Friday, February 27, 2009

Wisdom from Craig through Tony via Tweetdeck

This week Tony Morgan, chief strategic officer at New Spring Church was at the Catalyst One Day where Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel were speaking. Tony blogged the talks and the following quotes are statements Craig made – really good stuff:

"Organizations love to settle."

“Organizations settle into what is comfortable and safe."

“The longer you are there, the harder it is to break out."

“What got us here won't get us there."
(there’s actually a great book with that title)

“We can reach more by doing less."

"Do what we are uniquely called by God to do."

"We were just entertaining Christians from other churches."

"Why are we putting all these resources into something that isn't bearing spiritual fruit?"

"The only way we could do the things no one else was doing was stop doing the things everyone else was doing."

"What are you doing that you need to stop doing?"

"Make the necessary changes in order to further the mission. Make the hard decisions."
"We can't allow someone to hold back the mission of the church."

"You have to get to place where you'll say, 'I love the mission enough to make the hard call."

Then Craig was asked: “Do you make the hard call even if it will cost you families in the church?

“We’d better. or we're letting certain families hold God's mission for the church hostage”

"Create a culture that allows people to leave on good terms."

"If this isn't the place for you, go find someplace that is."

"Don't be afraid if they leave. You can grow when people leave."

"Limitations are often the breeding ground for innovation."

"People are going to die and go to hell. When you realize that, you can do things that you used to think you couldn't do."

"If you have what you want, you may not see what God wants you to see."

"Find someone one or two steps ahead of you and learn how they think."

"Make the decision no matter what the short term pain."

Tony, Andy and Craig and some of the people one or two (or three or four) steps ahead of me that I am learning from.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top Chef

Last night was the finale of season 5 of Top Chef (one of the handful of shows I am “obsessed” with watching). I was pulling for Carla but can live with Hosea’s win.

I’m not the only one in my family that finds this show addictive and as we were watching we are also googling information about the show. Evidently a lot of people are watching TV with a laptop on the coffee table – at least a lot of people at our house.

We didn’t start watching the show until Season 3 and I was surprised to learn that Padma Lakshmi hasn’t always been the host. Season 1 was hosted by Kathi Lee Joel. That name sounded familiar and when I checked it out (thanks to wiki) it confirmed my suspicion that she is Billy Joel’s wife.

When I excitedly announced this to the family, Kelli (our soon to be 21-year-old) responded:
“Who’s Billy Joel?”

I now officially feel old!

Without fear

If you missed President Obama’s speechTuesday night I hope you’ll go online and read it (that’s what I did – there’s a transcript at I especially like the last few paragraphs:

We are not quitters.

These words and these stories
[before this section he told a few great stories] tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.

I know that we haven't agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

And if we do -- if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, "something worthy to be remembered." Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Whatever your politics that is a great speech and a sentiment and conviction that our nation needs to embrace.

And I would suggest that one line in particular also defines what is required for those of us who lead churches: to confront without fear the challenges of our time.

Perry Noble, pastor of Newsping Church in Anderson, SC tweeted this on twitter earlier this week and I read it on my tweetdeck (there’s a sentence I never thought of writing):

If a leader is paralyzed with fear...the organization he leads will be as well.

It makes me wonder: Where are the places and what are the issues I need to confront without fear? How about you?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What are you giving up for Lent?

The season of Lent begins tomorrow, a season of preparation for Easter and a season in which many people “give up” something – though I suspect many don’t know why (or that the Sundays in Lent aren’t supposed to count and they can indulge to their hearts delight).

Living in South Louisiana for a number of years I grew accustomed to the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” I usually tired to offer a witty answer but I’ve learned there are some instances when that’s not the best approach.

My little sister (little is 45) is Roman Catholic, as are her husband and four kids. A few years ago her daughter, my niece, Sean Nicole, asked me, “Uncle Doug, what are you giving up for Lent?”

I should have given a bit more thought before answering, “Sean Nicole, I’m protestant, I already gave up the pope!” Witty I thought but apparently not funny to a nine-year old.

I apologized and for the record I have the greatest respect for the Pope – especially John Paul II. I also really like the popemobile!

So for the record: What are you giving up for Lent? (this year I am considering giving up watching the stock market).

Monday, February 23, 2009

84 - 16

In Bryan Wilson’s message yesterday morning I was struck by the statistic he quoted:

84% of Americans weren’t in church today.

I suspect that % varies widely across the nation but non-the-less it is a sobering reality.

Perhaps even more sobering is the even sadder reality that so many of the 16% don’t care – or at least don’t care enough to make the changes necessary to become relevant to the 84%.

I was reminded of a statement Tim Stevens makes in Pop Goes the Church.

How many Christians attend church every week they may personally enjoy, but where they would never think of inviting an unchurched friend? Many Christians are okay with that. They have decided that the purpose of the church is solely for the followers of Christ to talk about God and enjoy each other.

We believe instead that the purpose of the church is found in Jesus’ great commission and commandment.

So here are a few of the challenges for those of us called to lead a church:

How do we make ourselves relevant to the 84?
How do we bring the 16 to a place where they care?
How do we do both of those in a season of decreasing resources and perhaps influence and trust?
Those of us who are “trained” church professionals were for the most part trained to care for the 16 – so perhaps the answer to the questions begins with us.

And more and more I’m convinced that the answer requires a healthy dose of entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs (according to wiki) are ambitious leaders who assume significant accountability for the inherent risk and outcome.

Read that last sentence a few times and let the words “ambitious,” “accountability,” “risk” and “outcome” sink in.

When I was at Menlo Park there was a member of our staff, Brent, who on a regular basis (regular means often more than once a day) would come into my office and announce: “Here’s what you (we) need to do…” The idea that would follow might range from a simple “let’s serve better coffee” to a more far reaching “let’s start a television station.”

At the time I never thought I’d be saying this, but there are days that I really miss Brent.

Numbers 4

Insight often comes from surprising places….

Yesterday afternoon I started reading through the book of Numbers and I became fascinated with the instructions given to the Kohathites, the Gershonites and the Merarites regarding the Tent of Meeting (Numbers 4).

It’s all very ordinary stuff:

What to do with the ashes,
How to cover the elements (lots of hides of sea cows required),
Who carries the curtains and who carries the timbers and the tent pegs.

Very ordinary tasks necessary for an extraordinary purpose – to provide what the Celts called a “thin place” – a place where heaven touches earth.

Reading through these instructions reminded me of all the ordinary and necessary task that the Grace staff engages in each and every day for that same extraordinary purpose – helping to create places where heaven touches earth. We don’t use near as many sea cow hides as the Kohathites, Gershonites and Merarites but we do a lot of ordinary stuff:

Manage data bases, post deposits and pay bills
Print and fold bulletins
Answer email and phones
Update websites and poster frames
Set up rooms
and a thousand other ordinary things that are done for an extraordinary purpose.

I am so grateful for their hard work, willingness to go “above and beyond” and most of all for a commitment to Jesus Christ and His church.

I also reminded that most of us spend our days doing ordinary things for extraordiary purposees.

Throughout today (and this week) my prayer is that you will recognize the extraordinary role you play in helping heaven touch earth!

PS: This is my first post in days. Our eldest daughter Kelli had to come home from college to address a medical issue that is requiring surgery tomorrow. Getting her home, caring for here and preparing for surgery seems to have taken all my extra time (and energy). Prayers for Kelli are greatly appreciated.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Twitter 101

This evening I passed a small “mile marker” of sorts. I now have 101 “followers” on Twitter.

Not a very large number compared to some of the Twitterers (is that even a word) that I follow – some have followers in the 1000’s even 10,000s – so I’m quite aware that 101 is hardly a blip in Twitterland (again is that really a word).

Still a few months ago twitter, tweets and tweetdeck weren’t a part of my vocabulary. Now I use them constantly (and apparently tweet with greater frequency than the founders of twitter).

So here’s what the world of Twitter has taught me:

People are interested in people. I twitter some of the most random things, and enjoy reading random tweets from others.

The more I write the better I write and the better I think.

People love to share. Daily I’ve been directed to fascinating apps, blogs and articles I would have never discovered without the tweets from the twitter community.

Communication continues to change and isn’t likely to settle down anytime soon. I can only imagine what new words will be in my vocabulary a year from now.

I was pleased to note that follower 101 is a prolific tweeter and leading communicator whose tweets and blogs have been a great blessing to me, Guy Kawasaki. Guy and his family are members of the church I served in Menlo Park and his wife Beth and I were part of a team that traveled to Ethiopia in 2005. More importantly Beth (along with Tracey and Kim) was part of the genius behind 240 Faith Unleashed which is the genesis of Grace’s Project 180.

So thanks Guy for putting me over 100! Follow Guy on Twitter or visit his blog at

Cockroaches, Palmetto Bugs, Horses and Geico

I’ve been reading (slowly because there’s lots to sink in) Tony Morgan’s “Killing Cockroaches.” Tony is Chief Strategic Officer at Newspring Church which makes him a South Kakalakian like me.

Every time I pick up the book I am reminded of a couple that lived next door to Kim and I just after grad school (in the condos at Marsh Pointe – if you add an “e” to “Point” you can charge more). Mimi (our neighbor) worked at Wild Dunes resort and once I heard her describe her job as convincing guests that those aren’t “cockroaches” they are actually “palmetto bugs” and a part of the Carolina Lowcountry charm. Roaches are gross. Palmetto bugs just a part of the landscape.

It reminds me of how much time we spend coming up with the right name to call a ministry, imagining that if we could only get the name right the ministry would flourish. I’ve tended to be self-critical of that approach but “cockroaches” and “palmetto bugs” has me reconsidering my position. It may well be that what we call something is significant (after all one of the first task God gave Adam in the garden was to name all the animals).

On a probably unrelated topic: I wonder if I was the only one bothered that during the NBA All Star weekend the annual game of H-O-R-S-E was changed to G-E-I-C-O. H-O-R-S-E presented by Geico wasn’t enough, they actually had to change the name of the game (although the announcers continually referred to it as H-O-R-S-E).

Will kids on playgrounds now be challenging one another to games of G-E-I-C-O? Is anything safe from a corporate sponsorship?

Or is this a wave we all should ride. Imagine this Sunday I could invite everyone to take a look at the Coca-Cola screens for the video announcements and to come to the AT&T Table to celebrate communion sponsored by Welch’s and Pepperidge Farms. We could even score a little product placement by pouring the grade juice directly from the can.

I love change (too much) but why can’t H-O-R-S-E remain H-O-R-S-E? Ironically, the winner of G-E-I-C-O was awarded a plastic horse as a trophy.

PS: The other part that bothered me was the lack of shooting creativity. I know I am sounding way too old school but “Pistol” Pete Maravich or George “Iceman” Gervin would have toasted today’s G-E-I-C-O players (see Maravich vs. Gervin at

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fish Bowl

This afternoon I participated in a fascinating dialogue about West Houston in a “fish bowl” conversation at a retreat for the West Houston Leadership Institute. Five of us were invited to engage in a discussion about the quality of life in West Houston while members of this year’s leadership class listened in to our conversation. We were the in the “fish bowl” while they sat around us observing and ultimately asking questions.

In the fish bowl with me were:

Pam Holms, Houston City Council Member, District G
Michael Mallon, President of Terrance Security (and a former law enforcement officer)
Greg Meyers, HISD Trustee, District VI, Second Vice President
Kathy Miller, Vice President of Administration, Metro National

We all agreed that our part of Houston is rapidly changing and each day we become more of Houston’s 7 or so “downtowns.” What only a few years ago was considered the suburbs is today by almost any definition a mixed suburban-urban environment.

I spent a lot of time thinking about and working on city planning issues during my architectural education and career. It was great preparation for leading a church that finds itself near the epicenter of the fourth largest city in the U.S.

Much of what is happening in our neighborhoods is paralleled by changes taking place in the church. There is still much of neighborhood and the church we once knew, the one we grew up with and therefore there is the great temptation to hold on to what was. Yet just as God told Isaiah, “Behold! New things are spring up all around us.”

But whether its in a neighborhood or a church, change doesn’t come easy. As Mark Twain once observed:

“I want to look forward, I just don’t want to change.”

It’s that reality that has me “thinking orange” and “killing cockroaches” and it leaves me scared and exhilarated!


Too often when I read a book I skip the forward – imagining that the forward isn’t the reason I purchased the book and I’m anxious to “hear” from the author.

However, today I went back and read the forward to Tony Morgan’s Killing Cockroaches. I’m glad I did! It was written by Andy Stanley and contains some amazing thoughts on ministry. Here are just a few:

Aren’t there days when you just want to stick with what’s familiar? It’s easier that way. The only problem is safety breeds contentment, which ultimately limits the need for faith. We have to find that place of healthy tension between being confident in our calling and knowing that we cannot complete the mission without God’s intervention.

I’m amazed at how we tend to squander God’s blessings given the certainty of His promise… Remember the parable of the talents? God rewarded the two men who risked it all… I think He desires to bless people – including leaders – who will put their faith into action and lay it all on the line.

Since reading those lines I’ve been asking myself where am I laying it all on the line and where am I settling for the safety of contentment. Am I attempting anything that would be impossible without God’s intervention?

Are you?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Killing Cockroaches and Comfortable Mediocrity

Yesterday I received a copy of Killing Cockroaches in the mail. I’ve enjoyed following Tony Morgan’s blogs and tweets and I’ve been really looking forward to the book.

Great thought on page 11:

…we learned a long time ago that to try to make everyone happy, you have to be comfortable with mediocrity. It’s a place where there are few critics. It’s also a place where few people become really passionate…

Too often I allow complaint management to keep me trapped in mediocrity. Living with passion will always bring criticism. But it sure beats living in comfortable mediocrity.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Disolving Churches

Saturday morning the Presbytery of New Covenant engaged in the latest round of a three decade debate on human sexuality and ordination. Our most recent debate was well planned with presentations and prayers bracketing the discussions from the floor of a room filled with more people than typically attend a presbytery meeting. It was obvious that a great deal of planning had gone into making it all run “decently and in order.” To that end it was a great success and for those of us who sought to retain the requirements of “fidelity and chastity” the vote was equally successful.

Saturday afternoon we took another vote. There were far fewer people in the room, many left the meeting after the “important” business was done. For the afternoon vote there were no presentations, no one speaking “for” or “against” and no carefully planned prayer to encourage mutual respect. None of that was needed because there was also no disagreement as we voted unanimously to “dissolve” the congregation of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas. Dissolve is the way our polity describes closing a church that has “died.”

Westminster served the community of Beaumont for 129 years. Their history was included in the minutes of Saturday’s meeting and noted the rich ways the church at the intersection of Main and Elizabeth was a part of the Beaumont community.

I imagine the pastors and elders that lead Westminster over the last 129 years were no less passionate about their faith than we are. I suspect that they were just as gifted and committed but somewhere along the way the church began to die and either no one noticed or no one cared or no one was willing to do what was required.

Just a few years ago as Westminster celebrated a 125th anniversary the congregation wrote:

We do not know what path the future has for Westminster. We have dreams. We dream big and we pray for our dreams. Our faith and our future are in the hands of the Lord, and God’s purpose will prevail.

On May 31, 2009 those dreams will cease as Westminster Church is officially dissolved.

As I sat in our Sanctuary on Saturday, listening as we voted to close the doors on this congregation I wondered if it might have made a difference if somewhere along the way the sort of energy and passion and commitment and planning demonstrated earlier in the day had been directed toward Westminster (and so many churches facing similar futures).

It’s a cliché, but a true one, that every church is just a generation away from extinction. At times I wonder if anyone notices, if anyone cares and if anyone is willing to do what is required.

The future for every church that ceases to be relevant to the community it serves is the same as Westminster’s. Some are big enough to hold on longer but the future for a church that loses relevance is inevitable.

Our biggest challenges aren’t realizing and balancing a budget, determining optimum Sunday morning schedules, navigating diverse worship styles or improving our communications.

Our greatest challenge is continuing to be relevant to the community we serve. The questions that keep me awake at night are all around how to lead a church into the future.

(I might also suggest, as I taught to the Band of Brothers last Thursday, that our biggest problem is that we don’t really believe that God is bigger than our biggest problem).

So here’s my challenge to our leadership.

What if we spent our energy and our time and directed our passion around how to insure our relevance. What if elders were asking to make presentations at Session meetings about how churches are becoming more relevant and devoting our time and actions toward that end.

Just like those at Westminster, we have dreams. We dream big and we pray for our dreams. Our faith and our future are in the hands of the Lord, and God’s purpose will prevail.

May we also have God’s vision and the courage to follow His dreams.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cooler Online

Last week a few of us were discussing ways to make our web presence, more reflective of the sort of fun people we are (it was a weird conversation – I get that). Our discussion reminded me of one of my current favorite country music songs by one of my favorite artists Brad Paisley. Brad sings, “I am so much cooler online…”

We decided that as a church we too are so much cooler online, on twitter, on Facebook, on blogspot, wherever… and we might as well admit it.

And while we are at it we might as well admit we are also so much cooler in our minds (or at least our memories).

Last weekend our guest speaker, Chap Clark, invited us to remember back to high school and where we might place ourselves on a “coolness” spectrum. He said he was tempted to have us line up by “coolness” rank (with 1 being ubercool and 10 more “pocket protector and calculator in the denim case attached to the belt”).

The “1’s” thought that sounded great – those of us on the other side of “5” not so sure (my family later determined that I was an “8” that married a “2”).

Most of the evidence suggests that we are both cooler online and in our minds. Consider my yearbook picture as a high school senior – ouch, not so cool.

Anyway, if anyone has ideas how to make our web presence more reflective of the sort of fun people we are that doesn’t involve photos from high school please comment!

God on the move

There’s a great line in N. T. Wright’s “Simply Christian” (which I’ve probably mentioned before – but can’t get out of my head):

Wherever [Jesus] went, people were excited because they believed that God was on the move, that a new rescue operation was in the air, that things were going to be put right.

Here’s the thought I can’t seem to let go of (or better the thought won’t let go of me): God is still on the move, and the most amazing (and humbling) part is we are invited to be a part of God’s movement. The very thought of that is exciting and frightening.

And, I’m convinced, if we fully grasped that truth, it would change the way we approach everything that we do.

Our tasks today are not to: answer the phones, pay bills, balance the budget, plan worship services, develop communication strategies, sort Easter eggs any of the other activities that are on our desk.

Our task (because we’ve been invited) is to join in the movement of God, in the advancement and proclamation of His Kingdom.

Again, if we really understood that truth everything would be different:

We’d wake up in eager anticipation of being a part of what God is doing today and we’d hate to have to go home at the end of the day

We’d be less worried and anxious and more enthusiastic

There’d be less room for cynicism and more moments of celebration

Sacrifices would be hardly worth comparing to the joy of being Kingdom bearers

We’d pursue the sort of excellence that honors God.

And maybe most of all, we’d find ourselves in the midst of what God is doing and discover real peace and joy and what it means to trust God with everything.

One last thought (probably related somehow). In preparing for tomorrow morning’s Band of Brothers I came across a great line by F.B. Meyer:

Unbelief puts our circumstances between us and God. Faith puts God between us and our circumstances.

As we continue to pray for provision, protection, vision, courage and unity may our prayer be that of the dad who brought his son to Jesus: “Lord we believe, help our unbelief!”

Monday, February 2, 2009

Two Become One

The Bible describes the act of marriage as “two becoming one flesh.” That’s not an easy concept for us to grasp. The Bible even admits that the whole idea is a “profound mystery.”

And it is a mystery – it’s hard to understand but it’s God’s vision for what husbands and wives might experience – that the two would become so intimate that it’s as if they’ve become one person.

But here’s what I’ve discovered often happens: two become about one and a half.

We never complete that last half because we hold back the places in our lives where we are either selfish or ashamed.

We are ashamed about things we think, or things we’ve done in the past and we imagine that if she knew this about me she’d run screaming from the room. That’s why we wait so long to share things like our secret obsession with Barry Manilow.

Or we’re selfish about our time, or possessions or money. We tell ourselves that I can never entrust this to him, what if he broke it or took advantage of me. It’s why we hold so tightly to the remote and keep all our passwords secret.

As long as we hold back in those places where we are ashamed or selfish two never really become one. We become about one and a half.

It’s only when we are willing to risk, to be complete vulnerable with our shame and our selfishness, that we discover real intimacy.

It’s not ever easy. But it is so very worth the risk.

Mountain Tops and Mondays

Lately, one of the stories that has helped me understand my life is the Old Testament account of Elijah’s victory on Mount Carmel and the response that follows (1 Kings 18 and 19).

If you don’t know the story, Elijah, one of Israel’s prophets, challenges 450 prophets of Baal to a contest. It’s actually a pretty funny story, especially the way in which Elijah taunts the other prophets. My favorite moment is when Elijah suggests that perhaps Baal is “in deep thought, busy, traveling or asleep.”

In the end Elijah achieves a great victory, ends a three year drought and God gets all the glory. Then Elijah hears that one person, a woman named Jezebel, is furious with him. That news spirals Elijah into fear and depression.

One moment Elijah is standing on victorious on top of the mountain, the next he is hiding in a cave ready to die.

I’ve discovered that after great victories I can feel the same way.

Grace has been blessed with some wonderful mountaintop victories in recent weeks. Last weekend’s launch of Project Family is a great example. God is doing amazing things among us. There is much to celebrate.

Yet in the midst of those victories I can find myself tempted to listen to voices that, often through criticism, encourage fear and depression.

In those moments I need, more than ever, to listen to God’s “gentle whisper” of reassurance. When I listen it’s always there.