The Soulless Church Planter (Three Shifts To Keep A Sacred Work Sacred)

I came to know the love of Jesus for the first time at a church plant (a new church).

I then had the privilege of being a part of one of the most impactful church planting churches in the mid-west for 10+ years, having a hand in the start up of various campuses and plants. I learned early on that the gospel of Jesus (that is His whole life, death, resurrection, ascension, and kingdom) always meets us on its way to someone else.

This is why we start new churches.

I would then later move my family to New York City, which I now call home, to plant the first evangelical Church in the history of our neighborhood with an amazing team of people. The church is now home to people from 35 different countries of origin, and has become the most brilliant of messes.

Church planting is in me.

I read the book of Acts and Paul’s missionary letters, and the scripture comes alive. It speaks to something deep in my soul. In fact, as I write this I’m currently forming a core team to start a new church in west Queens NYC

I love church planting!

Yet one of the prevalent problems that me and many other church planters face, is how to truly love Jesus more than His mission. Too often in my life, the spiritual act of church planting can feel like nothing more than an entrepreneurial start up game with a weird religious twist thrown on top of it. Because of this, I’ve had to focus on a few key paradigm shifts each and every day.

Here are three key shifts that help keep church planting a sacred work, and three key shifts that keep the soul of the planter spiritually thriving.

1) Wake up (not start up) Church planting is the practice of “seeing”. Too often assessment centers look for the most effective entrepreneurial leader, and if that leader can throw the name of Jesus and some sound doctrine upon that entrepreneurial gift they are good to go and often funded with thousands. Yet church planting is not a Silicon start up. As you read the Old and New Testament, we find that God is always present and at work. Therefore, our role as church planters and pastors is not to build something from the ground up, but to see where the Holy Spirit is already at work, and to bend our emotional energy and gifting, as well as our financial and people resources around it. We believe that apart from God we can do nothing (John 15:5), and as my friends at gravity leadership say, our problem as church planters isn’t that we don’t do anything; it’s that we’ve figured out how to do a “whole lotta nothing” apart from Jesus! Instead church planters are those who wake up to God’s presence and see where The Spirit is already at work. They are those who see people and places of peace, and they are those who see spiritual strongholds that must be torn down for the Kingdom of Jesus to come to bear. These are the type of people and teams that plant churches marked by a joy that only the Holy Spirit can birth. Once “seeing” becomes central, fasting, intercessory prayer, and cultural analysis become our primary planting practices as we attempt to wake up to His activity instead of simply starting and sustaining our own.

2) Apostolic grit (not workaholism) Missiologists have begun using the phrase “apostolic grit”. I’m not sure who coined the term, but it can quickly be translated into the capacity and ability to keep working, to keep moving, to keep re-inventing until “it” comes to fruition. Yet I would suggest that this is a poor translation for the term. As we read about the apostle Paul we see him struggle again and again, and through his struggles we see his tenacious spirit turn inward, fleshing out how his beliefs are forming who he is within his missional context. It wasn’t Paul’s hustle that set his ministry apart from others. It was his ability to reflect on his failures, diving amazingly deep into what Jesus was doing within him while he moved outward toward others. Where many feel the need to exhaust their efforts externally, may I suggest that apostolic grit speaks more about the discipline to keep going deep (internally in self) and less about going wide (externally toward others). Apostolic grit is the ability to make the main thing the main thing, becoming more mature both spiritually and emotionally in the love of Jesus as the activity of ministry moves from good to bad, from slow to fast, and even from fun to devastating in many seasons. I have found that the most healthy, effective, and impactful planters are also the most reflective, contemplative, and self aware.

3) Catalytic (not charismatic) One of the things most emphasized when considering whether or not to support a church planter is their charisma. Do they project a larger than life charisma that can gather the masses? However, I’ve found there are a few big flaws in this type of thinking. The first is obvious, the call of the church is to make disciples who make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20). This is a work of reproduction, but too often people file into a church building where all ministry activity centers around a charismatic leader and the immediate feeling is, “I can’t do what that person is doing up on that stage”… and they are right. Only a few people will have the charisma of the super star pastor that packs out arenas. When we expect church planters to be the most charismatic, we are often diminishing the reproductive nature of the church. Second, when our focus is on charismatic leaders, we often eliminate many women from important leadership roles. The amount of times I’ve heard the phrase…"she comes off too strong or too overbearing” is telling. There is something still alive in our culture that allows a male pastor to thrive off of their larger than life charisma, while at the same time it stifles their female counterpart. Instead may I suggest that church planting is a work that is often most healthy when led by catalytic leaders; Those who can see where God is already working and then mobilize the right people and the right resources around God's activity at the right time. This was the difference between Saul and David. Saul stood high above the rest, he was strong, eloquent, and charismatic (1 Samuel 9) and yet it was David who rallied together a bunch of rejected and marginalized men in a cave (1 Samuel 22). Where Saul was potentially the Joel Olsteen of his Day, David had the ability to plant churches in caves, and my gut says that the way of Jesus will take hold much more powerfully in caves than in cathedrals in this next generation.

There you have it; three shifts that keep a sacred work sacred, and that protect the soul of the planter. We need you. We need your sacred work, and we need your soul to stay rooted in the life of Christ. So may the peace and power of Christ be at work in you, so that the peace and power of Christ may work through you for years to come.

Epiphany | Two Ways Of Leadership

There have been too many days where I'm speaking about the easy yoke of Christ to the masses, while boundlessly exhausted from the hours of preparation the night before. 

There have been too many ministry events aimed at encouraging people to buy into the "immeasurable peace of Jesus", while moments prior I'm anxiously scrambling to finalize program details.

I too often speak about the prince of peace, while leading like the king of chaos.

For most, it's rather easy to detect whether a leader is confidently at peace or anxiously striving to manufacture ministry results. 

@@I'm convinced that in our fast, multi-tasking, transient culture, the preeminent gift we can give others is our non-anxious presence.@@ 

The season of epiphany marks the "revealing" of Jesus to the Magi, but this gospel account of Matthew (chapter 2) and the contrasting composition between Herod and the Magi reveals much more than some divine baby in a manger. It also reveals two types of leadership that are formed directly from our understanding (or misunderstanding) of the power of Jesus birth, death, and resurrection.

1) Herodian Leadership:  A leader who strives

Herodian leadership strives for success and is determined to desecrate anything standing in the way of its production and progress.  This is a leadership style that requires the most extreme of effort. The Herodian leader needs to move fast and needs to get it perfect because their identity is largely tied up in the success of whatever they are leading.  

If it fails, they are failures.  If their program dies, they die.  

And so they fight, and strive, and exhaust themselves, often oppressing others in the attempt to secure their effectiveness and dominance.  You want to know what Herodian type leadership looks like?  It is anxious, angry, overly critical, and hurried (not busy). It is defensive, and distracted.  The Herodian leader is rarely present because she is either dwelling on what went wrong in the recent past or fretting about the unknown future.

2) Magi Leadership: A leader who pursues

A magi-like leader's main priority is to pursue Jesus.  Their goal isn't good work for Jesus, or even becoming some well-known representative of Jesus.  The Magi-leader's aim is nothing more nor less than Jesus.  They want the very presence of the Messiah and are willing to bend their lives around seeing, hearing, and feeling Christ much like the ways of the wisemen.  It's an enduring, delightful, adoration-infused, and radically generous pursuit.  The Magi-like leader has an overwhelming desire to be present with the one whose presence can melt and move their hearts.  They don't grasp for power like Herod because it's easy to see they don't have much while basking in the powerful presence of the infant-king.  Let's be honest.  Truly powerful people don't have to grasp for power.  They just have it.  They can lay in a manger doing nothing and still leave people in awe and wonder.

Every day you and I lead out of one of these two postures.  

Must we earn our keep, or has our keeper earned us through His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection?  

I pray that you and I would be melted by the finality of Jesus' love.  You have been bought by a baby boy's life and His death.  

This means that @@no depth of failure can lose the Father's love, and no height of success can earn it.@@  

It is finished, and this means we get to stop striving and stressing and can instead start searching for the presence of the one who will powerfully change us and all those following closely behind.

May we lead like the Magi.

 

 

Contended Space

 

We live in contended space.  Your neighborhood isn’t neutral. 

If Jesus isn’t discipling your people than someone or something else is.   If Jesus and Kingdom values are not discipling your city, something else with a separate set of principalities and powers is.

This has 2 serious implications when it comes to forming disciples throughout the cities that we care for, the schools that our children attend, and the families that we love often more than life itself.

1) We must be constant students of our culture; identifying and exposing the unique rabbi(s) who are having their way, deceptively discipling our people.  

In Metro-Detroit one of the largest disciplers of the next generation is a works based religion.  The need to acheive has not only plagued our schools, but has also crept into our understanding of the gospel, and even our methods for growing the local church.

A secondary seducer is a framework formed by racial polarization and economic disparity. Though Detroit is one of the most diverse areas in the US it is also plagued with a narrative dripping with racial tension.  This has isolated ethnic groups from one another, especially within the church where mono-ethnic communities become more and more irrelevant to our every day, dynamically diverse landscape found in schools and the work place.

We must be able to expose these driving people, systems, and objects that are passionately discipling our people.

2) We must teach our people how to unlearn the rhythms and disciplines they have picked up while being discipled by impostors.

Learning the ways of Jesus is imperative, but there is also a withdrawal or unlearning process a person must go through once they have learned what person, system, or object has been discipling them prior to the power of Christ.  We must be patient with people and close in relationship with them as we expose why specific thought patters and behaviors continue to surface in their lives as they seek a life with Christ.  Help them unlearn while embracing the Grace of God and the power of the gospel.

The stakes are too hight to naively believe we can simply throw people into a program or process and kick out fully functioning disciples.  We live in contended space.

 

Stop Speaking To Guilt, Start Speaking To Shame

 

Our guilt has to do with the things that we’ve done that we were never created to do.  It’s the Genesis 3 story, (where we bought into Satan’s lie that we were not enough and began doing the things we shouldn’t have done).

Shame on the other hand has to do with the people we’ve become.

There is guilt, and there is shame. One speaks to our action, the other speaks of our soul.  Jesus came to carry and kill both.

For many parents, we raise our children with affirmation, encouragement, and a love that hit us like a truck the day they entered our world.  Many of us and many of our children were lucky enough to grow up in a framing narrative which says that we/they were created with intent, welcomed with love, and raised with the best of efforts.  Even among the discipline, the groundings, the timeouts, the spankings, and taking a way the teenager’s car, there is still a framing narrative that communicates to a kid that they’ve been disciplined because of what they’re guilty of doing, but they’re still loved for who they are. The framing narrative says, “My guilt does not define who I am.  My guilt is overcome by love’s grace.”

This is different for a child who has gone through trauma (a hurt child).  At some point the lies of Genesis 3 seep into the soul of these young ones.  Their guilt does not only speak to their action, it speaks to who they are.  They don’t lie, they are liers.  They don’t steal, they are theives.  They are not victims of abuse and neglect, they are objects unworthy of respect and care.  Their framing narrative is Genesis 3.  They have been robbed of the Genesis 1 beginning where we were told, “you are my most prized possession and I sing over you”.

If you have found yourself in a season where you are parenting or leading a hurt child, my speculation is that we cannot speak solely to their guilt.  Due to their past trauma they do not carry an underlying assumption that they are loved, worthy of respect and full of dignity (especially when they are guilty of doing something).

Their behavior has been attached to their being, and because of it we must always dig deeper and speak to their shame.  

We must make even the smallest disciplinary moments about more than just behavior or guilt.  We must reinforce a Genesis 1 framing story.  Yes, lying is not ok in my family and this must be communicated, but I must begin with their worth, their value, their love, and their security in my steadfast love.

When it comes to the hurt child a resilient focus on their guilt is nothing more than the full on extension of the law.  Speaking to their being points to the presence and power of the gospel. 

Remember, Jesus did not just come to die for our guilt, He came also to carry and kill our shame.

We must never forget that before Genesis 3, there was Genesis 1.

We are His most prized possesion.  We were lovely, because He loved us.  This posture must be found at the most primal level of parenting the hurt child.  May we make this paradigm shift as we parent, knowing that it is the same shift that our heavenly Father has made for us.

The Orphan Spirit

Two fo my children have been adopted.  I can’t help but notice how tired they always are, (and not just physically).  If I knew any better I would say that their souls often seem exhausted.  It’s an exhaustion that too many of us live with on a daily basis.

For those that have opened up their homes or have given their time to orphans or foster children, you undoubtedly run into what author Richard Frost calls the “Orphaned Spirit”: The inability to find full acceptance and unconditional love from a parent.

The symptoms of an orphan spirit are severe and include the following,

A lack of confidence

A crippling need for approval

The inability to empathize and even accept others

The inability to receive or extend unconditional love

And a life that gets sucked into survival mode where they do whatever they have to do to stay out of a position where they might be abandoned once again.  If they have to lie, they lie.  If they have to cheat, they cheat.  If they have to hurt others, they hurt others.  Those with the orphan spirit have been thrust into survival mode, and if you have ever been there it seems impossible to make your way out.

It is insecure and taxing to watch as a bystander, let alone be the one who lives within its confines.  The orphan spirit is the tireless lifestyle of one who has not yet encountered the steadfast love of a Father.

Unfortunately the orphan spirit doesn’t just plague the literal orphan or foster child.  The orphan spirit haunts the majority of people who have not yet experienced the God of the scriptures, still unable to taste His sacrificial love that many soon find out has no strings attached. 

Ephesians 1 says, “Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.”

Each of us (raised by biological parents or not) must get to a place where we want adoption.  Where we need one who will define us not by what we can or can’t do, nor by who we are (or who we are not), but instead defines us by what He has done and who He is.  This is the beauty of the gospel; God comes to us in flesh, the revelation of Jesus, and says “come to me all of you who carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest”.  You don’t have to measure up, pay your way, or climb the ladder to find the one who loves you unconditionally.

This is the family standing that we may inherit, a Dad we may rest in.  It is where we (whether literal or spiritual orphan) finally get a taste of what it means to thrive.  After all Jesus said “I’ve come to give you life, and give it to you to its fullest”.  That’s what we were created for, at least that’s the gospel story….and I’m growing to love it.

It may be time to be honest about how tired we actually are, acknowledge that it goes far beyond a physical exhaustion, and be willing to receive a new birth certificate signed by the Father whose been waiting for you for a very long long time.

 

Don't Hit That Rock

Moses hits the rock twice in hopes of receiving supernatural H20 for his tired tribe, and the smack of the stone seals his faith. It must have been the most disappointing day of this dude’s life (see Numbers, chapter 20).

God (who Moses was extremely close to) asked him to use his words not his force to perform this latest miracle of provision. And in complete disobedience Moses decides to use his magical staff to draw water from the stone instead of simply speaking to it. His punishment: He wouldn’t take part in the new territory, God’s promised land. In fact God’s friend Moses passes away days before walking into all that God had given Moses and His people.

What some often miss is that this wasn’t the first showdown Moses had with the Rock. Moses was actually first asked to strike the stone with the staff…and he did. In obedience he hit the rock and water came forth, and so in complete disobedience and disregard of God’s secondary request, Moses did the same thing in round 2 that proved to be productive in round 1.

I assume I would do the same. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it! We have seen God work in certain ways, we have seen him provide using specific strategies, and we have seen him use us in supernatural fashion. But at the end of the day we must remember a primary principle of the Creator many of us claim to follow:

He values our present dependency over our past effectiveness.
He values our present abiding over our past experiences.
And He values our present faithfulness over our past fruitfulness.

I have figuratively hit that rock too many times simply because it worked in the past. I didn’t hit it because He asked me to, I didn’t hit it because I sensed the Spirit of God moving me to, I hit it because it simply seemed like a good idea from my past successes.

Too many people make decisions in the present, because of what worked in the past.

Too many leaders make decisions for their future, because of what fruitfulness they experienced in the past.

And too many churches hold on to the same strategy moving forward, because it seemed effective in their past.

Before we move making decisions about the future, we must honestly ask the question:

“Am I basing this decision on past successes, or what the Spirit is presently asking me to do?”

The world is changing, and usually how God is asking us to engage it is as well.

Don’t presume on the power and presence of the Spirit. Don’t misstep, crediting our past successes to individual strategies instead of the Savior, who did a new work then and wants to do a new work now.

Don’t hit that rock unless you’ve been asked to!

Communicating Values Versus Vision

One of the biggest mistakes of the leader is the inability to correctly communicate vision and values.

Speak Vision. 

Talk about where you are going and how you are going to get there. Our words should drip with vision. All stories, celebration, and statistics should move us towards that vision, keeping it at the fore-front of follower’s minds, and resting heavily on their hearts. Whatever your vision is, one thing is clear. 

You talk about it.

On the other hand you live out values. Effective leaders only speak of values after they are lived out. Give them a name after their existence is set in motion like naming a new born.

You talk about vision, but you live out values.

Don’t tell me you’re an artistic community
Don’t tell me you’re cutting egdge
Don’t tell me you’re innovative
Don’t tell me you’re a movement
Don’t tell me you’re different

If you’re artistic, people will see it. If you’re cutting edge, people will feel it. If you’re a movement, people will take notice everywhere they turn, and if you are different people will be intrigued to the point of asking questions.

Those that have to say what they are, often end up being everything but what they actually say.

It’s their vision for where they wish to be. It is the mistake of confusing what you are with what you want to become, and communicating it to all listeners and followers.

Unfortunately all followers or potential followers are smarter than this, they can quickly decipher what you are and what you are not. Or at least you better hope. Otherwise you are just leading a bunch of naive, incompetent, followers.

Speak vision, live out values. Know how to communicate each as you move forward with strategy, values, and vision.

Lead on!

On Cowboys, Beavers, and Witches

The western church loves young male leadership, and rightly so, (the scripture talks a ton of Jesus working through young men). Yet there is a a cowboy mentality that if not careful can become the cultural norm of any Christ-following community. It is a norm that is fanned by youthful men (who have something to prove), and can become an ignitor that creates a very dangerous DNA within the community.

What do I mean by cowboy mentality? 

I mean those who fearlessly charge into darkness with the message of the gospel. They pinpoint the greatest risk, the darkest environment, and the highest of hill, and they move bringing all they can along with them. And there is something to this. If we have been asked by God to go to these places, we go in obedience expecting Him to use us in the process. Yet for many (and I have been prone to this), all we know is that we follow Jesus, and then logically assume that this means we are to go to the darkest of places with the intent of bringing the kingdom of light.

But as author Bill Johnson points out, light doesn’t have to intentionally defeat darkness, it innately does. And if we choose to move towards darkness in response to logic instead of obedience we let darkeness, and the prince of it, be a pivotal part of shaping our agenda.

Let me say this again: Focusing on the dark, allows the dark to assist in the shaping of our agenda

In CS lewis’, The Lion, Witch, and the Wardobe there is a brilliant meeting that takes place between the four kids (Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy) and the hospitable and homely Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. As they sit around the table eating a marmalade role while Mr. Beaver drinks a pint of beer, they go on to tell the kids about Aslan, and how he is waiting and wanting to meet with them. They talk about his strength, his power, and his plan. After a few minutes go by, Lucy looks up only to realize that Edmund (who has now baught into an evil lie) has snuck out to meet with the evil white witch. The kids response is a loving and logical one:

We must go get Edmund!
We must go convince him he is on the wrong side!
We must get to the witches’ castle!
We must overthrow her!

It was an urgent and passionate response from 3 well intended, righteous, sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. “A cowboy-ish call to courageously charge the dark”.

But what sticks out is Mr. Beaver’s response to them…

“Why would you go to try and defeat the dark witch, when you have a chance to meet with Aslan? Why would you try to engage the betrayed Edmund when you have a chance to sit with Aslan?”

This kids pressed even harder into their immediate need to go fight for their brother.

“Stop worrying about Edmund and the white witch! I just told you Aslan is wanting to meet with you. Did you not hear me?”

You won’t overthrow a thing, you won’t bring your brother back, you won’t live til tomorrow…unless you first Go to Aslan; Than everything will be as it is suppose to be. 

The power, and presence needed to win this battle does not rest with you. It rests with Him.

It was the theological declaration of a beaver that is needed more than ever in the action-oriented church of the west. 

Seek first the Kingdom and all else will be added.
Your influnece fully depends on how much you have let the creator influence you.
All power and all passion begins and ends with God Himself….So go there, sit, and soak it up.

Be cautious of the Cowboy. The best doing always comes from those who go first to the living water, the roaring lion, and the powerful creator.

Our aim should never be the next adventure or apostolic endeavor. Our next aim must always be His good, perfect, and powerful presence. 

The world depends on it.

Tattoos of Tears, Long Walks, And Booze-Filled Baptisms

 

I met “D”  yesterday, boozed up and freshly baptized.

As a stranger I saw him stranded in the front of my house months back.  I offered my phone for a quick call in hopes that he could find himself a ride.   He took me up on my offer, and apparently has remembered me since.

Yesterday afternoon he intently walked up to our porch like a man on mission. Scarcely remembering his face, “D” didn’t mind, quickly throwing his arms around me, giving me a hug that was just a bit too long to confidently claim comfort.

“D” had been drinking; you could smell it and you could see it. Yet with clarity and conviction he began to tell my wife and I how he had been baptized hours earlier.  “D” had decided to celebrate the holy sacrament with two 240z of beer, which then lead to a serious argument with his girl, which then lead to a long walk past our porch.  It was an epic morning to say the least.  “D” was boozed up and freshly baptized!

I decided to accompany him on a walk towards Woodward Ave. where he would catch a bus to the east side.  I listened to his life story, days marked by the deaths of his family members which lead to his promise to never cry again (A promise consecrated with a tattoo of a tear dripping down his left cheek).  I listened to stories of serious dealing, seasons where he took the lives of many on the street.  I then listened to his present circumstances: a transitional home planted in the middle of a Detroit ghetto where he and 6 other addicts are trying to figure out how to re-frame their lives.

As I walked with this guy I did my best to listen and love, hoping to take cues from the Spirit as we spoke about the gospel and God’s love.  Yet what continued to come back to my mind was my own doubt.

Do I really believe in the gospel?

Do I believe that God came to save THE world?  No, (scratch that).  Do I really believed that God CAN save the whole world?  I know he can save those seeking, who are somewhat competent, who can find healthy relationships within a church community, but what about the inhumane, the mentally ill, the severely addicted.

What about those whose family narratives, past vices, and current circumstances hopelessly scream out to the streets…”There is no way!”

Does God’s good news really contain the power to renew, refresh, and redeem those people?  I can confidently say yes from the pulpit, yet my answer is never quite as clear when I place myself in close proximity.

As “D” stopped to take a pee on an abandoned home, I realized I had subtly, yet religiously separated myself from him.  In a mile walk my sin had become better than his.  I had concluded that I could recover from mine.

God could actually pull me away from the shallow depths of my despair.  It wasn’t as deep as “D’s”.   Yet again I was convicted. These thoughts weren’t the gospel either. The gospel says that I am as far from the Father as “D”, and that the cross is the epic equalizer that levels the ground regardless of our past, present, or future.

This walk forced me to fiercely as the question again: Do I believe in the barbaric, primal, message of God’s redemption?

I ask the question knowing my answer will always be fleshed out by the people I walk with and the hope and assurance I attempt to instill in them.

As the sun started to set yesterday I looked at this man full of guilt and shame unable and unwilling to talk about religion.  This man was more spiritual than me, attending every city church in a 20 mile radius since he was born.  So I did the only thing I knew to do.  I told him what I tell my 5 kids every day and every night.

“Jesus Loves you D, with a love that cannot and will not be stopped. He can and will do immeasurably more than you could ever imagine.”

He looked at me, and said I know…and like any good redemptive story, he began to cry. Real drops dripping over tattoos of tears.

As I walked home I prayed the following,  “Lord may those tattoos be marks that remind Him of the old convenant.  And may he cry new tears, because of the new covenant you are writing on His heart.”

May we believe in the barbaric and raw power of the gospel, and may that belief lead us to long walks and unexpected friendships.

To many more walks, talks, and tears.

Amen

 

Be Like Me: A Third Way Of Leadership

At some point  you will experience the leader who leads as the iron-fisted dictator who has all answers at all times.  In other seasons we will rub shoulders with leaders who function with such a high degree of hesitancy and insecurity that you wonder how they ever ended up in the position to begin with.  Regardless of where you are now,  today you will have the chance to be the person and leader that God intends us to be: The third way of leadership.

Which of the following categories do you find yourself leading within?

1) Prideful people and prideful leaders are those who have made it on their own. Their strengths have propelled them towards success, and they know it.  However, it is prideful people that are prone to burnout, to repeating what succeeded before, being unable to attempt or create something new.  Prideful people keep a tight control over what and who they lead, unable to equip and empower others.  Success has defined them and any thing less than perfection threatens that perceived identity.

2)  Inferior people and inferior leaders can’t seem to get out of their own heads.  Everything that happens good or bad is a result of self.  They compare and contrast, and find that emotions like guilt, shame, jealousy, or self-loathing lead their way. Those feeling inferior rarely ever lead, because most often no one is following, (not to mention their focus is rarely on others, constantly consumed with  analyzing and critiquing their own inabilites and inadequacies).

3)  Humble Yet Confident Then there is a third type of person/leader.  Jesus and the apostle Paul both fell into this category.  Jesus once said, “be humble as I am humble”. Ironically you would think that the self proclamation of humility would be a disqualifier for it all together, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.  In these types of people there is a strength that is rooted in brokeness, a confidence that transends circumstance, and a steadfast consistency that creates a confidence in all those following.  People fully trust their confident posture, but are not turned away by it.  People fully trust their confident way forward, yet still feel as if their brokeness and imperfections will be accepted (instead of ridiculed) as they join them on the mission.

How do we move into this third category of leadership? (We must understand clearly and deeply the guts of the gospel.)

We must understand the gospel clearly and ask the Spirit to root it deeply within us.  The gospel is not religion.  Pastor Tim Keller says that religion (I obey, therefore I am accepted) leads to pride if we are living up to standards, or inferiority if we are failing to live up to those standards.  But the gospel (I am accepted through Christ’s death and resurrection, therefore I obey) makes us humble and confident at once.

The gospel is not only the place where confidence and humility thrive together, but it is the place that propels the other to greater degrees of potency (humility leads to a stronger confidence in Christ, and a confidence in Christ leads to a more authentic humility)

It is only the gospel that allows us to be humble enough to learn how to lead and love better.

And it is only the gospel that allows us to be confident enough to move pass our immeasurable amount of failures and flaws, allowing us  to press on leading, influencing, and impacting a broken world as we fight for the heart of our King.

May we be rooted in the guts of the gospel as we become this third kind of leader.  Humble, yet confident.

 

3 Things We Forget | Parenting Hurt Children

I can remember our first foster daughter coming into our home a couple days before her 13th birthday. For months we would say good night to her and head straight to our bedroom. We would close the door, lower our voices and begin to re-evaluate the day and then plan for the next like officers strategizing in a war room.

Parenting a “hurt” child often feels like a massive game of chess, strategizing the next unique move to love this very unique kid. It is also one of the most taxing things a human being can do. It is dealing with the brokenness of humanity head on and needs every bit of tact, strategy, and God’s grace and mercy that He will give.

And when exhausted from giving it your all, it is easy to lose sight of some mission critical parenting principles. Here are 3 things I force myself to remember in the thick of it all.

1) They have been raised to survive, not to thrive
In most cases lying, stealing, selfishness, and the inability to empathize will surface again and again. Get ready, because they all come with the territory. All of these are symptoms of a human being who has been forced into survival mode early on in their little lives. Every decision they have had to make growing up has been made in the context of an unsafe environment.

Their way of life: survival mode. 

While parenting and leading “hurt” children, we must remember that our primary role is to do whatever you can to expect this way of life(survival mode), and then create an environment and family ethos that transitions them into the truth that they were create not only to survive, but to thrive. Their creator came into the world to give them Life, and to give it to them to its fullest.

2) Be grateful for gratitude, but do not expect it
Too many people have read that “one” story from “Chicken Soup For The Soul”, or have watched that one movie on Encore. Happy ever afters rarely happen with “hurt” children. Nine out of 10 parents who have experience will tell you how insanely tiring and taxing it is. You take them weekly to counseling and eventually you need to book appointments for yourself. I think I have aged 10 yrs in the past 2! So when our adoptive kid decides to call us by our first name instead of Dad or Mom after 5 years of being with us, or when you don’t get an immediate “thank you” as you buy them their first big wheel, remember they did not choose this. Frankly, they did not choose us. Be patient, and cherish the moments where you do get small glimpses of gratitude.

3) I’m parenting a hurt child for their entire life, not only for their childhood.
I forget that parenting a hurt child will be a life long thing, not an 18 year thing. It will be decades of reminding them that they were created by Jesus and for Jesus to thrive not simply to survive. It will be decades of reminding myself of the brokenness that they were formed within, cherishing but not expecting the sweet moments along the way. When frustration comes because my 10-year-old foster child lies, I must remind myself that they will not be perfect before they move out at age 18 or 22. I have to do a gut check and remind myself that it is a miracle they are still alive and with us in the first place. They will be attempting to break out of the broken systems and culture most were created in for the rest of their lives, and this is ok. Sad, but ok. Let us be patient and walk alongside of them for life knowing that our perfection and theirs will not surface until we stand next to our savior one sweet day.

To all those in it with us,
We are so grateful for you and will continue to pray for the battle you find yourself in.

As my 8 year old adopted daughter says,
“Peace and Hair Grease!”

Dance Party Of Delight

Each night, before our 5 kids wind down… they dance.  Whether they have had a good day, or a bad one, whether they have behaved brilliantly or have continued to cause chaos, each night Amanda and I sit back, taking a front row seat to what has now become our 3:17 moment.  It is a moment where we can show that we delight in them in an unconditional way.  Don’t get me wrong, we discipline our kids like no bodies’ business throughout the day.  But every night, just for one moment, we extend full grace, toss all logic to the side, and forget their trespasses, in confidence that God does the same for us.

If there is any encouragement I could give parents it would be to do the same.

Regardless of how horrific a child may be,

No matter how low their academic grades may sink,

Regardless of their perpetual level of disobedience,

their lying, stealing, or even drug abuse,

Regardless of how badly they may hurt you or others, and how badly it may hurt you to extend this type of unearned favor to them,

We must always be willing to create a 3:17 moment for a kid.

The world they live in is conditional. We give logical consequences to our kid’s behavior, hopefully aiding in the process of forming responsible adults. But every once in a while we must stop and ask once again, “Is my job to help form a responsible adult, or help them taste the unmerited love of our redemptive savior?”, trusting that whomever He chooses to form them into will be better then what I could ever make or mold.

Hear me clearly; discipline, deliver consequences, heck…give that kid a good spanking here and there.

But at the end of the day, and at the end of our lives as parents, we are going to want to ensure our kids have seen (if even for a brief second) unconditional love in the midst of a conditional world.  This will give them a glimpse of their savior who delights in them, who sings over them, and who sits back and smiles as they begin to dance, even if their behavior is far from perfect.

Zephaniah 3:17

“The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,

The New York Post & The New York Priest. (An Open Letter To Roosevelt Island)

To my Roosevelt Island friends, family, and neighbors

My family and I moved to Roosevelt Island about 2 1/2 years ago.  We never had a chance to meet Father Miqueli so please note that this open letter isn’t intended to critique him, nor is it about St. Frances Cabrini.  This letter is much more about our response (as Roosevelt Islanders) to the latest news that somehow made its way to the front page of the post. 

Some may ask "why would I respond at all?"  In addition to being new in the neighborhood, I’m not a member of the Catholic church.  Let me try to explain...

I pastor and lead (Hope Church Roosevelt Island) , but grew up in the Catholic church and have respect for many on the island who are a part of the Cabrini parish.  Though I am a pastor of an evangelical Christian church on Roosevelt Island, we desire to stand in solidarity with all Christian churches in the city and long to see a united church (protestant, evangelical, catholic, methodist and the rest) instead of one splintered by denominational differences and corruption.  As one who publicly proclaims the Christian faith and bends my life around it, it does become my issue when it is front and center on the minds and doorsteps of many in the neighborhood that I care for and love. In addition, many from the neighborhood have asked what I have thought as a local religious leader as I read the post article.  So, to those who have been hurt, betrayed, or are saddened, angered, or even feel somewhat justified by the recent news please read on...

If you’ve been hurt by Father Miqueli and the church (any church), I’m sorry.  The church was never meant to solely be some institution for those that align with the same moral or political position.  The church was never meant to be in the business of behavior modification, nor was it intended to be some weird bus ticket to heaven.  The church, by definition and origin, was meant to be a set apart family that exists for the well being of the context it finds itself within.  The church is intended to be a family that becomes a safe haven for the refugee, the child, the immigrant, the outcast, and the vulnerable.  One of the things we often teach at Hope Church is that Jesus left his family to create family for those that don’t have family.  The church was meant to be a family that breathes life into the neighborhood and gives people rest from a city that defines us by our production. The church was meant to exhale hope into the most hopeless of situations.  However, the reality is that this is not always the case, and many times throughout history the church has not lived into Christ’s calling for itself.  This won’t be the last time someone who represents (or is supposed to represent) Christ fails miserably.  It speaks volumes of the imperfections of the church, and the imperfections of our world.  On behalf of Hope Church, my family, and the Christ followers I walk with every day, we are so sorry if you have been hurt.

If you have felt betrayed by Father Miqueli and the church (any church), I’m sorry.  Betrayal stings like nothing else in the world.  Keep in mind just because the church carries Jesus' name doesn’t mean the church perfectly resembles Him.  Far too often spiritual leaders, pastors, and priests lose sight of their true job and calling.  Spiritual leaders are meant to point people to a perfect God, not pretend to be one.  Too often, spiritual leaders set themselves up as the “Holy ones”. Instead of being open and honest about all the times we sell out, stop short, and settle for less, we put on the religious mask that too many of our people actually want us to wear. Let’s be honest, who want’s to follow and be taught by a sinful man or woman.  Yet that is who we are.  As John Newton, author of the well known hymn, “Amazing Grace,” once said, "I am only certain of two things.  One, that I am a great sinner and two, Jesus is a great savior".  Both Spiritual leaders and those that are a part of the faith communities on the island would be wise to remember this.

If you are enraged by the latest news, so am I.  If what I’m reading about is proven to be true, it reeks of the hypocrisy that Jesus came to confront. For centuries those carrying the Christian label have gingerly liked the thought of Jesus, while crowning their political party, ethnicity, sexuality, or their moral elitism as king of their life, letting these things define who they are.  They may call themselves a Christian, but let's be honest, first and foremost they bow down to and are defined by other things that form their philosophy for life and their decision making process.  When Jesus walked the earth, the religious were often the most oppressive people.  This unfortunately holds true today.  However, let’s not confuse Jesus with those who adhere to a Christian institution and carry the Christian label that may be more tied to their political preference or their ethnicity than to their hearts. If Christ, the gospel message, and the narrative of Christmas is true, those who have really given their lives to Christ and are “ Christ-ones” will be those generously giving their lives away the same way Jesus did as opposed to those using the lives of others for their own gain.

If you have been saddened by Father Miqueli’s downfall, please know there is Hope. I don’t want to diminish the severity of what I’m reading.  It’s awful and I’m sorry for any hurt.  Yet we must also strive to be honest.  Each one of us is a conglomeration of beauty and brokenness.  In one breath we seem to be both glorious and grotesque.  This is the human heart in all of its complexities, which is why as the horrendous headlines hit, there will most likely be a few people who actually have fond memories of Father.  If this is you I’m sure you are more sad than enraged. Please know that no one is too far out of reach for the full redemption of Jesus.  Christ shows us that only those who acknowledge the need for God’s grace will actually receive it. This means that this could very well be the bottom for this man, but God has never been one to wait until we are perfect and can reach up to him. He instead in all His perfection comes down and reaches for us.  He is one who goes to the bottom for our sake again and again and again.

Lastly, if you feel justified by the news about Miqueli, know you are probably confused.  For many of my friends and neighbors there is a disbelief in Christ and a disgust with His church.  Something like these headlines are just another hypocritical act by one of its leaders which proves the stupidity of this world-wide faith and its doctrinal claims.  However, if you are feeling justified by the hypocrisy of a Spiritual leader please note you are most likely confusing religion and the Christian gospel.  Religion is a belief that if we do all the right things, attend the church services, the mass, take communion, watch our language, and vote the right way we will be accepted by God.  In summation religion is we do right things, and therefore we are accepted.  Religion has never been, nor will ever be the same thing as the Christian gospel.  If religion is we do, therefore we are accepted, than the gospel of Jesus is that we are accepted because of what Jesus has already done, and therefore out of a deep gratitude we do.  If you are someone thinking…”see, I told you the church and its message cannot be true, even church people are corrupt".  Please know that this mindset is one drenched in religion, and at the guts of Christianity lies the gospel (not religion). The good news or Christian gospel is that regardless of what we have done or what we may do, we are not defined by our good works or bad works, but the work of Christ on the cross that has been finalized and is complete.  I have to remind Hope church over and over again that a sign of a maturing Christian and a sign of a maturing Christian church isn't that we are becoming morally elite, but that we are seeing our flaws and failures sooner than before.  We are asking for forgiveness and longing for God's grace more today than yesterday.  It is in our honest and open brokeness that we experience Jesus' love, His grace, and His good news.  If you are critiquing the validity of Christianity based on a man's morals you've missed the mark.  It's always been and will always be about Grace.  Thank God for that.  

If you need prayer, or just some space to process through the latest news please feel free to email Dan@hopechurchnyc.org.  Myself or one of our leaders or pastors at Hope would be glad to sit down with you.

How can there only be one way to God?

Over the past year I have often found myself eating with, hanging with, and walking alongside those who don’t believe the same things as I do; good friends and neighbors who are devout Jews, well thought-out atheists, mystic Buddhists, and muslims. They are hanging at my home and eating with my family weekly. Within the mix are those who are entirely intrigued by the New York city pastor with 5 children(me), and respectfully question why in the world I would move my family to start new churches in a place that has never been home. Then, there are those who are insanely demeaning about my beliefs and my vocation in ministry…I guess it comes with the territory. 

Lately however I have been surrounded by religious pluralism (A strong belief that there are many ways to God), so much so that many in our community have started to ask me to write on it and help process through this perspective.

So here we go…

We live in a pluralistic society, where in the name of unity and tolerance most proclaim that there are many ways to God. My good friend has said, “no one has the right to proclaim THE truth and THE way to God, there is no way that Christianity can be the ONLY way. Many would suggest (like my friend), that it is narrow minded at best and incredibly self-righteous at its worst. I think it is important to note that historically (and presently) Christians have been idiots. There has been too many lives lost and marred by people who claim Christianity. Luckily the Christian doctrine does not find its credibility within the morality of its followers. The Christian Christ is one whose’ narrow belief system ended his life, not the lives of others. I would challenge someone’s deep beliefs in Christ if their behavior doesn’t slowly but surely become more and more like the Jesus we find in the gospel accounts.

What I would actually suggest is that there are holes in the religious pluralism position that can almost always be found.

Author Sam Shammas says, the religious pluralism view (there are many ways to God) is first and foremost a BELIEF. It is not an empirically verifiable hypothesis. There is no way to prove it.

Second, the religious pluralism view is not just a belief, but a RELIGEOUS belief. It is a belief about the nature of spiritual reality, and it is quite a detailed description of that reality (Many ways to God). Religious pluralism proponents assert that the ultimate is unknowable and so they do not believe (for example) that there is one God who accepts people because of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Therefore it is a series of beliefs about the nature of God and spiritual reality-it is a RELIGIOUS BELIEF with explicit dogma.

Third, religious pluralism proponents want to PERSUADE those opposing them. They believe that the world would be a better place if more people held the religious pluralism position on a spiritual reality rather than traditional christianity.

So, religious pluralism is a religious belief that claims to be a better or more accurate or preferable view of spiritual reality than the other views.

The Gospel message; that we are accepted only because of what Christ has done on the cross is a narrow message. It’s a good one, but it is narrow. There is no way around it. It is about one God, who sent one Son, to be one sacrifice, for all people. It hinges on our belief in one man, who he is, what he has done, and who we are in light of who he is and what he has done. But could it be that religious pluralism is equally narrow-minded… if not more?

If someone were to come to my apartment building looking for me, walk through the automatic doors, and veer left to my doorman Sookram and say, “There is a guy on the 9th floor somewhere. He is having a party like none before. I’ve heard there is complete access to him and his family. There is provision, there is celebration, he gives all access to his fridge, opens up his safe full of riches…He is incredible. I need to be with him. (PS-This would never happen)

Sookram would most likely get a big ol’ smile and say…”well who is he? What is his name?” 

If that person responded, “It doesn’t matter what his name is, or who he is, or where he is” Sookram would undoubtedly look at you and say… “sorry, I can’t help you then.”

The Christian belief is clear:
Jesus didn’t just bring the word…He is the word (The word became flesh and dwelt among us)

He did not just bring the truth…He is the truth (I am the way, the truth, and the life)

The good news is that our right standing with God is not dependent upon us, but dependent upon what He has already done for us. Religion says be good, and if you are good enough you will be accepted by God. The gospel says you are accepted by God through Christ, and because of this go and do good. Those are very different and specific ways based on a very different and specific person.

The gospel isn’t just a principle, The gospel is a person; one specific person, who laid his very specific and spotless life down for me. He allows me to wake up daily, in my shame and guilt, in my imperfections and flaws and instead of God seeing all of that, he instead sees the righteousness of His son Jesus in me. He took my sin, I take His righteousness, and because of it the Father sees me as His kid, His perfect kid…because of Jesus.

And for me and all of the ways that I tend to sell out, settle for less, and stop short…That is some good news!

 

 

When I Lose My Mind: On disciplining my children

Parents, (and even more specifically foster/adoptive parents)

Let me shoot straight this morning.

I have 6 children, have adopted out of birth order (understanding the potential implications), and have tried to learn and put into practice the most nuanced of parenting techniques in the midst of a tornado of twisted family dynamics.  We are a special group. (Don’t let the hallmark-like instagram pictures fool you for a second!)

I’m parenting 5 different kids in different ways, and not like the cliche “my kids are each special and unique and so I have to parent each differently” kind of way, but more like a “some of my kids are healthy and feel secure, while others best day has still not been as good as my absolute worst, and so I have to parent with different methods and theories or I will screw all 5 of them up” kind of way.

I lay that context to let you know that the area of discipline is the downfall of both my leading and parenting right now.

I’m quickly realizing that I either discipline out of love or fear.

I discipline out of faith in God or faith in self.

And I discipline with compassion and empathy or with an urgent need for control (which ironically is when I’m the most out of control, and my kids know it).

For all of you that have wanted to pull your hair out, have screamed obscenities into your pillow, and have quickly realized you lack the self-control you thought you had as a good Christian…You know what I’m talking about!

In a family dynamic like mine, it is easy to forget that God is in control, intricately involved in my kid’s lives.  He loves all 5, more than I can or will ever comprehend. When I forget this, I begin to feel the weight of needing to control the environment, needing to ensure some children are not subject to the trauma induced patterns of others.  Thus, when the pathological lying begins or aggression starts to surface, I move in fast attempting to squash it.  I do this out of the fear that those who have not had to process through the trauma may be influence or hurt by it in serious ways.  This is fear. And this type of fear leads to:

  • Anger-injected discipline
  • Bully-like threats
  • Illogical consequences being given
  • Bad decision making
  • The reinforcement that their safety and love is based on behavior instead of a parent/child covenantal love.
  • A lack of empathy
  • A lack of compassion

At the end of fear-fueled and control-driven discipline, I almost always feel convicted, unqualified, guilt-ridden, and shame-filled.

Especially when I discipline the children who have been through the hell on earth they have been through.  This isn’t their fault. The behaviors they often exhibit are not intentional decisions they are making (at least most days).  They have been re-wired in a way that deeply needs a counter-intuitive empathetic discipline in the most angry of moments.  That is the only way to re-wire their already re-wired brains in a way where they begin to believe they are safe and loved.

But then I fix my eyes on God’s story and the love He has for His people.  God disciplines those He loves, sometimes in an intense way.  But it is always out of love.  I never get the feeling that God is afraid of losing His people if they continue with their bad behavior; or that if they don’t get it quickly, all hell will take over His complete family.  It was a reminder today, that my discipline must come out of love and not fear if I want to reflect God the Father to my own kids.  Discipline must be delivered with compassion and empathy, not an urgency and need for complete control.  (I suppose there is a time for a tone of urgency in discipline, but that moment can’t be when someone rolls their eyes or pees their pants for the hundredth time.)

So here is how I move forward trying to move into repentance and not simply confession:

Before I discipline my children I need to sit them down, leave the room, stop and ask/do the following:

1) Breathe

2) Remember (Discipline can communicate the deepest form of love if done well).

3) Make sure my wife and I are on the same page (we cannot have a divided home.  A divided home, won’t be a home, (at least a safe one) for long.

4) Take inventory of who needs to be disciplined and what that discipline needs to communicate based on that individual child.

5)  Remember that God is in control, loves me, and loves my kids more than I ever could.

And then deliver consequences with faith, strength, and empathy the way my Father in heaven does with me.

So for all of you parents struggling through the world of discipline;

May we not shy away from it.

May we be a generation of parents who discipline out of love, not fear, with both compassion and empathy, not an urgent and fear-filled need for control.

And May we always receive the grace of God when we miss the mark, get back up, and out of gratitude for His grace, may we get better.

There are too many children waiting for us to get this right.

 

On Christian Leadership, Green Rooms, Conferences, and Wardrobes

Any one familiar with Christianity or the church knows the poor story of the shepherd. The shepherds were the forgotten about, the dirty and looked down upon. It’s what makes the Christmas story of Christ so brilliant. 

He showed himself first to the lowly.

But Why? Why were the shepherds so despised in their day?

The shepherds were looked down upon because they couldn’t keep up with ceremonial law. The meticulous hand washing, the proper observation of every festival…they just couldn’t do it all. 

The demands that their sheep placed upon them were too much to meet the rest of culture’s expectations. 

The constant care, the protection they offered their sheep from outside threats, the all night search for the lost. It was too much, too heavy, too constant to keep up with the expectations of the orthodox and religious elite.

Which brings us to today. 

I can’t help but think that there are cultural expectations for those in vocational ministry in the western evangelical world. I’m now 32 and every once in a while I can’t help but think I’ve not cut it because I don’t pastor a church of 5,000 people, I’ve never spoken at any major conference, found my way into a leadership magazine, or been offered some kind of killer book deal.

I’m not as beastly as Craig Groeschel (The dude is ripped), not as distinguished as Bill Hybels, not as intelligent as Tim Keller, or as charismatic as Steven Furtick or Priscilla Shrirer. Yes, it would be a lie to say there are not serious expectations for those in the world of evangelical Christian leadership.

But the comparison game only begins when we forget about the shepherds; those who will never be known, those who will never work the stages of a sizable conference, and those who will never find their way onto the shelves of your local book store. And why? Because they are too busy giving their lives to those they shepherd. They are too tied up in the protection of their people, too busy serving their neighbors, too consumed with helping find the lost, and too immersed in keeping their flock moving in the same direction…towards the spacious freedom that the gospel of Christ offers.

By no means am I saying that leaders in the spotlight haven’t done the same (They most likely have).

What I’m saying is that when we are really caring for our city the way the shepherds cared for their sheep, and when we are giving our lives to our people the way Christ gave His life for us, we might not be able to keep up with the lofty expectations that the christian leadership culture has created. 

There may be no book deals, no conferences, no leadership articles, and no speaking tours….And that is ok. For it is the shepherds whose lowly posture actually allowed them to hear the sounds of heaven as God’s grace invaded their lives. 

They were the front line that received Jesus in an extraordinary way, and this still happens today.

The majority of us may never sign with Zondervan, may never speak to the masses, and may never sit in the back greenroom waiting to speak in our time slot for that famous conference… And this may be the best thing in the world, as we experience Jesus on the front lines once again….As shepherds.