Category Archives: Church

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

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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.

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?

People Can’t Imitate Your Intentions

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This is a guest blog from my friend Ben Sternke – His blog is my favorite on the the entire world wide web!

One of the most important lessons we’ve learned through being involved with 3DM is that imitation is a vital component of discipleship. It’s not enough to give people the right information and then send them straight out from there to try to implement it. There is a necessary experience of imitation in an apprenticeship environment that must take place.

When I first heard this, I instantly realized I was really good at giving people the information, but I was not very consistent in providing people with an example to imitate. I realized that people couldn’t imitate my intentions, they can only imitate my actions, which meant I had to lead by example or I was never going to make a disciple.

So we’ve slowly been developing new rhythms in our life that we can invite others into, so they can “imitate us as we imitate Christ.” My friend Jason Smith asked me awhile ago about what these rhythms looked like, and I promised him a blog post on it! Here we go.

The rule of life we follow shapes our lives and our community around three relational priorities:

  • UP – with God, expressed in passionate spirituality.
  • IN – with the church, expressed in radical community.
  • OUT – with others, expressed in missional zeal.

I’ve organized the specific rhythms under these three categories. These rhythms are flexible, and obviously some have changed temporarily to aid the process of grafting together with another church in our city, but this gives you a general picture of what we’ve been doing for the past year or so in our Missional Community.

Passionate Spirituality (UP)

  • Family prayer, morning and evening. Not too many people join us for this one, of course, but simply having a time of prayer with our family twice a day provides tons of fresh stories to tell others about how Deb and I are seeking to disciple our children. And sometimes people do get to join us, which is always lots of fun. Sometimes it goes well, other times it’s a struggle, but the fruit comes from the consistency of the discipline over time.

  • Community worship and prayer, Sundays. Every Sunday we gather with our Missional Community for a time of worship, Scripture and prayer together. Sometimes we gather in a worship celebration with other MCs in our network, other times we gather as a MC in a home or around a fire, but once a week we are intentionally engaging in communal worship, Scripture reading, and prayer for one another.

  • Prayer furnace, once a month. Once a month we gather on a Friday evening to spend an extended time in worship and prayer together, allowing our faith to rise from the needs within our MC to the needs of our city. We pray kingdom-oriented prayer for our city and region, inviting anyone in who wants to join us. Sometimes we have 5 people, other times 50, but again it’s about the consistency of the discipline over time.

Radical Community (IN)

  • Eating with others, at least once a week. We try to have someone over to eat with us at least once a week. Some weeks we eat with others a lot more, but we try to make sure it happens at least once a week.

  • Intentional proximity. This is more of a long-term thing, but it is something we take seriously. One of the families from our community recently moved into our neighborhood, and we’ve found an exponential increase in our ability to really be in community with them, simply because of their geographical proximity. It’s worth prioritizing when thinking of where to live.

  • Economic sharing when possible. We had some friends move in down the street from us, and we’ve been trying to be intentional about sharing resources together. For example, we share a lawn mower. We are looking forward to more of this kind of sharing in the future.

  • Parties, once a month or so. We try to make sure there is some kind of “fun” happening once a month that we can invite others into. Sometimes it’s a bonfire, sometimes it’s movie night, sometimes it’s guys’ night out, sometimes it’s girls’ night out, etc. Informal time for people to connect.

Missional Zeal (OUT)

  • Intentional mission, once a month. Our MC plans at least one explicitly mission-oriented activity per month. Sometimes it’s a prayer walk, other times it’s a game night at a homeless shelter for women and children, other times it’s kickball in the park to invite neighbors to… the important thing is keeping a foot on the “mission gas pedal” because our overwhelming tendency is to turn inward.

  • OUT focus at MC gatherings. We try to constantly bring our focus back to an outward posture in our MC gatherings, whether it’s by training people practically in evangelism or recognizing “people of peace,” or by going for a quick prayer walk around the neighborhood, or by simply having a brief time of explicitly outward-focused prayer, or by having people share stories of breakthrough in evangelism or loving their neighbors.

Those are the basic rhythms it seems we’ve attempted to create. I’d love to hear from you, though:

What are the rhythms that you have sought to implement in your disciple making?

Ben + Deb Sternke live in Fort Wayne, Indiana with their kids Ethan, Raina, Ella, and Sydney. The Sternkes direct spiritual formation and discipleship efforts at a church called Grace Gathering, which is beginning to function as a network of mid-sized missional communities in the Fort Wayne area. They also coach church leaders from all over the U.S. through 3DM, and have a background in church planting and worship ministry.

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The TOM Project

For the last few months Sarah and myself and a group of friends have been dreaming about what it would look like to plant 100 churches on the 100 most influential college campuses in the US.  Well its happening, I’m so excited to be a part of this team & thrilled about the possibilities this holds for the kingdom!
This quote may explain best what I we have been thinking!

The main reason Christian believers today lack influence in the culture, despite their aspirations, is not because they don’t believe enough or try hard enough or think Christianly enough. It’s because they’ve been absent from the arenas in which the greatest influence in the culture is exerted. ~ James Davidson Hunter, To Change the World

So please check out this announcement from Mike Breen & the website for the TOM project we are thrilled to see God creating a movement of multiplying disciples and churches on the college campus!

If you are as excited about this vision as we are then there are 3 ways you can get involved:

1) – Training – If you have already planted or are working in an existing campus ministry and are looking for training then join us. We will discuss how to build a discipling culture, how to create a movement of  missional communities, and how to create sustainable economic engines to sustain ministry.   I don’t believe there is another training out there that is as effective and intentional for college pastors as these learning communities.  You can sign up here.

1st Learning community begins Feb 17-22 2013

2) – Future College Church Planters –  If you are preparing to plant or God is stirring your heart towards planting then why not plant on a college campus.  Move to one of our missional training centers, spend 2 years being trained in principles and practice.  Then we will send you out to one of the 100 most influential campuses in the US.  For more info on this training read here.  Contact me ben@avechurch.com if you are interested

3) – New Thing Partnership – In order to pioneer new and exciting initiatives we believe we need to grab a group of pioneering leaders to join us as we seek to make this dream reality.  We are grabbing 6 to 8 church planters and giving them the best of both worlds.  They will receive all the training from TOM and they will also receive the brotherhood and coaching  throughout the year with the New thing Network. 

For us being a part of these 2 networks has allowed us to receive training and brotherhood in a way that has been amazingly beneficial.  If you are interested in joining this pioneering network through new thing contact me @ ben@avechurch.com

“The Look”

Psalms 32 :8

I will instruct  you and teach you  in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on  you.

This week during one of our morning prayers we simply reflected on Psalms 32 and in particular verse 8.  We had a group of college students & a few of the students made very similar comments.  All of them were something like, “there are moments when I feel so stuck in my faith, because I’m having such a hard time determining God’s will for my life.”  They all felt as if so much of their life was found waiting on God to speak that they never actually moved.  We start our apprentice program with the very simple idea that the foundation of discipleship is learning to hear God’s voice & respond.

 
The culture that many of the students come from is a culture where there are pastors, small group leaders, parents, mentors who are the “answer guys.”  So each time they struggle with what’s next, what job to take, what to major in, what classes to take, or what to eat for breakfast on a Thursday.  They grab their answer guy & listen & then they go.  Some can’t find a local “answer guy”  so they find a celebrity pastor, an author or someone they can podcast.  What we create here is a culture of co-dependency!

The spiritual leader loves to be the “answer guy” but the young person never learns to actually seek & pursue God, they simply live out someone else’s faith.  So, we have a generation that often times seeks wise counsel without ever seeking God!

Breaking this co-dependency is not easy but it’s where we start with our students!

So back to our morning prayers, I told the story of how I can simply give my daughter a look & she cries.  This may sound terrible but I am kind of proud of it.  I can simply mean mug her for a minute & she will automatically start crying, and telling me she is sorry.  This doesn’t work with my older boys, my wife or the other pastors on staff at the ave.   Although I think I’m close with Jeromie Jones & a few of our elders!  The idea is that with a simple glance my daughter knows she has wandered, she knows she has drifted outside of my comfort zone for her life & she knows something needs to change.  Every husband knows this look from his wife, every employee knows this look from their boss, every wide receiver knows this look from his QB.  Every Christian should know this look from God!

We need to train our young people to simply, intuitively walk by faith.  Not because they have spent hours with mentors discussing Gods will, not because they have spent months waiting on Gods will but simply because, the sheep know the shepherds voice.

Jesus tells a parable of an unprofitable servant in Lk 17:7-10:

7 And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? 8 But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ ”

Doing college ministry for the last decade I have learned that one of the greatest dangers we face is a generation of young people who “do their duty” but don’t know their master.  Instead of knowing Christ because of grace they believe they follow him out of their own merit.  They don’t party, drink & sleep around and they believe that this sums up their salvation & their faith.  However, the master wants more from us than simply doing what we were commanded to do.  He wants us to know him!

Do you really believe that God wants to instruct you & guide you today?  Do you know that his eye is on you?  Do you know the look?  The simple glance of God that makes us re-evaluate where we are going, what we are doing, and who we are becoming.

Our homework for our students this week is to come back & report on a moment when God gave us “the look”.  Would you consider doing the same?

This isn’t everything you are

I recently purchased the new snow patrol album –

I quickly fell in love with the song – This Isn’t Everything You Are – Now, I am 99.9% certain that Snow Patrol was not writing this song thinking of pastors and their struggles with identity. I am still absolutely amazed at how God speaks through this!

Here’s a link to the song –

What strikes me about the song though is the chorus –

Here’s the lyrics –

And in one little moment
It all implodes
This isn’t everything you are
Breathe deeply in the silence
No sudden moves
This isn’t everything you are
Just take the hand that’s offered
And hold on tight
This isn’t everything you are

There’s joy not far from here, right
I know there is
This isn’t everything you are

Crazy as it sounds I think this message could be a message straight to many pastors hearts today!

& In one moment it all implodes – We all know what that feels like, we know the pain in the valley but we also know that our identity is not found in our ministry, in our title, in how many pats on the back we receive or how many speaking engagements we get each year.  Our identity is found in our son-ship with our King.  Yet there is always a temptation to make our job “everything we are!”

This isn’t everything you are – The crises you are walking through does not define you.  Your past struggles do not define you.  Your attendance last week, your offering last week does not define you.  This isn’t everything you are!

Breathe deeply in the silence
No sudden moves
This isn’t everything you are – I am learning that during struggles my tendency is to do two things.  The first is to plan and the second is to hurry.  I want to make a plan quickly, I am competent leader with years of experience I believe I can fix this on my own.  So I sit down I make a plan and I get after it!  Often times sadly, I don’t even slow down enough to ask God where I should go.  The second thing I do, is hurry to get out of the valley I am walking in.  Instead of discovering what God has for me in the valley, I want to quickly get out the grappling hook and I want to claw and fight my way out by my own strength.   A friend recently very prophetically told me, “Ben I think what you believe will kill you, will actually bring you life.”  There is good in the valley we just need to walk with our father to discover it.  When everything implodes, when things are tough, when our tendency is sudden moves, what if we breathed deep in the silence  and waited on God to speak, to work and to move in our lives?  What if our identity was so wrapped up in Him that he simply did not move until he said, Go.

Just take the hand that’s offered
And hold on tight
This isn’t everything you are – The Psalms are full of David crying out for Gods hand in the midst of struggle.  They are filled with requests for God to be his strength.   I think there are so many times when God won’t be strong in me, until I make myself weak.  “His power is perfected in our weakness!” Unfortunately, weakness is not a class we take at bible college, we are taught to be competent leaders not mold-able disciples.  Sometimes the valley is all about faith, just take the Lords hand, say, “I trust you dad” and hold on tight and allow him to take you where you need to go.

There’s joy not far from here, right
I know there is
This isn’t everything you are – As we hold on tight we realize God is shaping us, he changing our hearts, our character and our identity.  Then we begin to discover joy in the valley, the joy of knowing that our identity is not wrapped up in statistics or struggles, but it is found in our Father.  Sometimes I think I pastor to be successful instead of simply because I want to walk with, love and follow my father!  If you are walking through struggles, if you are deep in the valley and can’t see the light, what if the thing you fear, the thing you think might kill you ….. what if that is what will actually give you life?

What about you?  Where are you tempted to take shortcuts in the valley?  Where are you tempted to believe this is everything you are?

Study Less – Do More


My background is a teacher. I was trained as a teacher and loved teaching. So the following statement needs to be understood as someone who is all for education and knowledge.

Here is the statement: Christians, as a whole, need to study less.

Like I said I’m a teacher so let me explain.

When I was in college there was a big push to train teachers to not simply cover material but to make sure the students were mastering the material. An example of this was not only knowing how to spell a word but making sure a student knew what the word meant and how to use it correctly when speaking or writing. Until the student could use the word naturally, they hadn’t mastered the word. Spelling it correctly was simply a small piece of a bigger task.

In the same way, many Christians can take studying the Bible and do the same thing. They can recite some of the facts about a topic such as loving their neighbor, but they haven’t actually gained mastery of it.

They haven’t put it into practice.

They don’t know what it looks like when they see it. They’re not sure how it applies in their lives.  But they do know a verse or two.

Many of us stop well short of mastery. Why? Because it is hard. It is easier to pass a spelling test then to use new words correctly in everyday conversation. It is harder to love a neighbor that is annoying or simply different than it is to recite a memory verse.

But here is the thing I keep coming back to. Jesus asked us to follow him, not to study him. Do we need to do a little studying? Sure but that is only a small part of a bigger change that needs to happen.

This makes sense when you think about for a second. Who do you want to spend time with, someone  who knows a lot about the facts and theory of forgiveness or someone who actually forgives? Someone who knows a lot about the verses on kindness or someone who is actually kind?

So back to the original statement. Christians, as a whole, need to study less.

What if over this summer you decided to simply let God transform you with what you already know?

Most of us already know more than we ever put into use already.
If you’re wondering how to get started with this, and you are in the Louisville area, let me suggest our Mobilize Monday’s this summer. We’re not going to look at new and undiscovered ideas. Instead we’re going to look at how we can live out in our everyday lives so many of the things we already know but don’t really do.

For details about Mobilize Monday’s go here http://avechurch.com/mobilize-monday/ Our hope is that by the end of the summer we not only study Jesus but we’re following him more as well.

The following is a guest blog from –  Jeromie Jones – Pastor of Missional Communities at the Avenue Church

What I look for in Young Leaders

We are about to roll out the information for our residency program at the Avenue for 2012.  I am very excited about the opportunity for us to invest in a large group of young leaders.  (More coming on all of this)  One of the avenue’s goals is to invest in 20 to 30 young leaders each year and to simply say follow us as we follow Christ.  Our goal is to get them prepared for ministry in many different contexts whether they are a kingdom worker disguised as an engineer or a student minister at a local church.

Here is what I look for in young leaders:

  1. Humility / Teach-ability – Does he/she respond well to coaching?  Does he/she have a humble spirit that desires to grow?  Can he/she take constructive criticism and grow?  Does he or she want to be discipled?  If the answers to any of those questions are a resounding “NO” then they may not be ready for leadership.
  2. Character -In Mike Breen’s new book Multiplying missional leaders – There is a few brilliant chapters on Character & Competency.  He defines Character as being like Jesus.  Does the young leader desire to look like Jesus, live like Jesus and act like Jesus?  The Rich Young Ruler was interested in the answers but unwilling to change his  life in order to look more like Jesus.  I see the same problem in many young people.  They know the right answers but have no desire to do the hard work required to live like Jesus.
  3. Competency -Character & competency always go side by side.  While character is being like Jesus on the interior, competency is doing the things Jesus did.  A leader who is low character /high competency is dangerous while a leader who has high character but low competency is limited.  We are looking for leaders who have & desire the character of Christ but also have the desire to live and act as Jesus did.

This diagram from 3DM has helped shape my thinking of Character & Competency:

  1. Enthusiasm –  I want energy from young leaders.  I want excitement, I want questions, I want hope, I want enthusiasm.  Our young leaders should make us young, they should make us rethink the old ways of doing things, but they should do so not in a cynical or condescending tone but with enthusiasm.  Angry leaders make wars, inspired leaders make change!  I see far too many angry young leaders who believe they have solved the worlds problems at 23 instead of excited young leaders who want to really see the church change.
  2. Problem Solvers –  I was taught at a young age that there are 2 types of leaders.  One who can define the problem & one who can solve it.  Most young leaders excel at defining the problem.  They can sense what is wrong & have no trouble voicing their dis-approval.  Real leaders don’t only define the problem but they solve it.  I don’t need young leaders constantly telling me whats not right I need them coming up solutions to get to where it is right.  My boss when I was 25 asked me to never criticize an idea unless I had a better one, to never define a problem unless I had at least one idea on how to solve it.  That advice has served me well!
  3. Family Focused –  I want young leaders who are not looking out for # 1.  I want young leader who want to be a part of a family on mission together.  I want them to understand that in a family everyone has a role & I want young leaders to buy into their role the family.  Its not enough just to be humble and serve, you also need to let your church family know how much you love them.  Say thanks, young leaders, if someone is investing in you, make certain that you let them know how much you appreciate it.  I can always tell which interns are going to succeed by the way they leave.  If they leave saying thanks, I know they will do well.  If they leave feeling under appreciated, or under utilized, I am certain their character still needs some growth!
  4. Love the Church – There is an increasing frustration for God’s church in young leaders.  I am looking for young leaders who love God’s church and believe that the church although it is flawed is still how God will reveal His, “manifest wisdom” to the world.  I know the next generation feels let down by almost everyone.  Parents, politicians, the economy, the job market and even the church.  The best young leaders I have ever worked with loved Jesus with all their heart & because they  loved Jesus they loved His church with all their heart as well.  You can’t love Christ & hate his bride, it just doesn’t work that way!

Did I miss anything?

What would you add?

What do you look for in young leaders?