worst that can happen is that it encourages... now that's user friendly prophecy.

We are not free to give words of instruction under normal circumstances. I see many people give what is probably a true word to someone then proceed to undermine it by offering interpretations and directions that are not inspired. My very first experience with a word of knowledge was in a small group. I proceeded to tell someone of the word I felt like God had given me for them and I then began to elaborate on it with an interpretation that was neither inspired nor uplifting. One of the leaders in the room gently took me aside after the meeting and said, "Only speak what the Father is speaking" (John 5:19). He continued "We are safe if we deliver a true message but we have to learn to stop where the message stops".

I will write more later on other filters to use for discerning the prophetic.

I would be interested in hearing from you about your own experiences or rules you minister by... and your own interpretations of my personal struggles with attribution of giftings.

Tuesday, October 7, 2003

A Reader Responds...

I was reading your latest blogs and remembered a conversation my wife and I had after the concert last Sunday. She mentioned how Ben, Lori and their group were playing with passion. You could sense it in their songs and see it in their faces. Maybe that's what you and Jerry were blogging about... the difference between musician-ing and minister-ing. But how do you infuse it into your team members? If we love singing to Jesus, why don't we reflect it more?

Reply from Duke........
I would add that Ben & Lori were definitely 'musician-ing' as well. Their sound was excellent and their music was tight and well rehearsed. It is in addition to that exellence that we can add that they were passionate. A passionate BAD musician wouldn't do much for you...

To your point, though, it is kind of sad when the band members appear to be unmoved or untouched by the music that they're playing. Sometimes it is simply boredom... we have ('we' meaning leaders) asked them to play some pretty lame stuff from time to time and its hard for anyone to get passionate over some of our songs. But even with songs that can invoke passion... it all starts with leadership. The leader must 'act' passionate. Ok, there, I said it... 'ACT'... There is a time when we all feel less exhuberent than we would like and we can 'act' enthusiastic... You can create an atmosphere of passion by 'acting' with passion. Do the things you normally do but do them passionately. I hear leaders often say "but, that's not me... not who I am naturally" and I say... so what... I think its Dale Carnegie who says "If you act enthusiastic then you'll be enthusiastic". That's very true... your emotions will follow your actions and your actions will follow your decisions. Decide to act and your feelings will follow... if you act passionate even when you don't feel particularly passionate your actions will bring the emotions into line. And, better yet, those you lead will also see their emotions coming into line with yours.
Another thing... don't 'direct' things so tightly that your band isn't allowed to be expressive. If you make your vision or goal for the particular service known and give them some ownership for it then they become more integrated into it... not just a 'musician'... they get to be a 'minister'.

Friday, October 3, 2003

Enter the Worship Circle

I wanted to share this past weekend's concert experience because I plan to springboard off of this event for the next few discussions and I don't want you to be lost.

This past weekend we hosted a concert by Ben & Lori Kennedy. The Kennedy's are part of the "Worship Circle" group that puts out the "Enter the Worship Circle" CD's. The concert was one of the more ambitious endeavors our church has taken on since I've been here, and it was a real experiment in organization and motivation. We had a relatively short notice from the time we confirmed the concert date... only about 3 weeks to promote and prepare.

Since the target audience for Worship Circle tends to be College aged young adults I recruited this age group's assistance right from the start. They jumped in with both feet and handled the vast majority of the publicity and promotion... putting nearly 100 posters up in coffee houses, bookstores, restaurants, etc. They arranged local radio spots including an on air interview with the artist a few days preceding the concert.

Others really got involved as the momentum began to build toward the concert. Some of our members volunteered to update our cafe and have it fully operational for the evening concert... others handled registration tables and music tables. The result was that we truly were able to put our best foot forward. The event drew between 250 and 300 people... many of whom had never been in our church before.

The concert itself was awesome... Ben & Lori and their band led with a powerful acoustic alternative style heavy on percussion. The stage lights we brought in and the subwoofer we rented gave the feel of a large concert. Most of the young people in attendance were totally involved... dancing and celebrating throughout. The energy and the passion was thick... like you were surrounded by it.

Now, a few days later, my preoccupation is to tap into the momentum created and not let this become a one-time high but to see what we can take from it for the future. I will be interested in your input as I discuss some of these things.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Observations from a Reader

Duke, as I was reading your blogs, I feel the Lord showed me something. It's really no big deal, but it might shed some light on a "problem" we sometimes have as far as being spiritually ready on Sunday morning when we are ministering in music. I think, I know me, I go to church on that particular morning, not as a minister, but as a MUSICIAN. I'm acting like a musician, thinking like a musician, and getting prepared to perform as a musican, not as a MINISTER. If we can make that transition, after all these years, and try to THINK like a minister of the Gospel, which we are, and not as a musician, I think it would make a big difference. Just a thought..................Jerry

Reply from Duke........
I think you're exactly right...
Think about what we practice... music... production...
All of those things are important and we have to focus on them... but we should also practice the presence of God and the art of preparation. We don't prepare spiritually very well. As a preacher I would never have considered stepping on the platform without preparing myself spiritually, emotionally... nor would I have preached without rehearsing my message to some degree... but with music its easy to think I can "wing it"... Step up, show me a chord chart, and lets go... but your observation is correct, we are ministers before we are musicians... or at least we are both integrated into one function... music minister... and both aspects must be consciously nurtured.
Good thoughts....

Monday, September 22, 2003

Small Churches

I ministered this weekend in a small church in central Louisiana. How small? Sunday morning there were a dozen people in service. What struck me about the group, however, was not how small they were... but how serious they were about quality. This small group had a church building in which they had spent some time and money on presentation. Their outside facade was clean and inviting, giving the appearance of a more expensive facility... their foyer was beautiful... the sanctuary was small but well done... nice chairs... neat, clean... stage was well done... sound was good. Obviously these descriptions are somewhat relative to the church size and style but it was impressive for that body in that community.

I have been in so many small churches (and have pastored a few) where the lack of size seemed to give an excuse for sloppiness. I mean, if we're just a big (or small) happy family then we don't really have to focus on things like preparation, childcare, nice chairs, trimmed stages, quality lighting, starting time... since we all know each other we don't 'put on airs' and try to impress. We don't try to be something we're not.

The fact is that we will almost guarantee our church will remain small by adopting this type of attitude. There are, of course, many reasons a church doesn't grow... but chief among those reasons is the lack of expectation or commitment to growth... and that is going to be reflected in the way you prepare yourself and your church for newcomers.

I am a firm believer that you get a vision of the kind of church you want to be... or, better yet, that God wants you to be... and then you begin to act like that kind of church. If that means you're to be a small body that ministers to a finite group then start doing that. If you see a large body impacting the community in grand ways... then begin doing the things you see in that vision. Expectations for growth facilitate growth... do the things from the beginning that you want to be doing in the end. If you see 500 people with a powerful children's ministry then you need to start focusing on children's ministry while you're still 50 people. If ministry to the poor is a major piece of your plan then you need to start ministry to the poor the day you open your doors. It may not have the full scope you want to get to but you must begin building it into the DNA of your church.

I even believe that a church that believes in planting other churches needs to plan to do so even when they themselves aren't fully planted... it begins creating an expectation... this is what we do and its not so much at our convenience as it is our commitment to the ideal.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

More on Vision

I have heard well known speakers recently indicate that an articulated vision is not as important as many other things with regard to growing a church (or other organization). Other areas of more importance might be community and relationship or personal growth & discipleship. Although I definitely agree that other things are very important and their absence would cripple growth and health I do not believe there is any one thing that cements a group and all of its activities together as well as an articulate vision.

What do I mean by articulate vision? I mean 1.) a vision of the future for the group that each member can put into words... 2.) a vision they can share with others outside of the group... and 3.) a vision that everyone in the group says in essentially the same language.

If the vision is not defined in such a way that it can be easily communicated then the chances of it being miscommunicated are high. I've heard leaders share their vision in so many different ways that the vision often sounded in opposition to previous versions. This isn't really because the vision had changed, more likely because the words used were not rehearsed in such a way as to insure a consistency in the message.

As a church we are nothing without our message. I believe in community and totally agree that it is the life and purpose of the church, but our message is our heartbeat. We must have a message and we must deliver that message. We must teach that message so we can reproduce that message.

I went to a small church in Northwest Arkansas for several years that excelled at this. As simple as it was they always defined themselves as "The Church that Love is Building". I tend to think more elaborately than this but in its simplicity this phrase was not looked upon as a slogan but as a mission. Every member in the church and many nonmembers thoughout the community could tell you what that church was about. As the church grew from a couple of hundred to near 1000 it never changed the filter by which it viewed its mission.

What is your vision for the future? Can you share it? Can you plant it in someone else? John Maxwell says we should paint our picture on the heart of someone else... Not just show them our picture but help them integrate it with their own. Give it language..

Years ago when I was first entering the ministry I asked one of my mentor's how to go about planting a church. His reply... "Tell your story to everyone you meet" Your story is your vision... where are you going? Know how to tell it and teach others to tell it with you.

Monday, August 25, 2003

One Thousand Marbles

One of those things that crossed my email that is worth passing on!

The older I get, the more I enjoy Saturday mornings.  Perhaps it's the quiet solitude that comes with being the first to rise, or maybe it's the unbounded joy of not having to be at work.  Either way, the first few hours of a Saturday morning are most enjoyable.

A few weeks ago, I was shuffling toward the kitchen with a steaming cup of hot chocolate in one hand and the morning paper in the other. What began as a typical Saturday morning turned into one of those lessons that life seems to hand you from time to time.  Let me tell you about it.

I turned the volume up on my radio in order to listen to a Saturday morning talk show.  I heard an older sounding chap with a golden voiceĊ  You know the kind, he sounded like he should be in the broadcasting business himself.  He was talking about "a thousand marbles" to someone named "Tom." I was intrigued and sat down to listen to what he had to say.

"Well, Tom, it sure sounds like you're busy with your job. I'm sure they pay you well but it's a shame you have to be away from home and your family so much.  Hard to believe a young fellow should have to work sixty or seventy hours a week to make ends meet.  Too bad you missed your daughter's dance recital."

He continued, "Let me tell you something Tom, something that has helped me keep a good perspective on my own priorities."  And that's when he began to explain his theory of a "thousand marbles."

"You see, I sat down one day and did a little arithmetic.  The average person lives about seventy-five years.  I know, some live more and some live less, but on average, folks live about seventy-five years."

"Now then, I multiplied 75 times 52 and I came up with 3900 which is the number of Saturdays that the average person has in their entire lifetime. Now stick with me Tom, I'm getting to the important part."

"It took me until I was fifty-five years old to think about all this in any detail," he went on, "and by that time I had lived through over twenty-eight hundred Saturdays.  I got to thinking that if I lived to be seventy-five, I only had about a thousand of them left to enjoy."

"So I went to a toy store and bought every single marble they had. I ended up having to visit three toy stores to roundup 1000 marbles. I took them home and put them inside of a large, clear plastic container right here in my workshop next to the radio. Every Saturday since then, I have taken one marble out and thrown it away."

"I found that by watching the marbles diminish, I focused more on the really important things in life.  There is nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight."

"Now let me tell you one last thing before I sign-off with you and take my lovely wife out for breakfast.  This morning, I took the very last marble out of the container.  I figure if I make it until next Saturday then God has blessed me with a little extra time to be with my loved ones......

"It was nice to talk to you Tom, I hope you spend more time with your loved ones, and I hope to meet you again someday.  Have a good morning!"

You could have heard a pin drop when he finished.  Even the show's moderator didn't have anything to say for a few moments.  I guess he gave us all a lot to think about.  I had planned to do some work that morning, and then go to the gym.  Instead, I went upstairs and woke my wife up with a kiss. "C'mon honey, I'm taking you and the kids to breakfast."

"What brought this on?" she asked with a smile.

"Oh, nothing special," I said.  "It has just been a long time since we spent a Saturday together with the kids. Hey, can we stop at a toy store while we're out? ... I need to buy some marbles."

This intrigued me so I wrote a life calculator... try it here

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Worship Note

You would not usually expect a pastor to go "into the spirit" to seek and deliver a message from God on Sunday morning. You would expect him to seek and pray and get in the spirit during the week so that he could deliver a message from God under an anointing, but one that was thought out and well prepared. Yet worship leaders tend to rebel against that very same model. Worship leaders should seek God and get into the spirit during the week in preparation so that they are able to deliver a well thought out and prepared worship experience under the anointing on Sunday... not "zoning out" in the spirit and detaching from the congregation.

Small Church Mentality

ok... I'm digging in the archives... but I found this article I wrote for the Vineyard National Magazine in 1996 and thought I'd recycle it.

(John 4:35 NIV) Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

This past summer I was seeking a fresh vision for our fellowship here in Northwest Arkansas. I had received a clear vision before I even took the church as Pastor but over time that picture had grown stale with lack of attention and any faith I had that it was going to come about had long since passed away. The church had dwindled in number to under 50 people and although the core families were still very committed there seemed to be a current of unrest. I was even questioning my own call to the ministry.

As I sought after this new vision I sensed the Spirit saying, "I gave you vision already, you're the one who keeps trying to change it." I began to realize that I had programmed myself into 'small-church' thinking. By that I mean that I had fallen into the habit of answering nearly every new ministry opportunity with "we're not quite ready for that yet." I applied this to street ministry, food distribution, evangelistic functions, church planting, concerts in the park... almost anything outside of the safety of the church building or home groups. Logically I could justify this reluctance with issues such as finances or leadership but it usually could be boiled down to one thing... lack of faith. If God gave the vision and I know that its in His will then why would I not proceed? Because I don't really believe His word is true!

How long will it be before we are "ready" to do the works of Jesus? I felt like the Holy Spirit was encouraging me to pursue the vision as if it were fact. I was reminded just last month that Isaiah 54:1 exhorts the childless woman to "Sing... Shout for joy" before she ever conceives. If God tells me to plan for 100 converts then I need to figure out how to accommodate and disciple 100 people NOW! If He says we will feed 200 people a week then I need to be finding room to store and prepare food NOW! This was a true revelation to this young Pastor. I have begun to understand that we are in a partnership with God; the vision he gives is true to the extent that we have faith to act on it.

In the ensuing months our body has taken on things I would not have thought possible a year ago. We have been out in the community more in the last 6 months than ever before. Our food pantry has become very active feeding well over 100 people each month. As a result of the food ministry God has allowed us to begin a Spanish service which we hope to see evolve into a Hispanic Vineyard church plant. The church has also been conducting quarterly worship celebrations which have been well attended by other area churches and our worship team is currently in a studio recording their first worship album. During this period I have had two of the leaders in the church acknowledge the call of God on their life to church planting and we are currently seeking direction on this.

Even more wonderful than the enthusiastic activity, though, is that there has been a simultaneous call to prayer. Terry Teykl says that if you use the same Christmas tree stand each year but you keep getting bigger and bigger trees eventually your tree is going to fall over. You have to increase the size of the tree stand to where it will support the tree. We have discovered this to be true of prayer and ministry. As the various ministries have been released and have grown we have found ourselves driven more and more to prayer. Our ministry tree can't stand on the same old prayer stand we used to use. The foundation of prayer has got to grow with it. We now have people meeting for formal corporate prayer 5 times a week outside of regular church and kinship meetings. God is beginning to release a fresh anointing on the body. We have seen a great recovery with just under 100 people attending either Sunday services or kinships. The joy is back! We are learning to speak the "language of faith".

Duke Lancaster
Pastor, VCF Northwest Arkansas, Rogers, AR

Friday, August 8, 2003

What about all these methods and models?

Over the years I have been a part of many churches. I have identified with multiple denominations and movements, many of them having as many different worship styles as they had churches. I have been on staff at larger seeker churches and I have pastored small church plants. I have worshipped in cathedrals, warehouses, "brush arbors" and living rooms. Why do I lay out these credentials? Simply to say that I have no idea what constitutes the "right" way to worship.

As long as I have been in ministry I have listened to many great minds defend or promote one worship style over another. As a young pastor these men would have great influence over me causing me to change directions many times trying to catch the "wave" of what God was doing. I remember moving our small church from a hotel ballroom to a vacant Lutheran church building a few blocks away. While in the hotel we were thriving. There were new faces every week and there was an excitement to all that was going on. But in order to "legitimize" our young church we wanted a "real" church building. Almost immediately upon moving the enthusiasm we had experienced seemed to dry up. We struggled on for some time before moving out of that building back into a more non-traditional facility... one that fit our style.

What is the "right" style?. What constitutes church?
I have heard it said of this or that church that it is a dead church What the person who declares a church as dead thinks they are saying is that the Spirit of God is not evident in that church's services. What the person likely means however is that they didn't feel what they want to feel when they go to that church. There are very few things that grieve me more than to hear someone call a curse on a church by declaring it as 'dead'. Or, even worse, declaring an entire denomination or movement as such.

There is a tremendous spiritual arrogance that is rampant in this country. There are pockets of house churches declaring that the established church is ineffective and dead. There are Pastors and leaders in large established churches that do not consider any church under 100 people as legitimate. Both of these groups are grieving the heart of God and are damaging the cause of Christ with their attitudes and declarations.

In all of my experiences I have found very few people in ministry at any level that did not have a true heart for God. In almost every case they were pursuing to the best of their understanding the vision and the task set before them. I haven't always agreed with their methods or ideas, but I have almost always had to concede that their motives were sincere. This is even more true when applied to an entire movement or denomination. Every Christian denomination on the planet began with a legitimate move of God... Something happened that drew people to God and out of that drawing was born a church or a movement.

This brings up a point... at some point we have to allow leaders to be people... to let them pursue their vision the way they believe it is to be pursued. It is my belief that constantly second guessing our Pastors is, at its core, a pride issue within the followers. We may test for ourselves what our response to our leaders decisions should be, and to pray for them, but there is no place for us to criticize them to others.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Be Confident of Your Call

I preached roughly 300 sermons or teachings between 1994 and 1998... as the Sr. Pastor of my first church.... with every one of the messages I second guessed my words all the way home... I drove my wife nuts. You would think it would get better as you go but for me it didn't... I got more calloused to the self-critique but I didn't get better about going through the exercise. I would get in the car after Sunday morning, start it up, and ask... "ok, how was it?" She got used to it, learned to debrief me all Sunday afternoon. I replayed in my mind the whole message... think, "I meant to say this here..." or "I should have left that out" or "I didn't explain that well enough". It made me reluctant to get back up to preach because I was so critical of myself.

It wasn't until I moved on to my second church that it all changed. (which demands an article in and of itself) There was a new sense of purpose and freedom. A fresh anointing and confidence. I still replay the messages in my mind but I'm nowhere near as self-critical. I still think of things I should have said but it doesn't bother me.

People's opinion of my message or content have less influence on my mood than it used to. One person challenging my word as 'unscriptural' or 'unspiritual' used to set me back weeks... I would get so depressed and second guess my calling... wondering what right I had to try to say anything to these people. Anymore I chalk it up to their interpretation and don't think of it as a personal challenge (even when it might be personal).

The answer is to know your call. It wasn't until I began to really believe and accept that I had God-Given authority before his people that I found peace... a real breakthrough... if God placed you in the position you are... then there's nobody who's opinion or viewpoint is important enough to affect your mood, your perspective or your sense of calling.

I wrote this sometime ago while thinking about ministry issues... it relates to people who might complain or demand influence over you...

If people come in a spirit of submission or an honest attempt to understand you and your vision then they deserve time and attention. Those that come with a judgmental or arrogant spirit, a superiority spirit (I can do as well as you), should not be entertained. Those whom you know in your church that can intimidate you because you know they are more talented, spiritual, charismatic, etc. Remember... if they were called to lead that body, then God would have placed them in that position. They either aren't called or they rejected the call - either way - you are their leader and their gifts, abilities or talent levels do not matter at all. As a leader you must embrace humility but never give away your spiritual authority. It is God's banner over you and is more powerful than talent or experience.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Questions to Ask Yourself as a Coach/Leader

With the twelve roles of a coach in mind (previous post)... answer the following questions

  1. When is the last time you viewed your congregation or group as a potential recruiting field? Getting someone to volunteer and drafting someone as a recruit are two different things.

  2. How often do you provide training to your team? If you do not have the expertise to train them yourself are you providing training in other ways?

  3. Are you inspiring to your team? Can you get them up for the 'big game'?

  4. Does your team know where it is heading? Do you have a stated vision with reachable goals? How many of your people could tell me these things if I surveyed them?

  5. Are your team members reaching their potential? Do they know what their potential is? Do You?

  6. Conviction can be measured by sacrifice. What are your people ready to give up? Their time? Job? Money?

  7. Do your people feel a part of a team? Do you? Are your leaders working together or do they work independently?

  8. How do you acknowledge achievement in the team? Do you reward success? Are you threatened by it?

  9. Do your leaders understand their contribution to the team? Do they see themselves as "just another piece of the pie" or do they see themselves as a cog in the machine that is important no matter what size?

  10. Does everyone have an opprotunity to contribute in your team? Are there any age groups or classes of people that may feel unimportant? When is the last time a single-mother felt she was more of a blessing to the team than a burden?

  11. When is the last time you critiqued a ministry in your team other than when you received an unpleasant phone call or letter? Is your church learning from mistakes? Are you making the same mistakes over and over again?

  12. Have you ever moved someone out of a position because they had become better equipped for another role? Have you moved someone out of a position when someone better came along? Are you afraid of making changes on your team?

Responsibilities of a Coach

  1. Recruit a team

  2. Train the team for victory

  3. Motivate, inspire and challenge the team

  4. Focus the team on the goal, provide direction

  5. Build confidence in team by taking them to their highest potential

  6. Build team conviction - based on vision, beliefs and goals

  7. Create team spirit and unity

  8. Reward and affirm the team for accomplishments

  9. Show team members their personal value and the value of their role

  10. Give identity and opportunities for each member of the team

  11. Evaluate team performance in order to improve quality

  12. Place team members in their best positions, not being afraid to make changes

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Why Quality is Essential

Its a bit of a stretch to say we want to 'restore the arts to the church' while still accepting mediocrity in virtually every area of church life. Art is only art when it is of a higher quality than the semi-skilled or ungifted can create. Michelangelo wasn't selected to work on the chapel ceiling simply because he could paint... he was recognized by the church as the best in the world.

It is not a bad idea to want to draw out giftedness in people. It is important to offer a place for those with gifts to discover them, practice them and use them. But that doesn't mean we put on display anything other than our best. Demonstrations of mediocrity are not accepted very many places in our culture. I've been to secular concerts where the warm-up band was booed off the stage because they were so poor... I've watched ball players give a half-hearted performance and get yanked from a game. Even in your workplace poor quality is not accepted for too long... and even where it exists it is talked about behind backs and around water coolers... it is readily acknowledged as the company 'joke'.

Our culture is saturated in quality... especially when it comes to entertainment, music, movies, dramas and most other venues (Karaoke clubs notwithstanding). What this does is lower the public's tolerance for poor quality. When someone walks into your church and is subjected to a boring song set with unprepared musicians and passionless singers, or a drama team that stumbles and stutters through unintelligible lines the disparity between the church and the world seems ridiculously large. Even the scummiest of clubs and bars has music that is better in quality than most churches dare to produce.

How many of you have an XBox or a GameCube or one of the latest game machines? Remember when you only had an Atari? or a Nintendo? Do you want to go back to that? Of course not... you have been saturated in a different quality and the old games look ridiculous. That's where the world is when it comes into many churches... is appears just as ridiculous. The quality disparity screams louder than our message.

It's not just Non-Christians who are influenced by this quality disparity ... your believers are, also. They may get used to the discrepancy and not vocalize the shortfall but it does influence them. Ever wonder why your most faithful members fail to invite their friends to church? I believe that the quality disparity is a major reason even if it's not a conscious reason.

I also hold the opinion that we create an entire culture that is not trained to expect success... that doesn't envision greatness. They are content with average. Have you heard people say things like "that Christian band is as good as any secular group"? Why should that be a surprise? Why would that be worthy of comment? Only because we expect as Christians a lower standard... we accept it as part of the Christian culture.

I believe it is possible to embrace quality across the board within the church. We must provide training grounds for people to practice and test their giftings... but we must also provide 'proving grounds' before they are put on display. A constant vision of quality will motivate the ones in training to not become comfortable with 'acceptable' but strive for 'excellent'.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Praise and Worship Targets

Most worship leaders today seem to approach worship from the assumption that if they worship then the people they lead will worship... If you build it they will come model.

This approach excludes the majority of people in most churches. Most churches are made up of 3 different groups as it pertains to worship. Group 1 consists of the real worshippers. They love worship... enjoy intimacy with the Lord. Group 2 can be called the learners. They are just beginning to become aware of worship... just learning to touch the presence of God. They are still growing in understanding and can be somewhat uncomfortable with some of the more demonstrative and intimate expressions of worship but they want to get closer to God. Group 3 is made up of the seekers. They are those that really aren't connected to the worship at all. They may come with a spouse or friend, they may be seeking truth, or they may just enjoy the music.

I believe that as worship leaders we should be molding our service to meet the second group, the learners. We should be trying to draw them gently into deeper and deeper waters while providing something that stirs the worshippers and entices the seekers.

We can't do that by simply worshipping ourselves. We must be a teacher, a performer, a director, a leader, a pastor and a worshipper in order to accomplish this task. We will run a high risk of being considered 'shallow' by the worshipper group but molding our service to them will render us irrelevant to the other two groups... and I'd rather cater to those groups on the outskirts of God's presence than those already in. The worshippers are going to worship with or without our leadership... but the other two groups only see and experience the presence of God and the power of praise and worship through our leadership. If we teach them they will learn...

Vineyard Distinctives

One of the things that has become apparent to me over the last couple of years is that the Vineyard Church has lost its distinctive.

When I came into the Vineyard in 1992 the church was very unique... the worship was fresh and alive and there was amazing things happening there. Most of the people coming into the church would say that the reason they came was for the worship... the music.

Over the past 10 years the church at large has experienced an amazing explosion of genuine worship. The new music coming out even on radio and 'performance' venues is predominantly worship based. You would be hard pressed to find a growing church of any denomination that does not offer a contemporary service with praise and worship as its foundation. The truth is that in many areas there are dozens of churches that have a better quality worship service than Vineyard does. Most are even doing the same music, songs and styles... but they may have passed the Vineyard in quality and expression.

Most Vineyards are still acting as if worship is their distinctive... the thing that sets them apart and makes them who they are. Those churches are going to struggle. The average person walking into your church for the first time will have a difficult time trying to distinguish your Vineyard from the Baptist church down the road if its based solely on worship.

Vineyard's distinctions are in our Kingdom theology, our models of ministry, our values of reality and non-hyped demonstrations of the power of God. Yet in most Vineyards I've been in the rank-and-file attenders don't see those things. We must be promoting our distinctions... embracing worship like never before but not as our distinction. Worship excellence is simply the baseline... anymore people won't tolerate mediocrity in their worship experience. I will write more on that in the next few days.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

On Leadership, Teams and Community

Without vision the people perish... Without a leader with the full understanding of the goals and purposes the activities of the best run community will still not accomplish much substance. Leaders do not have to have titles or be recognized but they do have to be present. Governance by community assumes that there are natural leaders that will guide the community to a common objective... and if the leaders are present that will likely happen... but if the group has no natural leader it will simply be busy doing what it already does and growth will not occur, or will occur coincidentally. Thinking in social terms... a neighborhood that "springs up" grows only be accident... a planned community that is laid out with street plans and zoning, forethought putting supporting businesses and facilities around will grow far more rapidly and with more staying power.

If Jesus is the model of servant leadership then we can assume that the way he interacted with his disciples is consistent with the way he would have us interact with ours. Although we have no indications that he ordered or coerced anybody to do anything, he encouraged them to move out on many occasions and strategically sent them several times... Luke 9 and 10 with the 12 and later the 70... he gave them a vision and a purpose and then told them to go execute the plan. No question that they recognized him as their leader and looked to him for guidance and direction, but he still washed their feet and preferred them over himself to the point of laying down his life for them.

The power of teams over the dictatorial models we have embraced in the past is the involvement of the individual in the carrying of the vision. A team member that has embraced the vision will be more faithful to the task and more energetic in the pursuit of that cause. Dictators must be diligent in recruitment and motivation or those in the trenches exhaust themselves and lose their sense of purpose. When the frontline owns the vision and has had input into the strategies being pursued the motivation is internal and not external. However, a team without leadership is likely to own a vision that is no vision at all. The natural tendency of a group is to move toward that which is most comfortable... even with direction to move counter to the previous standard they will almost always slide back to that which they know and find most comfortable. This slide back toward "normal" is deceptive and rarely will be noticed from inside the group. The presence of a leader is the best way to encourage the team away from "normal" and toward "uncomfortable".

Worship Notes

I don't know exactly how to 'critique' a worship services without a face-to-face forum to do so. I am afraid that doing so by email or by phone lends itself to misunderstanding intentions and motives.

However, it is important that we are serious about our commitment to help each other improve what we do... good or bad... we can all get better and there is never a week when something isn't there to be discussed and dissected so that we can all get closer to the target... a service that is exciting, powerful and potentially life-changing.

    1. Eye contact... Have you ever been to a worship service where the leader and band members never even looked at the congregation? Due probably to their unfamiliarity with the songs... they were all reading most of the time. This left the service feeling very impersonal to the congregation, they were observers instead of being drawn in to participate. It makes it look as if the team is bored. Encourage all leaders and band members to minister to the congregation with their smiles... eyes... talents... in that order...

    2. Song choice... This is one of the easiest issues to coach through and fix... I believe it is important to have a corporate signoff on every Sunday Morning worship set by the worship leadership team. That means submitting ourselves one to another! Nobody's set is written in stone ... we should bounce the set around for a day or two so everyone is comfortable that its the best we can make it. If there are concerns about a particular song it needs to be brought up... or removed. The arrangement itself... service tempo... needs to be open to discussion. If the leader can explain their vision and purpose behind the song's placement then we should usually leave it alone... but if it is inconsistent with the vision the Pastor has laid out then there should be accountability for song and set choices BEFORE we do it on Sunday... not afterward.

    3. Style... this isn't necessarily a bad vs. good issue but if a new leader with a new style is entered into the mix then the team will often appear uncomfortable. This can be improved with practice, practice, practice. They have to play with the new leader to get comfortable. ALSO... what we usually mean when we get to this subject of style is ENERGY... does it move you? does it have guts? Often it is sweet but powerless...

    4. Leadership...It's very common to have an excellent soloist/performer and place them on stage to lead worship only to find they struggle in this group enivonment. People need to be coached into leading... every aspect... tell the vocals what they are to do... and the instruments what is expected. Tell the audience what to do. Back to Eye Contact... Make a connection with the congregation the FIRST PRIORITY... everything else is secondary... the congregation will forgive nearly anything that happens if you have connected with them emotionally... if they are participating with you... they will laugh at your mistakes with you if you will include them... but even perfection without a connection leaves them empty.

    5. Minimize... One of the most valuable lessons I've learned over the last few years is that I don't have to be the musical center of the worship service. I can lead and not even play a note... Most leaders need to rely less on their own instrumentation and more on their band... tie the left hand behind the back if you're a piano player... and focus on fills and pads... Guitarists, simple rhythm... or try not playing at all on some songs... let the talent around you carry the song. Very difficult lesson to learn but will set you free if you get it... opens up all kinds of music and styles that you yourself could never accomplish.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

On Leadership

If you have a dream without the passion it will make you a dreamer but you'll never realize the dream. There's something about carrying the burden or the passion that gives legitimacy to the dream. A dream without the burden will never be realized. The burden without the dream will make life a drudgery. - John Maxwell

A person doesn't own the dream until they feel the responsibility of it.

1 Own the vision yourself

2 Engage the soul of the people

3 Speak to their needs

What do you cry about, sing about, dream about, laugh about, think about, talk about

Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand

4 Paint pictures on the inside of others

We want people to buy our picture.... but...

Leaders finish painting the picture of their people's dreams

If you start painting your picture before their's is finished you will lose them

5 Provide application, not just information

6 Communicate the benefits of buying into the vision

People change when they...

  • Know enough that they're able to

  • Care enough that they want to

  • Hurt enough that they have to

7 Enlarge their world... show them a bigger dream

8 Model personal commitment

9 Allow time for acceptance

When you leave them you no longer lead them

10% pioneers

70% settlers

20% antagonists - won't like anything

10 Create an atmosphere to cast the vision

11 Employ a variety of people to cast the vision in a trickle-down process

One person cannot connect with everybody

12 Demonstrate passion

Who we are is who we attract

People listen to us when they see...

a) our personal sacrifice or suffering

b) our identification with their needs

c) our integrity and trustworthiness

d) our experience and credibility

e) our vulnerability and transparency

f) our wisdom and insight

g) our humility and meekness

h) our abilities and expertise

i) our courage and convictions

How must we handle vision?

See it clearly

Show it creatively

Say it constantly

Monday, July 14, 2003


I have been told that I am a 'frustrated writer'. I tend to rant and rave on many issues via email... so rather than take it out on my friends I thought I might try elaborating on my thoughts and musings in a blogger context.

I am simply using this first blog to initialize the blog site but I will get more detailed soon. Thank you for visiting. I hope you find something here among my ramblings that is helpful... or at least relevant enough to make you think.