Finding The Perfectly Imperfect Church

I sat there waiting for the Executive Pastor to show up. He was twenty-five minutes late. I had been asked to interview for the newly created Campus Pastor position at this well known and highly effective Orange County megachurch.

The lobby was bustling and the waiting easy. There were plenty flat-screens on the walls pumping out the latest worship gigs, a Keurig station offering dark bold Sumatran, free wifi, leather couches and interior decor that coagulated the best of surf hipster, New York chic and rustic farm house. Stunning. Unfortunately, the few people hustling by did not seem to notice.

As I sat there in opulent comfort, my mind flashed back to a church meeting I had attended in Thailand a decade earlier. The coffee was instant, the floor seating hard and the only decor a faded picture of a brown eyed Jesus hanging on the cross. The spirit of peace in that place was tangible. It was as if no one was trying. I mean that in the best of lights.

The executive pastor arrived with lavish apologies for his tardiness. A radio interview had gone long. He was likable, focused and obviously loved Jesus. Under his arm was a copy of Fast Company magazine. He told me to wait another five minutes and that his assistant would come out and collect me for the meeting. I was offered another coffee. For me, the interview had already ended. I knew we were headed to the same destination, but on different paths.

If there is one thing I have learned in twenty-plus years of leading in churches is that you can buy church. Check that. You can buy or create a church experience for your community that will offer them the temptation to think that this church has it all together. It’s also a great growth strategy, as it allows people to check the box of being part of something that is effective and meaningful.

As a pastor of a small local church and having just come out of 10 years ministering in a mega church setting, I feel the pressure to create a “Fast Church”, one with all the modern bells and whistles, singing the latest anthems and offering clean efficient systems to organize people around legitimate spiritual causes.

The problem that I face, is that if I went after that, it would not be long before I was the wizard behind the curtain offering up an illusion of spiritual perfection that would not only be soul killing for me, but also for those I lead.

It’s one thing to talk about messy churches and lives from the pulpit, but it’s quite another to actually allow that messiness to be part of your church staff, volunteer base or even organizational systems.
What I often see are churches that preach and sing about brokenness and authenticity, but then go out and try to create a church image and culture that presents modern ideals of perfectionism. Here is what I mean. Would you allow a seriously obese person  to be your door greeters? Can we allow someone to stay on staff who is not reaching their targets and goals for one reason or another believing that sometimes God cares more about your staff as individuals then what they can produce. Can someone be on the worship team that occasionally sings flat and do heads roll if the sound or PowerPoint is not run with Spielberg perfection?

I believe that when we present authenticity and imperfection from the stage but don’t allow that to play itself out in the ebb and flow of our church matrix’s and social systems, we are actually creating a culture that never let’s people truly be free. In fact it heaps unseen heavy burdens on their heads.

No, I am not advocating a sloppy church. Being an A Type control junkie, it pains me to be patient as God grows those I lead. I see every perceived misstep, off note and occasional unedited promotional piece. The thing is that deep down, my desire to present the perfect church has more to do with how I want people to perceive me then trying to offer them a savior who brought a casual perfection, but never demanded it in return.

Living In A Selfie-Stick World

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Little did I know when I walked into Marshalls last month that I would do something I promised myself never to do. The problem was, the conditions were perfect. We were one day away from a month long trip to Europe to visit my brother, I had a little extra trip cash in my pocket for those last minutes extras before you leave, a travel pillow, pair of cheap sunglasses, a paperback fiction novel.

Moments from my escape and trying to seamlessly run the Marshall’s impulse shopping line gauntlet I saw it. The selfie stick. I tried to look away, but like a bee to a marigold I was sucked in with visions of full frame family selfies at the Eifel tower, Big Ben and Five Guys Burgers Edinburgh. Before I knew it, I had it out of the box and fitted to my life control device, the iphone 5c. It felt good in my hand and the semi-automatic shutter button made me feel like a social media Clint Eastwood asking Mark Zuckerberg if he felt “Lucky”.

Like it or not, we are living in a Selfie Stick world. I’m not sure that things have changed very much. Most people’s favorite topic has always been themselves. The only difference now is that it’s much easier to get a front row seat to others moments of self-obsession as well as have a platform for our own.

Few things scream, “Do you love me?” like the selfie.

Self obsession in all forms comes down to an issue of worth and where we are extracting that worth from. The scriptures tell us that in the end, perilous times will come as people begin to draw their worth from self-love. The reason self love is treacherous is that it is impossible to harvest love from yourself. Love is product of God and all pure love, even virtuous love of self must be generated and purified in understanding God’s great love of you.

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self” 2 Tim 3:1

When we become lovers of self, we are once again trying to be like God. Love of self tells God that we don’t need his eternal and limitless love and mines a fool’s gold of momentary adrenaline and dopamine hits we can garner of our own efforts.

The fact is this. God has set His vast affection upon you. He calls you to plumb the depths of that love and to drink deeply for it is only by drowning in the love of God that we can really begin to breath.

Does this mean that all selfies are bad and a bi-product of egotism? Not at all. I believe God himself delights in the exposition of our daily lives. It’s just that He wants to be a part of every image you capture, standing there beside you saying, this is my son or daughter in whom I love and am delighted in.

1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Whatever Happened To Singles Ministry?

Today the best thing for singles is not a singles-only ministry.

It was the late 1970s. John Travolta was taking the dance floor, and the church in America had a problem. How would it deal with the increasing number of single adults created by a growing divorce rate, career minded professionals placing work before settling down, and others delaying or never agreeing to the confines of marriage? It was a brave new world. Being single was in!

This zeitgeist, coupled with the attrition of the unmarried demographic from their pews, caused Christian leaders to mobilize. There was a new target for ministry professionals: singles. The race for success in reaching them was on, and by the late 1980s singles ministries had become a staple at many churches.

Almost 25 years later, much has changed. “Single” is not a term people normally choose to describe themselves. Being single, while accepted among those in their twenties, is often seen as something of a stigma after passing a certain “acceptable” age. In America that age is around 30 years old.

You almost never see a 20-something “singles ministry.” Instead, 20-somethings congregate in groups with more relationally non-descript titles like New Beginnings or Careers, and the groups include both single and married.

But ministries for singles over 30 are harder to find.

The last 25 years have seen the church alter the way it relates to and reaches singles. The fervor to target singles directly is no longer front and center. On the contrary, ministry to singles is seen as a burden to many churches. What started out as a brilliant success has disintegrated into the realms of an epic fail.

Singles ministry proved to be harder than the original pioneers expected. It took too much time, too many resources, and produced too few sustainable results. We are now …

Read the full article at Leadership Journal.

God’s Will Is An Industry

Proverbs 16:9 In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the LORD establishes their steps.

God’s will is an industry. If you don’t believe me, do an Amazon search for the term, “God’s Will” and see how many hits you get. It’s around 334,000. The reason for this is that Christian publishers know that God’s will sells. Big.
And the reason that God’s will sells is that it is often less about God and all about us. Whom shall I marry, will I get the mortgage modification, and should I move to France and become a potato farmer.
Like many of you, I am in the God’s will business. 40% of the conversations I have revolve around helping people sort out their future. The other 60% is a mix of sin management, past guilt issues and the joys and sorrows of this life.
But what if you could not miss God’s will? Think about it. How would you live your life if you knew that it was impossible to miss God’s will? What would you do with all of the mental and emotional space created by removing doubt and anxiety from your heart and mind’s grid?
What if God’s will was more about knowing Him than knowing his plans for your life? Would you trade knowing God in a deeper way for 10 now answers about your future?
Do you ever wonder if it is possible to live a fulfilled and dynamic Christian experience without knowing about tomorrow, next Thursday, or 36 years from now?
According to Jesus it is? In Matt. 6 Jesus goes out of his way to tell his followers to not worry about the fish they eat, the wine they drink, what they will wear or where they are going? Nothing. This includes God’s will for where he is going to take them. Go back and read it. Are we really to take Jesus at his word?
I think we are. Maybe it is because spending so much time on these issues in the name of righteously seeking after God is really a form of anti-faith that temporarily satisfies our deep desire to know.
You see, this unquenchable desire to know, a desire I believe we are created for is one of the Devil’s greatest tools to distract believers from what that insatiable desire to know was really instilled in us for. God! It’s an infinite search that has the power to consume the desire of your mind and heart to know for ever after.

The problem is that many of us would rather know about our future than God.

So here is the challenge. Don’t worry or think about your future for 30 days. Don’t pursue God’s will, just rest in the fact that He will lead you into it. Or do you think your ability to mess God’s will up for your life is greater than His desire to lead you into it?

The Noah Factor: Following God When Everyone Says You’re Wrong

The Noah factor is when everyone tells you that what you are doing is crazy and insensible, but you go ahead and do it anyway. If you follow God long enough, you will probably have to employ the Noah factor at some point.

Jesus used the Noah factor when he went to the cross. Noah used it when he built his ark on dry ground and in a land that had never seen rain. Ultimately, Jesus and Noah knew something in the depths of their hearts that eluded all others. Like the couple Karie and I had coffee with this morning. They adopted a son from the Ukraine. No big deal, lots of people do that—but how many go through with it when seven days before they are set to get their son, the wife is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and given months to live?

Karie and I sat amazed as we heard the story. It’s now five years after the fact and with the cancer in remission and a 9-year-old adopted son part of their family. At the time everything and everyone told them not to go through with it. Both sets of their parents were adamant and a best friend angry. To do this would be unwise and going against the counsel of their trusted inner-circle. But like Noah, who was the only one that saw a flood coming coming, our friends saw and heard something in the quiet of their souls that said, “Go, go get your boy, the cancer can wait.”

This is the rub of following Jesus. Yes, we are called to live and hear in community, but at the end of the day we serve a personal Jesus; a Jesus who at some point in your life might challenge you to follow him where no one else is going and when everyone else sees it a different way.

This is faith you have signed up for, and unlike a good business plan, faith does not always pencil out.

Ambition: Should Christians Want Their Stuff To Succeed?

Sometimes I struggle with wanting to succeed. For some reason my Christian experience has programmed me to think that wanting to succeed in one area or another is a form of pride. A friend of mine recently challenged me on this by saying, “Okay, so God wants you to hope everything you do sucks?”

Over the years I have received all sorts of differing counsel on this. My faith-camp friends have told me to just let God do everything. If God is on it, nothing can stop it from happening.

Usually a few days after I have followed the faith-camps advice and released all of my desire to see the things I create find success or an audience, I run into someone from camp-free-will. These are your friends whose advice is to dedicate it all to God and then work as hard as you can to get your stuff or message out there.

Recently, a very successful recording artist friend said this on the subject, “God didn’t give it to you so no one would ever hear or see it. You need to market your brand.”

And that’s one of the problems right there. My friend is a legitimate rock star. He is supposed to get $600 haircuts, have a promotional team and care about chart success. Me on the other hand, I’m a pastor. We are called to enjoy dry toast and modest cars. Success and achievement need be shunned and avoided like the plague.

The more I have thought about it, the more I realize that I will never find the balance. My forty-two years have shown me that my life is a pendulum that only finds balance in the brief moments I am swinging from one extreme to the other. One minute I am giving it all to God, the next I am grasping my desires like Gollum with a slippery fish.

For me, the answer has come in being willing to walk. Here’s what I mean. Back in the 90’s there was a movie called Heat. It was a story about thieves. The tension of the movie was in the fact that everyone in the crew needed to be willing drop everything and walk if the heat was on. Nothing was as important as freedom.

The same is true for our dreams and pursuits in this life.

Whether you use a faith or faith and friction model to pursue your dreams and desires is not as important as your willingness to drop them and walk at any moment. If God says its done, its done and you walk.

Here’s the point. There is no pride in wanting your stuff to happen. There is no sin in co-laboring with God to put your dreams into motion. Instead, pride is saying no when God says let it go. So can you drop it and walk?

The Little Idol Factory in Your Heart


Have you ever had a million dollar idea, but not known what to do with it. Ten years ago, I thought I had that idea and started a dog leash company. “The Dingo”, was a multi-functional leash that did everything from tethering your dog in the back of your car to walking three dogs. You can find its remains online.
Back then, Google was pretty new, but still very effective. I searched something like, “make prototypes” and came up with about six results. Ten days later I had the first Dingo in my hand.
Deep in my heart there is another little factory with even faster turn around times. This one creates idols. It’s ability to shift the entire production operation in alignment with the newest desire of my heart or mind is unparalleled. One minute it is cranking out little bobble-headed idols fashioned to look like me with the word “pride” on its forehead, the next moment it is mass-producing idols that look exactly like you with the inscription, “Man’s approval”.
King David has one of these little factories in his heart as well. On one occasion it was willing to fire up in the middle of the night after one prolonged look at a woman bathing. We know the ramifications of that production order. Ours can be just as devastating.
Still, even after this major failure, David was committed to having nothing set before him other then God himself. He was a man desperately pursuing the heart of God. In Psalm 16:8 David writes, “I have set the LORD continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
So what is that little factory in your heart producing? There are plenty of idols ready to be cast. Idols of body image, addiction, fame and even your family can all beckon you to fall to your knees in worship.
So how do you close down that little factory? I’m not sure you ever will this side of heaven, but here is what you can do. Pray this prayer; “God, make everything and every area of my life where you are not preeminent, a bitter taste in my mouth.” Yes, pray now and as often as possible for the next year and see what happens to your desire to create idols. May God only be set high and exalted in your life today!

Acceptable Legalism: Finding God in a Stop Sign


Psa. 119:47 I shall delight in Your commandments, Which I love.

Everyone knows that if the speed limit says 65mph, you are free to drive 72mph. 7mph over the speed limit is the magic number of what is acceptable without getting a ticket. In school zones that number is only 2.6mph.

This is what I thought until I just got my 2nd ticket in 30 days. Even though I knew I was breaking the law, I was still ticked. I was mad at the cop for doing his job, politicians for agreeing to egregious laws, kittens and the universe in general.

Over the next few days, God barraged me with messages and teachings about loving the law. Ridiculous! Who loves the law?

The answer to that question was King David. When I came across Ps. 119:47, and especially the bit about David loving the law, I was immediately intrigued. I get following the law because God told me to, but loving the law is totally different.

David loved the law because he realized that laws are a representation of their author. The more you understand a law and its nuance the more you understand the one who created that law. For David, every law he followed became an opportunity to know and love God in a deeper way.

This is actually a form of acceptable legalism. It is a legalism allowed to us by grace. Grace is what gives us the opportunity to follow the law for loves sake. Without grace, you could not choose to follow the law strictly for loves sake. Without grace, law following is a requirement.

How stringently do you follow the law? Do you speed, show up to work late, cheat on taxes or walk when the light is red? Perhaps you are an ardent rule follower. The question to you is why? Is it for the sake of the commandment, self-righteousness or for the love of God!

Here’s a challenge. This week pursue a Davidic type of intimacy by trying to obey every law stringently. Do it because you want to know God. Yes, you are free from the law of death, but this type of legalism leads to life. As believers we need to be careful that our freedom in Christ does not keep us from knowing God.

1Pet. 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority.