Archive for June, 2017

What’s on my reading list this summer?

June 28, 2017

On the fun side, last week I picked up one of John Grisham’s newest novels. I used to read everything he wrote. It was great for summer mental escapes and his command of prose for everyday readers is excellent. Since I am on sabbatical, I asked some people in my field to recommend some good reads on the subject of my sabbatical focus: fresh expressions of Christian faith communities.

I have read three of their suggestions so far. I find that having this set aside time has enabled me to consume books and imagine new possibilities. First, I read DISRUPTION by Mark Deymaz. This author states that the role of spiritual leaders is to disrupt the status quo within the lens of Disruption-MarkDeYmaz-Coverthe Gospel of Jesus. He insists that authentic Christian communities will always represent the diversity of their community – economics, social, generations, race and culture. He reminds us that people under 50 expect the church to be like this and if we are not, they dismiss us as exclusive, not relevant or inhospitable.

Deymaz identifies 5 factors that can lead to an organization thriving in our changing world or bring about its demise. First is bureaucracy. It is essential for any growing organization yet must always be adapting and evolving with the times. This speaks to schools, companies, government and churches. Existing policies only serve the now – these must adapt constantly for what is next. Innovators languish and leave wherever control is centralized andnot shared.

Many in the mainline churches think our biggest challenge is the issues around sexuality and the changing moral standards of our culture. I assert that these are systematic of a system that is not responsive and evolving. Our leaders do not lead – they maintain station and wait. This is deadly. The structure of mainline churches doesn’t fit the reality we are now in. Appointments do not meet local needs. Local leaders feel left out of the process of choosing spiritual leaders where they worship and raise their children in the faith.

Boards of Ministry do not look long-term at our needs for ethnic pastors and persons with specific callings and talents. We should go out and recruit the leaders we need for the future. Instead, the UMC opens the door to whomever is interested and then interviews them based on a system of selection that is not getting the desired results in Kingdom creativity, faithfulness and response.

Second, Deymaz tells us that arrogance gets in the way of healthy disruption in systems. Insecure leaders see it as a threat to their earned privilege. Many times this is a dependence on intellectualism or degrees and titles. My office is seeing that local pastors and bi-vocational leaders are usually the most effective in developing new faith communities in unusual places and ways. Yet they can be rated as unqualified and left out of the structures and voting procedures. The fact is the Methodist Church started declining in the 1850’s – the same time it started insisting that all pastors be seminary trained, become elders, wear academic robes and earn titles. These are resources, yet they are not guarantees for effectiveness in the field.

Next Deymaz writes about “tired executive blood.” I can identify as a59-year-old leader with 34 years of tenure. It takes a lot of energy and drive to stay current and relevant in our culture. In any system controlled by managers you will see a declining vision and output. Often age will trump vision in leadership and then stagnation sets in no matter how much energy the managers exert.

Poor planning is the fourth factor that our author introduces. By the time consultants are called in, often the planning they see is short-term, safe and a repeat of past successes. The organization must be realigned around planning that is long-term, risk taking and radical to keep the system in front of the curve. I often tell pastors to make sure you have at least 2-3 staff around you that are under 30 and edgy and ask them to hold you accountable to new waves and trends. Also, make sure your planning includes laity who are already doing this in the secular world. Use their experience – don’t limit yourself to the folks who only think, look and pray just like you.

The fifth one is a factor I often deal with as a conference administrator. Organizations in decline do not think with a mindset of abundance and possibilities for the future. Investments of resources (time, finances, and energy) are caught up in short-term, quick fixes to save “our place and seat.” Don’t let the budget drive your vision. Let the vision give rise to a future of hope and action. People will respond generously of their resources when they believe in the cause and see hope and movement.

Deymaz gives us 10 signs to determine if you are a Disruptive Innovator. I think you have to be a master of at least 6 of these to be an innovator in business, a church planter, someone who will revive our education system or lead our present, stagnant government.

-Are you ever called a maverick by a supervisor?

-Are you driven to prove others wrong when they say it can’t be done?

-Have you ever had to leave a job because your innovation was threatening to someone?

-You’ve missed being promoted and the spin placed on the reason did not make sense or did not match who you are?

-You’re not afraid to respectfully question and challenge those in authority?

-When someone gives you a “to-do list,” you decide which items are priority and which are not.

-You’ve been in the middle of implementing a major change that you were excited about when a superior asks you to slow it down.

Good enough is not in your vocabulary. You want to perfect it and get it right!

-You have had the experience of suggesting new ways of thinking, being and doing and others just smile and move on.

-You’ve stuck with a vision that others doubted could ever occur, and lived long enough to hear them say, “I wasn’t sure this could be done yet you did it. You proved me wrong.”

Organizations need dreamers and realists. The problem is we often favor the realists and the folks who think like us because we want stability and security. The 21st century world does not allow for just one or the other. Make sure you nurture your dreamer side and keep visionaries and innovators close by and empowered. That’s the best way to have true stability and security.

Deymaz tells the story of a young man who started volunteering in one of his faith communities. His case worker had required it as part of his parole. The actions and beliefs of the people he served with started impacting him. After his 60 required days were completed, he kept coming around to listen and serve. Someone asked him why and he replied, “Jesus has ruined my life.”

Jesus does that. He disrupts our complacency and easy answers. His kingdom is about innovation, new directions and resurrected hopes. When I see the broken world around me, I pray for disruptions in my heart, the church and in our culture. The now is not enough. I am ready for the next and I think our culture is hungry for organizations that will help us all get to a better place. Lord, let it be….




Sabbatical Week 3: Visit to a Multi-Site Church where the Buildings self-fund!

June 21, 2017

FullSizeRender-5.jpgCrossroads, FayettevilleI first met Chad Pullins when my office was offering a workshop for churches wanting to go multi-site. Healthy churches that take on satellite locations are popping up all across the world. Chad has a unique approach. He emphasizes that the parent church must first hammer out its DNA for mission and why we want to expand our footprint for the Kingdom. Chad led Crossroads Church in Fayetteville, N.C. (a United Methodist community of faith) in assessing the New Testament model for church expansion.

They identified God’s calling at this juncture in their life together and then started a second site. They intentionally learned from John Wesley’s model for starting a church in a particular place based on the hurts and hopes of the people in that community. Today their locations are critically placed to minister to people with addictions, loneliness, family challenges and financial strains.

I sat down with Chad and two of the campus pastors, Nick Rich and Kyle Burrows, in the coffee shop area of their gathering space at the parent campus – Crossroads South. These pastors serve as a team, build a common series for the combined campus and then teach the same message at all locations. The church serves Fayetteville as one body in multiple locations. This city has a very large military population which is a blessing and challenge. Military families tend to be very interested in the church and highly committed. Yet they move about every 2-4 years. So leaders are raised up and sent to new places. Crossroads is a mission sending body in this way. They intentionally disciple all their members so they make great missionaries at their new military base community.

One aspect of the Crossroads network that caught my attention was the way they fund their facilities. Fayetteville is a military town and highly blue collar and middle income. So facility costs are a huge challenge. They set up a separate LLC that owns their buildings, runs the coffee shop and handles the rental usage. At present, 60% of the facility costs (mortgage, utilities and upkeep) is funded through the LLC. This is very unusual and a great idea for churches. They rent their large meeting spaces for receptions, dinners, community events, etc. And their coffee shop is open 5 days a week.

Chad, Nick and Kyle shared with me that one of their priorities is doing life together as disciples and families. So they are intentional to share family meals, retreats, read books together and just have fun. This feeds their accountability, relationship building and avoids clergy family isolation. I think it improves teaching and leading the church as they learn from one another, have strong relational support and have natural connections for accountability and input into one another’s campuses and ministry.

 My Sabbatical Blog week 2: “The Anatomy of a Failed Church Plant”

June 12, 2017


Grace Community Church began in 2015 in a suburb community close to a major university in North Carolina. It started with a core group of 16, launched on its first Sunday with 54 people and grew quickly to an average of 170 adults and children within six months. The church had a passionate, gifted pastor with a dynamic worship leader and was located in a growing community. They began with an effective social media campaign and an impressive interactive website. They had a well-organized welcome team and children’s ministry. So why did they close after only 19 months?

Here’s the anatomy of this failure as gleaned from the leaders I interviewed:

First, Grace CC launched prematurely. This is the reason for many failed church plants. They launched before they had hammered out their values, vision and unique mission in their community. When they experienced hard times, they did not have a strong foundation to hold them together. The church launched before raising up enough key leaders and teams of volunteers. By month 5, leaders were burning out for lack of others to share the load and the pastor’s family kept picking up the slack. This is a recipe for disaster!

The staff was hired quickly without checking references and proper vetting. The worship leader was gifted and talented yet he could not build a team and his ego was huge. And the administrator did not build consensus and did not have a desire to teach stewardship. The leadership would find out later that both staff members had left previous churches for these same reasons. The worship leader left abruptly in month 6 when the leaders confronted his leadership style.

There was a big disconnect between the church and the community. The pastor was much more conservative than the community. People were drawn to the pastor’s charisma, the talent of the worship leader and the impressive social media that connected with the young, high-tech workforce in the area. Yet people did not stay when they realized the church’s message lacked grace and mercy for the poor and hurting despite the church’s name.

The church started without first connecting with the community. They did not hold any introductory or outreach events prior to launch, no listening sessions and never conducted a Mission Insite study to better understand the demographics of their population and what they were interested in.

Since they launched too quickly, they did not have a strong plan for assimilating people. They offered only an orientation class led by the pastor. They failed to recruit and train group leaders. People felt disconnected and new believers had too many unanswered questions.

The death nail of this new faith community occurred when the pastor and administrator made a major decision without a church vote or even an information meeting. A large tract of land close to their rental space became available on short sale at a discounted price. So the pastor and administrator went to the bank, borrowed the money and saddled the church with a mortgage payment.

After one year, the church had an $8000 mortgage payment, was searching for a worship leader and was trying to jump start small groups while replacing key leaders who had burned out. Three months later Grace CC missed their mortgage payment and the pastor called a churchwide meeting following worship to explain the problem to the congregation. People were furious that he had bought the land without discussion with the leaders and a churchwide vote. Over 60 people never returned again to the church.

The church’s problems only got worse as offerings continued to drop. More mortgage payments were missed, the pastor suffered an anxiety attack one Sunday before worship and the people lost confidence in their future. By month 19, the new faith community was in turmoil, the pastor was on leave and only 3 staff members were still in place. The young church declared bankruptcy, the remaining staff were dismissed and worship ceased at Grace CC.

A failed church start is painful for all involved. It can leave a community of faithful people and seekers scared and disillusioned. Such is the case of the people I interviewed and many like them. The pastor is still struggling with stress and anxiety, and understandingly so, he declined to discuss the church’s story with me. He needs space, restoration of hope and time to evaluate his call at this point in his ministry.

There is much we can learn from this account. Most of these mistakes could have been avoided if the pastors and leadership had taken their time. You can’t rush Kingdom success. When you get ahead of the Holy Spirit, you are on dangerous ground! Leaders need accountability structures, to value consensus building and to listen to wise counsel from a coach, mentors and one another.





My Sabbatical Begins…

June 7, 2017

The United Methodist Book of Discipline states that a pastor is to take a sabbatical every 5-7 years for the purpose of study, renewal and rest. I have not done this since 2005 so I am very grateful to my bishop for approving this time and to my staff for filling the gaps while I am away. During this time, I plan to focus on learning more about the Fresh Expressions Movement. Each week I will write a blog report from my visits to Fresh Expressions sites, from books I am reading and insights from people I am interviewing.

My first field visit was last week to Shades of Grace UMC in Kingsport, Tennessee. See the pictures below. Shades of Grace is a worshiping community in downtown Kingsport meeting in a storefront location. The congregation is about 50% homeless people and 50% folks from Kingsport who support the mission and have found a life transforming faith in this ministry.

Rev. Will Shewey was called of God to start this ministry and told me and Meri that he literally felt he would die if he did not follow this vision. They have been meeting 3 years & have become fully self-supporting. People hear about the ministry and give generously.  They have dozens of volunteers, 2 pastors and other staff who give their time freely. They have an active social media presence and receive gifts from far and wide. They serve breakfast daily, offer GED classes, Bible study, lively worship, a clothes closet, and multiple services.

When they first opened, some of the local business people tried to shut them down. These leaders researched the UMC and our commitment to social justice and the poor. They came to Rev. Shewey and said they discovered that Methodism was a global movement with strong connections nationwide. They realized they could not shut the church down so they decided instead to join in and support the mission. Shades of Grace works closely with the city and business community to be a good neighbor and now they are welcomed and supported by many businesses, even the local funeral home!

Their worship service includes prayers at the altar and people stream forward for this ministry. They have seen numerous miracles and lives changed. They have also seen some people stay on the street and even lose their life. Their saving grace is to know they were Christ’s presence to them and hopefully showed them God’s unconditional love and amazing grace.