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Exciting Partnership – College Church Planting Movement

When we planted the Avenue a few years ago we lamented the fact that there were no church planting organizations committed to planting churches on college campuses.  We were frustrated by the fact that everyone agreed that we were losing a generation,  yet no one was willing to risk with us to attempt to pioneer new frontiers into college ministry.  In fact, when we presented our vision of starting missional communities on College campuses we were told by most of the large church planting organizations that our model was not financially sustainable and it was not feasible long term.

Well, they were wrong!  We have not only found economic engines to help us with financially sustainability but we are preparing to bring on a church planting resident to plant our 2nd campus.  What we have done is not only feasible but it is reproducible!  The average church plant in the US costs between $250,000 to $300,000.  I also know of many churches who are investing millions in mutli-site campuses.

We planted the Avenue for around 100,000 – Imagine if we took the millions invested in one multi site and we redirected it to start 10 college church plants?  Imagine if we could plant 3 college church plants at the cost of each church plant we are currently planting?  What we get very quickly is a movement!

We believe the secular college campus is one of the largest unreached people groups in our country.  We believe that we can re-imagine church planting on the college campus.  We believe that we can create a movement of multiplying disciples and churches on these campuses that change the face our faith in the next 20 years.  We believe that we don’t have to lose 70% of our young people when they go to college.  We believe students can actually use their years in college to prepare themselves to become kingdom workers.  We believe that God is raising up church planters who want to pioneer new efforts & that the apostolic call on their lives will lead them to the college campus.  We believe that the stakes are too high for us not to take risks and not to invest in the next generation.  We believe that we can actually bring the kingdom to life in a dark place.  We believe that we can actually restore what is broken and bring revival to the hearts of the next generation.  The return will not be mega churches, the return on that investment will be disciples, kingdom workers and a new generation of students graduating from secular colleges not just with degrees but with the ability to create disciples and be the church!

It won’t be easy but wow is it going to be fun!

So I’m excited to announce that in partnership with the New Thing Network, 3DM and TOM – We are launching a network of college church planters.  If you have already launched a church plant on a college campus or if you are dreaming about planting in the future we want to talk to you, we want to invite you into what God is doing and we want to dream together of how God can bring revival back to our college campuses.  Every revival in our countries history has 2 things in common, the first is prayer, the second is, it started with college students!

Here is what Mike Breen has to say about this today:  

Here is a link to the vision of the TOM Project our vision to plant churches on the 100 most influential college campuses in the US.

If you are interested email me at ben@avechurch.com

We are looking for 3 to 5 new planters to join us this month and we are looking for church planting residents who are committed to spend 2 years training on a college campus in order to plant in the future!

When Shame Became Cool Again

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Shame is something familiar to us all.  We don’t discuss it much, we don’t reflect on it enough and we don’t admit the depth of its grip on our souls but never the less shame is a struggle we all experience.  Its a pervasive state that contaminates all of our relationships, all of our experiences and all of our hopes for the future.  For many it has become a quiet prison that holds us captured in the past when God calls us to a brighter future, we are somehow stuck in a moment.

Shame comes from many sources, it can be from a moment in our life’s history where we disgraced ourselves and somehow acted less than human, those moments where we were far less than we know we should have been.  Shame comes from things done to us, the scars of sexual victimization, the pain of bullying, the hurt caused by the words of a father or a spouse.

CJ Jung called shame, “a soul eating emotion.”   It is a silent killer and it derives all of its power by the fact that for many it remains hidden inside.

We must remember two things when discussing shame in the church:

1) – Jesus came to the shamed – Jesus came to redeem and set things right in doing so he did not come to seek those who were healed but seek the lost and ashamed.  Before Christ our dignity and worth was wrapped up in the wrong system, we were covered in sin and we were far from God.  We needed a new start, so Christ came, and brought the good news that he would take our shame.  Our sin was covered by the blood of the lamb and  we could become new and be born again.

2) – Jesus took our shame – Jesus not only ate with prostitutes and sinners, he not only sought out those caught in the indignity of shame he actually took on our shame.  Jesus became the scapegoat for our sin, he took it upon himself freely so we might be redeemed.  Is 53

Dr Ed Welch says,

“Everything Scripture says about shame converges at Jesus. From his birth to his crucifixion, the shame of the world was distilled to its most concentrated form and washed over him. He was despised, insulted, naked, a friend of sinners, and abandoned by those who knew him best. The crucifixion was not the tragic end of an otherwise charmed life. It was the logical conclusion of the shame he voluntarily accumulated from the moment of his birth.”

So here’s the question I wrestle with……

How has shame based theology made a return to the public circle?

Why is it each year we find more young preachers, who in the name of returning to the gospel, preach a doctrine that is far from the gospel?  Why is a works based theology captivating the church and younger generation again?  Why are there more young hot shot preachers, who preach with great authority, but speak far more of sin than they do grace?

Why are so many young people turning to works based faith and finding themselves delighted to be repeatedly told of who they once were, instead of being constantly reminded of who they have become in Christ?

1) – Young People want a return to the gospel yet don’t have a true definition of the gospel

I find that many young people have a deep desire to return to the gospel but they have no reference for what the gospel is, so every church is “gospel centered” but no one really knows what that means.  “Gospel centered” has become as much of a buzz word as “missional” is.  Gospel however, is far too often incorrectly characterized by what we once were than being about who we are now.  Sin and death is a part of the gospel story but praise God it is not the end!  Calvin himself said, “The whole gospel is contained in Christ.”  The gospel is God’s rescue plan for the world through Jesus.

2) – Young People want faith to be serious

Most young people grew up in churches teaching 5 ways to have a better life.  Now that they have grown they have discovered that they want to take their faith seriously.  They want authority in their life and they want to be taught new big bible words like “eschatology.”  Nothing is more serious than shame and guilt.  Sorrow connects to seriousness while joy seems to connect with childishness.  So the joy of our true identity in Christ is often disputed by the pain of who we once were. Young people believe that when they are beating themselves up over their shame at least their faith is active.  Shame is about what we have done while grace is about what Christ has done. Its far easier for our younger generation, who have grown up in the epicenter of individualism, to focus on what they have done than what Christ has done for them.

3) – Young People want to approach God as king before they approach him as Father

We serve a fatherless generation and one that has neglected the regenerative power of God inside of us and has instead chosen to approach God as a task master or as a boss.  It is a generation that has been taught that love is earned.  They are accustomed to earning affection and the narrative of a father who loves unconditionally is harder to find a reference point in their database of experience.

4) – Shame is measurable – Grace is not

Quite simply grace is to big to measure and shame is great at keeping score!

Final Thoughts:

1) – Our churches will attract shamed people – When we speak the truth in love we will find shame just as Jesus found shame in the sinners and the tax collectors.  Even among the redeemed there will remain, patterns of shame and guilt that are deeply woven into people’s old identity as they discover their new identity in Christ.  The question is not will we find the shamed, the question is what will the shamed find in us?  Will they find another system of measuring and adding up that eventually exhausts and destroys or will they find in us Jesus?  Could we learn to love and lead in such a way that while encountering our grace, patience and steadfast love our people actually encounter Jesus in us.

2) – The Shamed are Called to the Shamed – I have heard it said, “the broken but mended have so much to offer the broken and lost.”  Paul teaches that we should boast only in Christ.  Only through Christ can the shamed now boast before the world that shamed them and only through Christ do our wounds become our victory.  Only in Jesus name can the people of God become a new creation and go sharing the story of their freedom from shame and their new identity in Christ.

Favorite Blog Posts of 2012

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Here are the most popular blog Posts of 2012:

Hope they are helpful:

DO Overs – If I could redo anything in ministry this year what would it be?

What happened to our young people series –

Part One – How we got here

Part Two – Unequipped Leaders

Part three – Prolonged Adolescence

Part four – Creating Consumers

10 Things I Often say to College Students 

Leading and Waiting 

Oikos for Introverts

Death by Church Leadership – pt 2 –

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A few weeks ago I suggested simply that our methods of developing young leaders in our churches are not working.

https://collegechurchplanter.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/death-by-church-leadership/

We are quick to blame our young leaders for not being ready for ministry.  We are quick to blame the seminaries for not preparing our young leaders but we never seem to point our fingers back at ourselves for creating cultures that develop leaders but not disciples of Jesus!

I say all this with a full knowledge that I have not only lived and worked in this system but I have failed many young leaders who I was entrusted to lead.  For that I am terribly sorry, but I am also working diligently to right these wrongs in our church and in our ministry.   At the beginning of Judges there is a terrifying passage that shakes me to my core each time I read it.  If you are a pastor, father or a Christian who cares about the kingdom it should matter to you as well.

Judges 2:7  The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.

Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.

No one can argue about Joshua’s generation – It would be foolish to suggest that they were not obedient, to suggest they were not faithful or even to suggest that they weren’t fruitful.  They did every thing right except one thing…….they failed to raise up the next generation.  I am terrified that our churches, our ministries may see great things done by the Lord but fail to teach our kids and the next generation how to walk as Jesus walked and live as Jesus lived!

The overall reason we are here is that we have created systems that develop leaders & not disciples.  We create mechanisms that allow young leaders to forfeit their spiritual gifts and deep calling and instead we tell them their place in the church is a greeter, a child care worker, a “volunteer.”  We have stopped inviting kingdom dreamers to seek Gods will for their life and too pursue the kingdom dreams God has given them and instead we call them into small dreams of how to, “grow our churches.”  The four areas I targeted were:

1) – The disparity between intellect and character

2) – Microwaved leadership

3) – Results over people

4) – Information without Experience

Here are three simple ways we can get better:

1) – Train for Character – I find it easy to correct competency issues, its easy for me to sit down with someone I am leading and say, “that’s not the best way to do this, why don’t you try this.”  It is much tougher to sit down with someone and say, “your not the person you need to be in order to lead as Jesus would lead.”  3DM has a great set of character ?’s that I use often, I will simply ask my huddle or the young leaders I am discipling, “which one of these questions do you not want me to ask you.”  I also have to participate in correcting character flaws when I see them.  I have tons of phone calls or coffees where I call out specific moments when young leaders make mistakes.  Do it in love, do it in grace and do it in truth.

3DM Character Questions

2) – Know Your young Leaders – Take them to a ball game, invite them to dinner, grab coffee!  Your tendency will be to be the answer guy, I encourage you to ask tons of questions.  You can never really live a life of invitation and challenge with someone out of positional leadership.  People may accept your challenge out of fear or out of respect but we want people to respond to challenge out of love.  There are a few young leaders who I love like I love my own sons!  I feel incredible pride for the men they have become and I have found in them friends that will last a lifetime.  What an incredible gift they have given me and I would have missed it if I had not been open to a relationship.  This means I have to open up my life for young leaders, I have to open up my home and I have to be available when they need me.  My greatest success in ministry is not the titles I have held or the sermons I have preached, or the churches I have started it is the young leaders I have produced.  So why do I spend so much time building the church and writing sermons instead of investing in young leaders?

3) – Apprentice Leadership – Our goal is to lead as Jesus lead and to “teach on the road.”  To invite young people into our lives and to teach them as we do life together.  We have adapted an apprentice leadership model that allows students, and church planters to spend one to four years with us preparing for ministry before we send them out.  Our core values and the things we hold most dear is that we want to Connect, Train, Reproduce and Send.  This is one of the ways we accomplish those goals.  A great method we have learned (from the New thing network) and one we saw in Jesus is to simply take your leaders through a four step process of leading.

  • I do you watch (You do the leading the teams you are leading watch & discuss)
  • I do you help (You still lead but you begin to give away small pieces to your team)
  • You do I help (You begin to give away large pieces of ministry but you still help make that happen)
  • You do I watch ( You set free your leaders when you are confident in their ability to reproduce)

Here is our handbook for our apprentice program!

Multiplicity Project Handbook

Evaluations can Kill or Give Life

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Jeromie Jones is the director of ministries at the Avenue.  Here are his brilliant thoughts on year end evaluation!

At the end of the year most people spend some time reflecting on the past twelve months. In the work place there is usually a formalized version of this called a year end review, evaluation, etc. Personally I love this process but I’ve often seen it abused as well. Then when you added in the dynamic of working for a church you get a whole other host of issues that can cause problems with the evaluation process. One of the core beliefs I have is that churches should be better at this than anybody else. We more than anyone are supposed to understand grace, truth, and love. Yet I know so many people who thought they were doing a great job until all of a sudden they were let go. They leave the church bitter, angry, and feeling like they were betrayed by the very people who talk about love and grace the most.  So today I want to look at what year end evaluations are supposed to do, what they should look like, and what they shouldn’t.  Because when done correctly evaluations should energize people for the upcoming year and remind everyone why what they do is so important.

Common Problems with Evaluations

Before we get to the good I want to talk about the bad because most people I talk to seem to be in places where evaluations are done poorly. Here are the most common problems with evaluations.

The Only Evaluation is the Year End Evaluation

Imagine that you are married and once a year you sit down with your spouse to talk about how your relationship is going. Both of you mention some things that need to improve and some strong areas to the relationship. You agree on a few things and the conversation ends. Then you wait twelve months to sit down again and see how things are going. That sounds stupid and it is. But so often we work with a team of people and the only time we really check on how things are going is at the end of the year or when something major goes wrong. I am not suggesting that every week you have to do a written evaluation, but frequent conversations are a must.  It baffles me how often someone in charge will be frustrated with the way things are going but wait for weeks or months until it is “formal review time” to bring it up. Then the employee feels blindsided because the past three months they thought they were doing a good job and all of a sudden they are told that they are failing.  Reviews have to occur more than once a year, even for people doing a great job. Keeping a ship on course means checking the map more than once a year. Keeping employees moving on course means checking in with them more than once a year.

Managers/Bosses who hide behind the Evaluation

This is a derivative of the first problem. There are a lot of people in charge who hate having tough conversations. And so they let something go and go until it is time for the year end review. Then during the review the write down all of the things they were afraid to say weeks ago.  They try to justify their decision to terminate employment or change a situation behind platitudes and empty words when in reality they were simply afraid of having a tough conversation. The problem with this is that in many cases if the tough conversation were had much earlier things could have probably turned out different. Then when you add in the fact that at a church, things much bigger than simply company profits are at stake, this becomes an even worse situation. Letting someone fail for weeks or months not only damages them, it damages the kingdom. People whose lives could be positively affected aren’t because of the lack of courage by a leader.

Evaluations that don’t evaluate the right things

This is one of the most frustrating.  Imagine a person who is knocking out of the park as a youth pastor. Students are coming to Christ, kids are serving one another, parent & child relationships are healing, and the ministry is flourishing. But then the evaluation spends all of the time asking about office hour usage, budget adherence, and personal growth in 25 different categories. Now all of those things are important, very important even. But an evaluation has to actually evaluate what you hired a person for. So often evaluations ask a million questions and none of them relate to the actual job a person is doing. The main reason for this is that people often use cookie cutter evaluations pulled from someplace else that don’t actually address the specifics of the job. Even in the same church the evaluation for a youth pastor and a group’s pastor should look completely different because they do completely different jobs. Answering the same set of non specific questions is easy to create but not helpful to evaluate.

Lack of Clarity about what a Church is doing & How they are Doing It

This one is so common that everyone has a story about it. Every church has a mission statement or set of core values or a vision statement. But what often happens is that no one has ever decided what that looks like in the context of that particular church. Here is a true story that has been slightly changed to protect the innocent. Church X has a statement about reaching the lost. An outreach pastor gets hired in April. He decides that to reach the lost he will train 20 leaders to start a series of neighborhood barbeques and have those leaders start intentionally mingling their believing friends with the non-Christian neighbors. Then the evaluation time comes around and the new outreach pastor is told he isn’t doing a good job. The outreach pastor asks why. He is told that the leadership wanted him to hold an evangelism class on Sunday mornings and to do a big outreach event every spring on the church campus to reach the lost. Based on those criteria the outreach pastor has a bad evaluation. Now here is the problem. Both the methods of the outreach pastor and the leadership focused on fulfilling the mission of reaching the lost. But no one ever clarified from the beginning what that would look like. So once again we run into issues. If you are going to evaluate something at the end of the year make it clear at the beginning of the year. If you think ministry should be done a certain way let people know that up front.

Asking for honest feedback but not wanting it

Every evaluation has some section about feedback from the employee. Many leaders really don’t want it. They say they do but then get hyper defensive when it is received. I am not referring here is someone who writes vulgar, rude, or sarcastic comments. Or a person who says in public what should be said in private. Obviously an employee doing that has larger issues.  I’m talking about when an employee honestly and respectfully points out something that needs to be addressed in a proper setting and then the leadership punishes them for it. When this happens it is only a matter of time before all the great employees start to leave and most of the momentum of the organization stops. Turnover starts to increase and the only people who stay are those who are simply happy to have a job. Leaders who like to evaluate everyone but themselves leave a wake of destruction in their path.

What a Year End Evaluation Process Should Look Like

The main purpose of an evaluation should be to make sure that everyone is aligned and in agreement on what should be happening and what they are pursuing. The conversation around an evaluation should be about gaining clarity for both parties not checking off boxes. Evaluations should be relatively simple process that answering two basic questions. “Are we doing the things we said we would do?” & “Are those things working?”  Almost everything in the evaluation process should connect directly to those questions. A very good evaluation can simply be a one page sheet that says at the top, “What did you do in the past year to advance the mission of values of our organization?” “What will you do next year to advance the mission and values of our organization?” Once the leader and the employee agree on a set of goals, spend the next year measuring progress and course correcting as necessary. This way there are no surprises and feelings of being blindsided.

I’m sure someone is thinking right now, “But what about….” Yes you are correct this leaves a lot of things out. That is on purpose. See evaluations are not supposed to try and cover every scenario. Most things on an evaluation are put there because someone doesn’t want to have a tough conversation so they put it instead on the evaluation.  Frequent conversations trump a lengthy evaluation every single time.

Healthy Ways to Evaluate

  • Evaluate Often Don’t let large amounts of time pass between evaluations
  • Focus on the Mission Make sure that the conversations are about making forward progress. Evaluations that measure anything other than that
  • Focus on the Person Remember that an evaluation is supposed to help a person develop not beat them up. You want your people to succeed and do well. Evaluations that leave people feeling dejected and defeated aren’t helpful to them or to the organization. As church leaders we have to model caring for employees as people not just workers to the rest of the world.
  • Be Clear in What is Expected If you are going to hold them accountable for it, they need to know it.
  • Build Momentum Employees should walk out of evaluations excited and ready to go for another season of ministry. Use an evaluation to reinforce the mission and discuss the values that drive what you do. Most people working for a church could probably make more money doing something else. They chose this for a reason other than income. So harness that during an evaluation and use it to generate new ideas and plans for the next ministry season.
  • Celebrate the Victories If you are a very driven person your tendency might be to simply move on to the next thing. But let people know when they are doing a great job and celebrate. Jesus used the image of feasts and parties often when describing the kingdom. I don’t think that was accidental. Celebrate with your team and enjoy what God is doing.

Buechner on Christmas 2 – Emmanuel

Fredrick Buechner, has always been one of my favorite writers.  I find that there are pastors who are writers, and then there are a small few writers, who are pastors!  Buechner is a brilliant writer who happens to be a pastor.  If you are looking for inspired writing in the midst of the Christmas season his works are a great place to start!

Here is a simple story that has helped frame my message for this Sunday:

He says, “The birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it”

Here is what he has to say about Emmanuel!

The claim that Christianity makes for Christmas is that at a particular time and place “the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity” came to be with us himself. When Quirinius was governor of Syria, in a town called Bethlehem, a child was born who, beyond the power of anyone to account for, was the high and lofty One made low and helpless. The One whom none can look upon and live is delivered in a stable under the soft, indifferent gaze of cattle. The Father of all mercies puts himself at our mercy. Year after year the ancient tale of what happened is told raw, preposterous, holy and year after year the world in some measure stops to listen.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. A dream as old as time. If it is true, it is the chief of all truths. If it is not true, it is of all truths the one that people would most have be true if they could make it so.

Maybe it is that longing to have it be true that is at the bottom even of the whole vast Christmas industry the tons of cards and presents and fancy food, the plastic figures kneeling on the floodlit lawns of poorly attended churches. The world speaks of holy things in the only language it knows, which is a worldly language.

Emmanuel. We all must decide for ourselves whether it is true. Certainly the grounds on which to dismiss it are not hard to find. Christmas is commercialism. It is a pain in the neck. It is sentimentality.

It is wishful thinking. The shepherds. The star. The three wise men. Make believe.

Yet it is never as easy to get rid of as all this makes it sound. To dismiss Christmas is for most of us to dismiss part of ourselves. It is to dismiss one of the most fragile yet enduring visions of our own childhood and of the child that continues to exist in all of us. The sense of mystery and wonderment. The sense that on this one day each year two plus two adds up not to four but to a million.

What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us.

Emmanuel. Emmanuel.

– Fredrick Buechner

Christmas by Buechner

Fredrick Buechner, has always been one of my favorite writers.  I find that there are pastors who are writers, and then there are a small few writers, who are pastors!  Buechner is a brilliant writer who happens to be a pastor.  If you are looking for inspired writing in the midst of the Christmas season his works are a great place to start!

Here is a simple story that has helped frame my message for this Sunday:

He says, “The birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it” 

Here is the text:

“Christmas:
The lovely old carols played and replayed till their effect is like a dentist’s drill or a jack hammer, the bathetic banalities of the pulpit and the chilling commercialism of almost everything else, people spending money they can’t afford on presents you neither need nor want, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the plastic tree, the cornball creche, the Hallmark Virgin. Yet for all our efforts, we’ve never quite managed to ruin it. That in itself is part of the miracle, a part you can see. Most of the miracle you can’t see, or don’t.

The young clergyman and his wife do all the things you do on Christmas Eve. They string the lights and hang the ornaments. They supervise the hanging of the stockings. They tuck in the children. They lug the presents down out of hiding and pile them under the tree. Just as they’re about to fall exhausted into bed, the husband remembers his neighbor’s sheep. The man asked him to feed them for him while he was away, and in the press of other matters that night he forgot all about them. So down the hill he goes through knee-deep snow. He gets two bales of hay from the barn and carries them out to the shed. There’s a forty-watt bulb hanging by its cord from the low roof, and he lights it. The sheep huddle in a corner watching as he snaps the baling twine, shakes the squares of hay apart and starts scattering it. Then they come bumbling and shoving to get at it with their foolish, mild faces, the puffs of their breath showing in the air. He is reaching to turn off the bulb and leave when suddenly he realizes where he is. The winter darkness. The glimmer of light. The smell of the hay and the sound of the animals eating. Where he is, of course, is the manger.

He only just saw it. He whose business it is above everything else to have an eye for such things is all but blind in that eye. He who on his best days believes that everything that is most precious anywhere comes from that manger might easily have gone home to bed never knowing that he had himself just been in the manger. The world is the manger. It is only by grace that he happens to see this other part of the miracle.

Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed – as a matter of cold, hard fact – all it’s cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.

The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space, time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God… who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”

Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.”

— Frederick Buechner

Death by Church Leadership

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I was 26 years old and I had been given far more than I ever should have been given.  I had a corner office, a team of around 10 people, I was leading, a huge group of volunteer leaders, a large students ministry, a huge budget and ridiculous amounts of freedom with very little measures of accountability.  I had some success teaching, and I was really good on stage.  I was really bad behind closed doors, I was not a good leader, I was not very disciplined in my work ethic, my home was a mess and I had no idea how to disciple and lead the leaders around me.  But each year I was given more opportunity, more responsibility, more resources to manage and more freedom to lead.  Looking back it is only by the grace of God that I survived and that the ministry I lead survived.  I was a leader who had low character and high competency.

This is a story I hear and see far too often, every time we see a young leader with some measure of competency we hand them the keys to the kingdom before they are ready.  We lament over the lack of development of our young leaders and the failure of seminaries & bible colleges to train up the next generation of pastoral leaders.  We rarely however,  look at our own teams and ask ourselves the tough questions about how we are training, discipling & raising up the next generation of young leaders.

Here’s how we got here:

1) – The Disparity Between Intellect & Character

In 1986, the president of Harvard University, Derek Bok saw the writing on the wall.  In his yearly “presidents report” he challenged all learning institutions to reconsider whether they are raising leaders who can give the right answers or detect ethical problems & make the world a better place.  He tells the story of a student who received the highest marks in his applied ethics class, who also was the student he found in dean’s office repeatedly for breaking nearly every moral code on the campus.  He says, the task of teaching students the value of character over competency seems “daunting.”  This was written over 25 years ago i don’t believe things have improved.

I spoke to a pastor recently who, when speaking of his worship leader said, “he’s young, he’s really gifted, people love him, the problem is I can’t trust him to be who he says he is.”  I asked what steps he was taking and it was as if he felt handcuffed & unable to act.  He said, “as long as he does a great job on Sunday’s I can overlook all of his character issues.”  REALLY!

This is where we are as a church?  When did the ability to preach or the ability to lead worship become so important that it has become more significant than who we are?

Here is the reality, bible colleges, seminaries, and churches nearly always reward competency & overlook character.  Until this changes we will develop leaders & not disciples.  We will look great on the outside & terrible on the inside & we will create great spiritual goods & services for our people to consume without ever seeing them change!  Leaders must go first, but leaders can only lead their people to places they have been to themselves.  When we excuse character flaws we are certain to repeat the cycle of developing business leaders to lead organizations & not Godly men to lead people.

2. We have Microwaved Leadership

When I was a student minister I visited a monstrosity of a church, their student ministry had over 2000 students attending, they had the most amazing student building I had ever seen, the band was amazing, the speaker engaging.  After watching a night of incredible worship service I asked the leader of the ministry how they discipled their students.  He proudly said, “discipleship is so hard, we tried to find the easiest way to do it.”  So what they did was video 6 of their “talks” & when students “wanted” to be discipled they sent them home with the DVD’s.  He said in 6 weeks they are discipled.

I wish this was a joke but it’s not, I think the modern American church is looking for the easiest way to the most difficult thing – discipleship!  We have become so accustomed to listening to the gifted teacher that we have abandoned the power of everyday discipleship.  We don’t want to do the hard work of discipleship with our people & our staff teams.

3. Valuing Results over People

When our 2nd son was born our family was in a terrible place.  My wife was suffering from an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, I was working ridiculous hours and although we had been at the church for years we had never developed any deep and meaningful relationships.  Its was the loneliest season of ministry I had ever experienced, my family was a mess and I didn’t know how to fix them, I knew I was over my head with my ministry responsibilities, I had no one in my corner rooting for me, coaching me or challenging me but the wheels of the machine kept on turning.  There was always another message to write, another leader to meet with, another problem to solve, another hill to conquer.

Finally, the bottom fell out & my wife simply told me I needed to be home.  I had to choose between family & ministry & I chose family.    I missed an important event that I was required to speak at and although I called my bosses & explained my situation I was told to get some counseling which they paid for.  I was told repeatedly, that they expected my performance at work to not be effected by my troubles at home.  I was told to compartmentalize my life with work on one side and family on the other.  I never heard another word about it.  No calls checking in, no lunches to talk it through, no prayer times or stopping by the house.  In fact in the entire span of my ministry I had one meal with my boss & never once entered into his home.

Here’s the problem, they weren’t bad people, they weren’t even bad leaders, they were just busy people, they wanted results but they were so wrapped up in attaining results in their own area that they failed to realize that God brings results. We just walk in his ways and follow His path.  They didn’t understand that leadership can’t be microwaved into a monthly staff training or a yearly retreat.  It can’t be microwaved at all, if you want to raise up leaders, then you have to know them!  You have to take the time to hear their hearts to know their families, to care about them beyond results & to challenge not only their competency but their character.  You have to value your young leaders as your family not as an employee who you need results from.

3) Information without Experience

I spent a few days recently on some Christian college campuses.  I asked one simple question, “as you leave school do you feel like you know how to do ministry or do you feel like you have information about doing ministry?”  95% of the students said they have information about it but don’t feel prepared.  Our teaching is so information based that students have knowledge without experience.  We teach a leadership template but we don’t teach, prayer.  We teach ministry answers but we don’t teach how to follow the Spirit.  We teach leaders to give answers but not how to ask questions.  We teach them how to preach and organize a service but never train them how to have a healthy family at home.  We must move to a more experiential learning experience for the next generation.

So what else do you see in church leadership that is killing the next generation of leaders?

I hate it when bloggers just define the problem without offering solutions so next week I will offer some solutions to this problem.

What are some of the solutions you see to these problems we face?

This Means War

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This is a great guest blog from Doug Foltz – Doug’s blog can be found here.

Depending on your denominational flavor you may or may not have a good understanding of spiritual attack.  In our culture it’s not exactly something you talk about freely if you want to be thought of as sane.  Spiritual attack conjures up images of horror movies and psych wards.  A quick Google search revealed that while 70% of Americans believe Satan exists only 60% of Christians do.  Hopefully those studies are wrong.  My experience has been that many who believe in Satan haven’t felt spiritual attack and minimize the work of Satan.  Regardless your theological perspective, I often tell church planters that the one universal of church planting is that you will be under spiritual attack.  This is why one of the first milestones I have church planters work on is developing a prayer team.  Spiritual attack is real and if you are planting a church, you are a target.

Here are a few quick ways I’ve seen this manifest:

  1. Depression.  I’ve seen the strongest must upbeat church planters go through spells of depression.  It is usually marked by self-doubt, fear, and obstacles to planting the church.  While most climb out of the depression, I have seen it paralyze people as well.
  2. Family.  When Satan can’t get after you, he will go after family.  One planters parents divorced shortly after he moved to start the church.  Another’s mom died.  Another had marital troubles shortly after declaring he would plant.  Others have had sick family members, unsupportive family members, etc.
  3. Divisiveness in the Body.  Satan loves a church that is not united.  Maybe this is why Jesus prayed so fervently for it in John 17.  I’ve seen sponsoring churches withdraw support over small issues, staff members quit just before launch, affairs between staff families, embezzlement, arguments over “territory.”  It’s sad to me when the church does the work of Satan for him.
  4. Temptation.  I’ve talked with planters who have confessed having temptations they never had before.  This is a confusing and scary experience.

There’s no doubt about it.  Planting a church is hard.  You will face spiritual attack.  Here are some practical ways to combat it.

  1. Spend time in the Word.  Scripture is an amazing weapon against spiritual attack.  Don’t get so busy that you forget to meditate on God’s Word.
  2. Talk about it.  Don’t hide what you are going through.  Find a group of people to talk with about your experiences.
  3. Prepare for it.  You know spiritual attack is coming so get prepared.  Take seriously the task of building a prayer team.  Don’t build the team as a way to conveniently ask for money.  Get them praying.  Have a smaller group of people that you can call in the dark times to pray for you.
  4. Be accountable.  Live your life as an open book and give people access to you.  This is the best way to be accountable.  I’d also say listen to your spouse.  Ask them to be open and honest with you.  They will often notice before you when things are awry.

There are many great Scriptures about the victory we have in Jesus and the struggle we face as Christians.  Here’s one that I read on Sunday and had the opportunity to share with a planter facing spiritual attack on Monday.

“Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself.  For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.  We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.”  Philippians 1:28-30 NLT

Though it is counter-intuitive it is a privilege to suffer for Christ.  Remember that you do not struggle alone and that we know that Jesus Christ has already won the war.  The power of the Holy Spirit that rose Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit that lives in you.

Doug Foltz, helps church planters clarify and implement their vision.  He stands alongside church planters leveraging my 15+ years of church planting experience with over 40 new churches to chart out a path toward realizing the God sized dream of making disciples through church planting.  Church planting is scary, intimidating and the thrilling ride of a lifetime.  I see myself as an experienced traveler willing to go on the ride with brave church planters.  My contribution is maximized through the intersection of my experience and my passion to see healthy new churches started.  I am a church planting junkie.  I live and breathe it and don’t plan to ever do anything else but be involved in church planting.

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