Thursday, August 30, 2007


this morning, i was reading about a church leader who went to a particular restaurant (more expensive than he normally would go to) and was really impressed by the service he received. he made the following observation:

"...beyond the meal, the experience made me wonder what we can do in the church that hasn't been thought of yet that would "wow" our guests and help drive home how much they matter to God."

it made made me think about how we do things at church. many of us are leaders in particular areas of ministry in our church family, and i'm wondering what it would be like if each one of us approached our areas of responsibility with the same kind of attitude? are we driven to show people (regulars and newcomers) how much they matter to God? are we constantly looking for new and creative ways to communicate how much God matters to us? are we doing our best...even in the smallest details of our ministries? are we always looking for ways to improve what we do? what are some of your ideas for how we can raise our "wow" factor in our ministries?

trust me. i'm not into impressing people. but i am into people being impressed with the God we worship!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Indian food

don chapman, a worship leader and fellow-blogger wrote:

"I love Indian food. There's an Indian restaurant here in town that has the best Indian food I've ever had, and I've had Indian on both sides of the planet.However, most Indian restaurants I've been to have a lunch buffet, and I love buffets of all shapes and sizes. This one does not. For years I've told the owner he needs a buffet, but he staunchly maintains that Indian food is not good sitting around in a buffet tray and must be prepared fresh.

Two months ago a brand new Indian buffet opened in town. It's packed. You can't find a parking spot. I go there at noon and it's packed. I went there today at 1:30 and it's packed [on Memorial Day, no less!]I went to the non-buffet Indian restaurant last week. Empty. My buddy Cliff asked the owner "how's business since the new place opened?""Terrible!" he replied. "Look at this place! It's usually filled at lunch and no one is here." He also reiterated how Indian food must be freshly prepared.

Well, I can see his point, but I do love buffets. I suppose a lot of people like buffets. And the new Indian buffet sure tastes fresh to me, especially when the place is packed and they're continually bringing out new food.So I guess the non-buffet owner will go out of business, sticking true to his principles of freshly prepared Indian food. A shame, really - Greenville is big enough to support two Indian buffets."

it makes me think...what kinds of dumb things do we hold on to in the church, that are obstacles to growth? i'm not talking doctrines of the faith here, but man-made rules or unstated (but very real) expectations that turn off new people that are looking for a place to belong when they walk through the door of our church building. better yet, what do you hold on to??

You are who you want to be

fred smith was a businessman, a church leader and a mentor to countless other christian leaders. he was an author and a speaker who has passed on his wisdom and sage advice to multiple generations. he died this past week at the age of 91. even in his advanced age, he was still writing and operating a web site call "breakfast with fred"...inspiring a new generation of church leaders to excellence.

i would like to grow old as he has. here is a quote that he wrote recently:

I have learned that people are the way they are because they want to be that way. Now, I haven't always believed this. In fact, when I started out in life I wanted to be a social worker and I became extremely disillusioned with people. Now I am totally convinced that each of us is the way we are because we want to be that way. We rationalize and give all kinds of reasons that this isn't true, but bottom line ---you are choosing to be who you are. When you have an opportunity to change and you don't take it, you are deciding to be who you are. And, of course, when you grow through challenging yourself, you are becoming who you want to be. People want to be the way they are.

do you agree? after all my years of pastoring, counseling, people helping, team building and watching people become the people they are, i am convinced that fred is right. i realize that our sinful nature and the battle of the inner man that paul writes about in romans 7 is a profound and powerful mystery, but this simple quote is legitimate and real. raw...but real.

this is one of the greatest quotes...and greatest truths...of all time.

Monday, August 13, 2007

That question...

i had an interesting interaction yesterday with a former member of the church i serve in. after saying "hi" and some of the customary small talk, he cut right to the chase. "so, how many people are you running at your church these days?"

after all these years of being a pastor, this is still the one question that never sets well with me. there were a hundred other questions he could have asked. ones that feel kinder. ones that show genuine concern or interest in the real life of my church family. ones that are not delivered with a smugness or a judgmental smirk.

or received with a defensive attitude or a need for explanation...

i gotta admit that i have always had a "love-hate" affair with church numbers. there is no doubt in my heart that jesus cares about numbers. come on...he died for the world. he didn't die for a handful. he died for everyone.

we live in a culture that grew up on the philosophy that bigger means better. this is how were taught to evaluate the worth of just about everything. how many? how big? how much? how much more? to aspire increase in size, in speed, in capacity, in productivity...was the necessary first step in gaining worth, value, significance and influence. in just about anything...including church.

as a young youth pastor, i was constantly asked, "how big is your youth group?", "how many kids did you take to camp?", "did you take a big group to mexico?". i remember the pressure to project numbers that were bigger than they really were because my worth as a youth pastor was being evaluated, being judged by size.

this game never ends.

for the record, i'm convinced that churches get large for a variety of reasons. likewise, some churches are smaller for a variety of reasons. and even though a full room and a full bus and a full class and a full offering plate are really cool (and usually reflective of good things happening), i know there is always more to the story.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Of vick, dogs, and race

this whole michael vick dog fighting thing has kind of captured my attention. i know most of the sporting world is tired of it...i know i am weary of seeing images of tortured dogs and federal court buildings and the blah, blah, blah of sports radio talking heads predicting the outcome and discussing when, or if, vick will be back on the field.

the whole time this has been going on, there has been this uncomfortable feeling that there was a deeper story i didn't really understand. it's getting clearer now. at the risk of being immediately discounted, i want to say that i really do believe that there is a race issue going on.

don't get me wrong. i believe crimes have been committed. horrible, disgusting crimes. i wouldn't exactly call myself a dog lover...if you've ever been around me and my little yappers, you'd know that, at best, i carry on a love-hate affair with them...but i do believe that how we treat these creatures that show innocent, unconditional love and acceptance and who bring such incredible companionship, says alot about the condition of our hearts.

when i looked at the grotesque footage of dogs bred for fighting and horrible conditions they lived and died in, my stomach ached and my heart was wounded. no. wrongs were done and the guilty must pay. is mike vick guilty? he sure looks like it to me. and that's where this thing gets a little clouded to me.

i view things from my perspective...from my history...from my point of view...from how i have been raised to view things. i am free to see things through the lenses that have been given to me. but they are not the only lenses. there are others.

i'm going to give you a link to an article on the vick situation that really resonated with me. it was not written from my point of view. it was written from a totally different perspective...looking at the situation through entirely different lenses. why don't you read it and see if there is anything that touches your heart.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Visiting church

my wife and i visited a couple of church services last week. we don't get to do this very often, so we were more than interested in the kind of experience we would have. its been over 30 years since we visited a church to see if we would like to make it our church home. (side note: in the past 30 years, i've been a pastor in three churches...)

when we walked in the door of the first church building...actually, it was the front door of a middle school cafeteria...we were greeted by a really friendly woman. she was obviously the designated greeter. outgoing, gregarious, huge smile, syrupy sweet, over-the-top chipper. i was still trying to figure out if i was fully awake... oh, well.

she did everything least according to what the training manual for church greeters mandates. firm handshake and good eye contact. she introduced herself and paused appropriately to let us introduce ourselves. she asked us what brought us to their church that morning and told us how glad she was that we had chosen their church to come to. she pointed us to the auditorium and wished us a good morning experience. as we parted, she told us that she hoped to see us again.

like i said, she did everything the way the book says. but for me, it didn't seem particularly real. it felt like she was doing her job. don't get me wrong. i think we need people to welcome new people and try to make a good first impression and give them a warm introduction and all that. but it was what i didn't get that made the biggest impact on me.

after the initial greeting from the designated handshaker, nobody said much of anything to us. people walked right by us to talk to their friends, catch up on the past week, and make plans for where they were going for lunch after the service. it was a church of about 150, so it wasn't like we were lost in the crowd.

they had a nice service. the band wasn't slick, but they were well prepared. the worship leader was sincere. they lead four or five songs. they had communion and offering. they had a sermon that was understandable and challenging. even tho he was a guest preacher, i got the feeling that it was similar to what the regular guy was like. like i was a nice service. the people obviously liked each other. it was casual. it wasn't real churchy.

if i lived there, i don't think i would choose to make it my church home. i'm not too sure i would even give it a second chance. i know this sounds critical, but it just felt like everybody was going through the motions...letting the designated people do their designated responsibilities. the greeter, the children's pastor, the worship leader, the preacher. i didn't sense anything particularly real.

i don't think i was looking for friendly. i was looking for friends. i was looking for genuine connection. or at least the potential for that kind of connection to happen. i wasn't looking for a friendly designated greeter. i was looking for undesignated, genuine people who would really show an interest in me and who really...i mean really... loved their church. i found neither.

i know people ought to be coming to worship god. trust me, i can worship god anywhere. it's just that i would choose to go anywhere else to do it.

any thoughts? does this sound like any church you are familiar with?