Seedbed Book Review of Deep & Wide, by Andy Stanley

My latest book review is up at seedbed.com. It’s a look at Andy Stanley‘s recent book for pastors and church leaders, Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend.

Check out my review here.

Narrative Goal-Setting for 2012

Have you received a Christmas card that includes a year-end family letter? I enjoy reading them because it is a fun way to catch up on friends now separated by larger distances. I enjoy seeing what accomplishments and milestones friends and their families are proud of from the past twelve months.

I usually create a list of goals and, truthfully, I list too many. Less is more. Focus is critical. Yep, I’m working on that. I believe in it and do plan some of my life (particularly at work) around it.

But here’s something I did the other day that gave my goal-thinking a twist. I wrote my Christmas letter for December 2012 now. I tried to keep it short–about 300 words. It’s sort an extended version of the question “What would you like written on your tombstone?” And, it’s more narcissistic than I’d actually send to anyone at the end of the year. But hey, it’s about what I’m wanting to do this year, some of which is about individual achievement and some of which relates to family goals or milestones. And it’s written for me to read, reread, and envision, not for others.

I can’t guarantee this method, of course. I’m just trying out something different.

But I’m finding myself energized by seeing it in narrative form rather than in a bullet-list. I hope it will become true. It’s already stronger in my imagination.

when tying is winning

Tying is winning when winning means arriving together.

My children love racing. They challenge me to races and love to run as fast as they can to see who wins. A week or so ago, my older daughter (age 4) challenged me to a race. We lined up and at her call began to run. But only a few strides into the race she slowed down (apparently I was being pokey), said, “let’s hold hands to run,” and continued along with me until we crossed the finish line together. My son has not taken that approach yet, and my older daughter doesn’t usually. But she did that time. Tying was winning because winning that particular race meant arriving together.

So, in which races is tying winning, and in which races is it not? That’s a question I’m wrestling with, and you should too.

Tying is not winning when…

  • the race is a race to the bottom (being cheaper or faster, as Seth Godin wonderfully points out)
  • the race is toward mediocrity

Tying is winning when…

  • the race is about vision (for a person’s life, for a church’s ministry, for an organization’s work)
  • the race is about faithfulness (to God, in relationships, to a calling)
  • the race is about values (truth, goodness, compassion, justice, etc)

When is tying winning? When is it not?

how to preach with wesley and the early american methodists

Donald Haynes shares this from his recent “Wesleyan Wisdom” column in the United Methodist Reporter, “Recovering the Power of Wesleyan Preaching“. It is a list of the attributes of “Methodist preaching from Wesley’s time through the 19th century” determined by a prominent chronicler of the movement (“David Hempton, an Irish Methodist who teaches at Harvard Divinity School, writes in his book Methodism: Empire of the Spirit“). I imagine I stack up well on some and not as good on others. Not that it should go without critical engagement, but this is a good list we’d do well to reference for modern preaching in our Methodist tribe.

According to Dr. Hempton, Methodist preaching from Wesley’s time through the 19th century was:

  • based on a selected biblical text (not a prescribed one);
  • delivered extemporaneously or from a loose structure of notes;
  • designed to evoke a response—conversion, sanctification or “warmed up” spirituality;
  • delivered in plain language, enlivened by illustration, anecdote or humor;
  • within the accepted canon of Wesleyan-Arminian theology
  • measured by fruitfulness, not eloquence;
  • communicated more from heart to heart than from head to head, not bypassing the mind but not aimed directly at it;
  • based on accepting the authority of the Scripture at face value; and
  • preached by preachers of much the same social status as their listeners.

who’s problem is it?

Check this review of the book Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest at BooksandCulture.com.

The quote that grabbed my attention was this:

“The liberal churches,” in contrast, “would often complain about the lack of children and youth programs … yet were unwilling to change their services to appeal to families, young children, or youth.” Even more telling was the way that evangelicals and liberals differed on their approach to youth ministry. “For evangelicals,” Wellman concluded, “if children and youth are not enjoying church, it is the church’s fault and evangelical parents either find a new church or try to improve their youth ministry. For liberals, the tendency is the reverse; if youth do not find the church interesting, it is the youths’ problem.”

Now, the way these two groups are contrasted in this study is unique to the location and parameters of the study, so I have no broad brushes with which to paint (to my friends who are liberal, as well as those who are evangelical). My concern is missional.

My interest is the view of who has the burden to be faithful in our work of reaching and discipling our children and youth. I think that issue presses all of our local churches. What is the answer when we discover we are missing the next generation? Well, I do try to avoid being reactionary and knee-jerk because I don’t think that’s helpful.

But the question surfaced in this research is, “When children and youth are not being reached, who’s problem is it?” Here, I absolutely agree with the evangelical churches in the study (and, to be clear and fair, I have liberal friends I know have the same posture).

I remember something said once by a friend who is a college pastor, expressing frustration that college students active in campus ministries were not always quickly finding a church home in our United Methodist local congregations. His response: “It isn’t my job to make our ministry less vibrant and more boring in order to keep their expectations lower.” Ouch… but a point worth hearing.

Our congregation is doing a great job of reaching and engaging children and youth. But the question is worth keeping in front of us in our good times too, lest we forget.

I pray I’m doing my part in engaging the next generation effectively and being a faithful disciple of Jesus and co-laborer for the gospel with my congregation. That’s a prayer I’ll be putting in to practice in a specific way this Sunday when I begin teaching our Confirmation class.

why you should have a “leadership notes” document

One of the challenges for any of us, from the time we arrived on this earth, is learning from what we’ve experienced. “Experience is the best teacher,” we say. And we mean it. And there is a good deal of truth to it. But how often to we practice that truth? How can we?

Here’s my approach.

A few years ago, I started a document in Google Docs titled, “Leadership Notes.” I began with a personal summary of the key parts of the “Lead Pastor” job as I saw it, since that’s the position I aspired to (and now hold). Then, I continued with a section on practical stuff, insights I’ve learned other places and that have simply come to me in the midst of my own practice of leadership. I typed “1.” and started writing.

Here’s what I find valuable about this practice and why I recommend it to anyone who’s in charge of leading anything (church, school/classroom, business, non-profit, Scouting troop, Little League team, university club, etc).

  1. Capture your insights. You experience clarity about the essence of leadership or something practical about your leadership. Stop and write it before it’s gone.
  2. Capture others thoughts. What got your attention about what someone else said, wrote, tweeted, etc is that you either imagined yourself in their world or saw how it might relate to yours. Capture their thought now so you can revisit it and mine it for further usefulness.
  3. Review and refine. You’re capturing a snapshot of what you, or someone else, thinks. It gives you the most value when you have an ongoing conversation with yourself about your own thoughts. I review my Leadership Notes about every 2-3 months. I tinker with how I’ve put something, remember something I forgot, or hunt for something I know I now need and know that I recorded in my document (the beauty of the idea at work!) at some point.

You’re the person doing your job or aspiring to that position. That may not make you the expert on the subject, but it at least makes you well positioned to learn about what it is and how to do it better. Starting a “Leadership Notes” document will help.

Question: What’s an insight you need to capture now about your leadership?

what you see

We’ve begun working through a new vision process as a church. We’re working with Auxano through the Church Unique process. The two values that we resonate with, and that told me this is a great group to work with for our church, are (1) “clarity first”, and (2) every church is unique.

We started last week with our first coaching session with our “lead navigator” through the Church Unique process. I’m enthusiastic about what this will do for our church and for my effectiveness as pastoral leader.

One step in this process is “re-know” our community. What are the needs and opportunities where God has placed us? This really has to do seeing our community, our mission field, with fresh eyes.

Think about the picture you have of your community, of your family, of your neighbors, of your church, of your business. What determines what you see?

Here’s my take: The picture you see is determined by where you were looking, and where you weren’t looking, and by when you were looking there, and when you weren’t. Yep, pretty basic. But think about it.

How has the place you’ve been standing and the direction you’ve been looking shaped your vision, what you see? Do you see what’s in front of you? what’s in back? Do you see what’s sideways? what’s around the corner? what’s across town? what’s down the street?

How has the time you were looking shaped what you see? Which day of the week are you looking? What time of day are you looking? In which decade are you looking?

What do you see?

how i have approached refocusing as a leader

The past couple of weeks I’ve noticed myself constantly responding (reacting?) to one thing after another that has popped up on my radar or come across my desk as pastor. That certainly happens in the ebb and flow of ministry. Some things arise and must be dealt with quickly. That’s okay to a certain point.

But I could tell it was time to refocus my time and energy in order to be as good a steward of myself and what I should bring to the church as possible. My first three months were noticeably (to me) focused, strategic, and impactful, in terms of my time, energy and strengths. It was time to step back and look at the next three months in order to be as focused, strategic, and impactful as possible.

So the past couple of days, through this morning, that’s what I’ve been doing in between other responsibilities. Here’s how I’ve approached it.

1. I got out my trusty yellow pad and made a list of focus questions that I thought could lead me to the answers that would best assess my work and guide me in prioritizing for the next 3 months. Here are the 7 questions I came up with:

  • What are the most impactful ways I can use my time over the next 3 months?
  • Who are the people I need to engage for positive impact on my ministry leadership over the next 3 months?
  • How am I cultivating my own creativity, teaching, leadership, management, and (most importantly) spiritual health?
  • What are the key issues/major areas in the church that need my attention, especially over the next 3 months?
  • How am I intentionally leveraging my strengths in order to maximize my personal effectiveness and the effectiveness of the church’s ministry over the next 3 months?
  • How am I making room for my best effectiveness through delegation and team ministry?
  • What would be my personal “continue doing, stop doing, start doing” assessment for the past 3 months, to apply over the next 3 months?

2. Continuing with my yellow pad, I wrote down everything that has been somewhere in my mind concerning ministry and church and self-work that I needed to capture on paper. This was about a page and a half.

3. I printed off my preaching calendar for October through February. A significant part of my calendar and work rhythm revolves around Sundays, of course. And a major area to focus on in planning is worship, so my preaching calendar tells me a lot about my time and where I’m headed.

4. I began with a “continue, stop, start” assessment of myself (#7 on my focus question list). Standing in front of the mirror is your friend. That was very helpful on its own.

5. Then I started at the beginning of my focus question list and with my trusty yellow legal pad–and the other pages named in the first 4 steps, answered the remaining focus questions by making a list for each one.

It’s incredible how clear-headed you can get from an exercise like this. That’s one value of taking the time to do it. But what will really make it valuable is my next step: Taking what I’ve got on paper and translating it into appointments on my calendar, clarified projects to pursue, and relationships to nurture.

Question: How do you refocus? What other steps or elements would you add to my list here?

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