August 2008

[Catch up on Part 1]

There’s a room in our office complex that has a perpetual supply of week-old Bojangles biscuits and sometimes smells like clam chowder.  We affectionately refer to that room as the “kitchen,” well, because that’s what it is.

My favorite area of the kitchen is a cork board where we post all of the guest feedback cards that we receive in the mail.  Every time a first-time guest fills out an info sheet in the service, we send them a thank-you letter for attending and include a postage-paid card.  In full disclosure, some of the comments that come back aren’t all that edifying.  Helpful?  Yep.  But not warm-fuzzy edifying.  I’ll talk about those another day so we’re keeping it real, but today I’m going to keep it positive, or else the theme o’the day is ruined.

Here are a few responses to our fill-in-the-blank, “This is what I noticed first”… (my comments follow in the parenthesis).

  • Happy people. (Does your church ooze happiness, or do they simply tolerate the fact that they’re there?)
  • Good direction-givers and greeters. (Do guests know where to go when they show up?)
  • Casual dress – loved that! (Are you still encouraging people to dress for a funeral when they’re coming to a celebration?)
And on the “This is what I liked best” line…
  • The woman at the welcome tent that greeted me and personally walked me over to the sanctuary. (Are you still pointing guests to a destination that they’ll forget five seconds after they leave you?)
  • At the nursery they didn’t allow a child to stay because he was sick.  [That’s] hard to do but so appreciated by the other parents! (What hard decisions are you making in the short-term that helps you have a long-term win?)
  • Music and preaching.  Thanks for the water bottle! (Do you “gift” your guests to give them a wow! moment that breaks down their defenses?)
  • Several people introduced themselves to me. (Are your official greeters the only ones doing the talking?  Guests notice!)
Bottom line: every person who sent back a card – and those who didn’t – thought they knew what to expect.  Some of them may have had their expectations met.  Some may have been disappointed.  But my prayer is that a majority of them had their expectations exceeded.
When you exceed someone’s expectations, you raise the possibility that that someone will return a second time.  When they return a second time, you raise the possibility that they will hear the Gospel again, that they’ll build relationships, and that they’ll stick.
Summit peeps, as we dive into the new Why I’m Not a Christian series this weekend, there’s no doubt that we’ll have many new people showing up.  The obvious target audience for this series has some apparent expectations for what they’ll encounter when they come.  What are you doing to shatter, then reset, then exceed those expectations?

A couple of weeks ago my family and I met a great guy while we were out celebrating my wife’s birthday.  As our conversation progressed, the topic of “what do you do” came up.  I really hate the “what do you do” topic.  As a matter of fact, we have made it a rule that I don’t automatically volunteer the fact that I’m a pastor.  As soon as you invoke the P word, people start excusing their French and telling you about the time that they went to Vacation Bible School when they were six and they have a lot of respect for what you people are doing.  Translated: “You people are jacked and I wish I could get that week of my life back when I was six.  All I remember is that my VBS teacher had a mustache and she smelled like mothballs, and what’s up with serving me stale cookies and warm Kool Aid?”

So you can see, it’s better just to avoid the topic altogether, and then people might just think that I’m halfway normal, begin to trust me, and then open a conversation for the Gospel.

Editor’s note: mathematically, you’re still halfway nuts.

So back to my friend.  After the obligatory awkwardness (perhaps he thought I should have thrown out Latin words for fun), I decided to go for broke and just invite him to church.  Sure enough, he showed up the following Sunday.  He called me as he was pulling into the parking lot, so I went outside and met him at his car.  That’s when the fun began.  This guy, who had been so outgoing just a few nights before, was suddenly a little more reserved…um…a lot more reserved. As he got out of the car, he said, “I think you should know that I’m not really a typical church person.”  To which I replied: “That’s okay, we’re not really a typical church.”

I wish I could have gotten into my friend’s head for just a minute.  I hope I have the opportunity some day to ask him what his expectations were.

If he’s like most “typical non-church people,” his expectations were no doubt set pretty low.  First, we’d make him put on a neon orange name tag the size of a dinner plate to proclaim to all who see him that he’s a visitorVisitor, as in, “I’m not cool enough to be your guest, but you’re happy enough that I’m here that you’ll subject me to humiliation by letting everyone know that I’m new and my chest should be stared at whenever possible.”  Then, we’d make sure that he was left completely alone as he navigated a building he’d never been in before.  Where are the bathrooms?  Where’d those people get that coffee?  Where should I sit?  Once he arrived in the auditorium…right after we brought out the big haired screaming pastor, his wife who looks like she lost a paintball gun war, and pumped his wallet for all the money he brought with him…we’d shut off all the lights, except for one spotlight, which would shine directly on him as we force him to tell the last seven sins he committed.

Oh, and if he’s really lucky, we’d all take turns whacking him with different versions of the Bible.  (“Y’all bring me wonna them King James versions!  This boy’s still got lots of the devil in ‘im!”)

If you qualify as a “typical church person,” you know that we’ve done more than our fair share to earn that image.  I hope that my friend had his expectations shattered, then reset, then exceeded.  Here’s what I mean:

Shattered as he realized that…no…we were not at all what he thought we would be.

Reset as he sat through the service and went through a mental control-alt-delete with everything he thought he knew about church.

Exceeded as people turned out to be friendly, the music turned out to be good (maybe great?), and the preaching turned out to be engaging.

Every time Sunday rolls around, “typical church people” have the opportunity to exceed the expectations.  What are you doing that makes that happen?  We’ll talk it over more next time…

Jump to Part 2.

One of my mentors is fond of telling me that my desire for perfection always leads to procrastination.  Put another way, I want everything to fall into place before the big reveal.  That’s definitely been true this week.  On Monday morning, I had full intentions of posting some stats from Frontline.  But because I didn’t have all the numbers just yet, I punted until Tuesday.  On Tuesday, I began to think that maybe even if I didn’t have all the numbers, I should just post a little teaser.  By Wednesday and Thursday, I began to just murmer over and over comeONdoggoneityoujustneedtoputsomethingupwhat’sWRONGwithyou?!?  And now here it is Friday afternoon, when all of you have long stopped wasting time at the office and now you’re slipping out of the back door while your boss isn’t watching, and none of you will read this anyway.

See the dilemma?

So I’ll just share the following info with my strange cousin Benny, who has no life to experience this weekend and no job to sneak away from, and on top of that has a strange fixation with this blog and reads it regularly.  (Hi Benny!)

Frontline was an amazing success.  It was a night full of fun…if you could sit through some of that stuff and not wet your pants, I’d bet you weren’t wearing pants.  It was a night full of vision…even as a pastor who “knew what was coming,” I sat backstage in awe of a God who is letting me be a part of a church like this.  It was a night full of nasty red hot dogs…’nuff said.

By the time the smoke had cleared and the Saturday training was over, we had 700 current and potential volunteers in attendance.  A large number of those 700 were people who are really new to the Summit, so we definitely struck a chord leading up to the weekend.  On Saturday morning we had over 100 people who attended the First Impressions Training.  And this Sunday, a large number of those 100 will step up to serve on the First Impressions Team, many for the first time.

I never get tired of this stuff.

You say you missed Frontline?  Or you were there, but want to relive the experience?  Click here for what was…in my opinion…the most creative video of the night.  (That link will eventually have the whole enchilada from that night.)

If you are a First Impressions Team member and couldn’t make it to Saturday’s training that we called “Organic Hospitality,” you can listen to it in it’s entirety (minus the first 15 seconds) by clicking here.  (For those of you with an iPod but no sense on how to use it, you can also right click on the word “here” and download the mp3 file.)

Connective Tissue will be back in full swing next week…check back!

Straight up: you should be here tonight and tomorrow.  As a staff, we’ve laughed ourselves silly getting ready for this thing (there’s gonna be humor), and then we’ve sat in amazement as we’ve realized what God has done and will continue to do through our incredible volunteers at the Summit (there’s gonna be vision).  Dinner is served at 6 PM tonight, the program starts at 7:00.  For more info, see the website.

We continue a multi-post series on the importance of volunteering as we count down to Frontline, the volunteer training event of the year at the Summit. 

We’re just a couple of days away from the behemoth Frontline weekend.  If you are a part of the Summit and are not planning to be there, I have an assignment for you: stop reading this blog, take out your calendar, and schedule a couple of uninterrupted hours for yourself on Saturday afternoon.  You will need that time to kick yourself in your hinderparts repeatedly.  If you get tired of kicking yourself, feel free to call on a friend to help.  (If you don’t know what hinderparts are, you’re beyond help.)

Let me be clear, just in case you’ve been living in a cave for the past few weeks: Frontline is going to be amazing.  You will laugh.  You will cry.  You will laugh so hard you’ll cry.  You will be stretched and trained and you’ll be able to dream with your pastors and staff on what God is going to do next around here.  And if you miss it…well…better get out that calendar.

Today, we’re talking about taking a step.  In years and years of working with volunteers (is that a country song?), I’ve discovered that the issue is almost never talent…we have more talented people in the church than you can count.  It’s almost never time…people find a way to do what is important.  The biggest hurdle for a potential volunteer to overcome is taking the first step.

Please understand: today’s church has done a lot to help foster that.  We stand on a stage, our eyes glistening with tears, and beg people to join ministries that already look like sinking ships.  We invite people to “help out” with a ministry, and then lock them in a dungeon room with 74 fifth grade boys and a stack of Bible crossword puzzles, never to check in on them again.  We hand out unrealistic expectations and assign people to teams they’re not wired for, and we wonder why the volunteer back door is flapping in the breeze.

If you’re new at the Summit, I know that deciding on a specific ministry can be somewhat overwhelming.  I’ve seen the looks in some of your eyes, and honestly, you look like J.D. Greear at Golden Corral.  Sing in the choir or play with kids?  Greet guests or brew coffee?  Direct traffic or host a SummitLIFE group?  Greasy pork chop or greasy meatloaf? (oops…I jumped illustrations.  Sorry.)

Our goal at Frontline is to make your decision as easy as possible.  On Friday night, you’ll get a 30,000 foot view of a majority of the ministries at the Summit.  We’ll talk about them from the stage and even give you a booklet with job descriptions for over 60 volunteer teams.  On Saturday, you can choose from various team trainings where you’ll hear the heartbeat of the ministries where you have an interest.

And finally, you’ll have the opportunity to sign up to take that all-important first step.  By signing up at Frontline, you’re not signing your life away.  We won’t ask for a lock of your firstborn’s hair or coax you into selling your soul to kidslife.  We will ask you to take a step.  Sign up to observe in one or two ministries.  Take ‘em for a test drive.  Kick the tires.  Get to know the people on the teams and find out if that team is right for you.  If it’s not, no problem.  You can always try something else until you’ve found your fit.

So take a step.  Get your hinderparts to Frontline and be a part of changing the Triangle…one step at a time.

I’m taking a brief break from the series of Frontline posts to give you a glimpse of my conflicted soul…

This was my view this time last week. Nothing but my ten hideous toes and the vast expanse of my in-laws’ pool.

This is my view this morning.  A few hundred info cards from Sunday’s services, which have to be sorted (did that yesterday…note the neat OCD stacks), copied, distributed, and followed up on by our pastoral staff and ministry leaders.

Ugly toes.  Stacks of info cards.  Last week, pool.  This week, paperwork.  You can appreciate my struggle.

We continue a multi-post series on the importance of volunteering as we count down to Frontline, the volunteer training event of the year at the Summit. 

Life is too short to do something you’re not wired to do.

I learned this my first semester in seminary.  When you’re in seminary, you have to get something called a Seminary Job.  (Some losers make their wives work fifty hours a week while they play ping pong and talk theology in the student center, but those are the guys who end up having something called a Never Ending Seminary Career.  And sometimes a Seminary Divorce.)

My first Seminary Job was a popular choice for seminary students.  I was a security guard at a computer assembly plant.  (Irrelevant small world trivia: the building where I worked is only a half-mile from our Brier Creek Campus, so I feel like I’ve come full-circle during my time in North Carolina.)  It wasn’t a horrible job.  I worked second shift, I was able to study part of the time, I made people laugh with my polyester uniform and clip on tie.

But I have to tell you: I’m not wired to be a security guard.  For one thing, that was during the incredibly Nice and Accommodating Phase of my life.  I still have symptoms, but back then, I was a complete pushover.  Example: when I was monitoring people going through the metal detector, you could often hear me say something like, “Excuse me, is that a brand new laptop stuffed into the back of your pants?  Oh, just a really large, metal wallet?  No problem, ma’am.  Have a nice day, and don’t forget the power cord for your wallet!” 

There was another seminary student who worked with me.  His nickname was “Beast.”  One of the nicest guys you’d ever meet, but you would not know that by looking at him.  He towered over people as they were going through the checkpoint.  Sometimes he sneered.  They would see Beast, and they would begin getting nervous.  They would voluntarily show him the stuff they were trying to steal.  They wouldn’t even put up a fight.  Heck, they wouldn’t even wait for him to see it.  He was that intimidating.  I often thought he should be a Catholic priest rather than a Baptist pastor.  It would make confession go a lot smoother, except that of course he’d have to rip apart that little dividing screen with his teeth so they could see him and be frightened.

I realized after about six minutes on the security job that I was not wired to do it.  I was pretty decent at it.  I followed instructions, I was nice to people, I never once forgot my clip on tie.  But I wasn’t wired for it.  Not one day did I wake up and say, “Boy howdy, I can’t wait to suit up in polyester and prevent people from stealing laptops!”  No, there were days where I wished I had been issued a gun (I wasn’t) so that I could shoot myself in the foot a la Barney Fife to keep from having to go to work.

It’s okay to do something for a while if it’s a Seminary Job or if you’re trying to make ends meet.  But it’s no way to spend your life.  That’s why one of my passions is to see people volunteer for areas because they get to, not because they’re guilted to.

As Frontline draws nearer, you should think about the things that you’re passionate about doing.  The worst job that you can hold in church is one that you’re not wired for.  I’ve seen people who are miserable working with kids because…really and truly…they don’t like kids.  (Kids aren’t too crazy about them, either.)  I’ve seen people who lead worship who look like they’ve been baptized in pickle juice because they really don’t enjoy singing.  I would have liked to have been there to defend them whenever their arch-enemy apparently held a gun to their head and forced them to join the choir.  I would have busted out my security guard kung fu moves on ‘em.

In our church, there are numbers nerds who can’t imagine a happier life than sitting down and coming up with new nerdy formulas in their nerdy Excel spreadsheet.  Great!  Be an office volunteer and create some formulas for those of us who can’t.  We have neatniks who can spot a speck of dust at fifty paces.  Cool!  Sign up to be a part of our Set Up / Tear Down teams.  We have jock types who can bench press Yugoslavia.  Awesome!  Take a cue from my friend Beast and serve on security detail in kidslife. 

The point: everybody has something that makes their hearts beat a little faster.  Everybody has something that causes them to want to get out of bed in the morning.  As long as it’s not illegal or immoral, we can use it at the Summit for ministry.  (And if it is illegal, it gives our jock types a way to minister as they crush your head.)

Where is your gut telling you to serve?  Explore the possibilities at Frontline.


Today begins a multi-post series on the importance of volunteering as we count down to Frontline, the volunteer training event of the year at the Summit. 

There’s a word that’s dirty and glorious all at the same time when it’s spoken in the local church: consumerism.  It’s a dirty word because as God Fearing Christians, we don’t want to be labeled as anything that remotely smacks of selfishness.  It’s a glorious word because consumers can be exactly the kind of people you want to reach: those who are looking for a church that preaches the Bible faithfully, that matches up with a missional mindset, that offers programming where their kids and marriage will be fed.

But obviously, there can be a dark side to consumerism.  The dark side is revealed when we’re more bent out of shape that the coffee bar has run low on hazelnut creamer than the fact that we cut four people off in traffic on the way to church.  It’s revealed when we get our feelings hurt that there is no SummitLIFE group for left-handed, blue-eyed, Republican bee farmers within a five-minute drive of our house.  And perhaps one of the strongest places that it’s revealed is when we refuse to continue to extend a blessing that has been extended to us.

You may have to read that last sentence twice.  Here’s what I mean: every single Sunday, we average about 25-30 first time guests.  Those first time guests are the recipients of blessing at the hand of our various volunteer teams.  They’re shown to premium parking by the guys in the dorky orange vests.  Their kids are taught and taken care of by our incredible kidslife team.  They are led straight to God’s throne by our worship choir and band. 

Many of these 25-30 guests will end up staying at the Summit.  A majority of them stay because of the experience that was created by the orange vests and kidslife team and worship choir and band and hundreds of other volunteers that delivered a “wow” experience.

Now for just a moment, let me challenge you to put yourself in the shoes of a first time guest.  You experience the “wow” on your first Sunday.  You realize that this is a cool church where people care about you and where God is known.  You decide that this is a place where you want to be long-term.  You jump in to the Starting Point process so you can become a member.  And then, when you’re challenged to find one of dozens of places to serve, you sit back, fold your arms, and say to yourself, “There’s no way I’m doing that.”

How sick is that?

There’s something very wrong with experiencing a blessing, and then refusing to continue the blessing.  There’s something twisted about always receiving, but never giving.

Let me be very clear: as a believer, you must serve.  It’s ingrained in the fabric of your soul.  To receive the free gift of salvation and never do anything with the gifts you’ve been given is just deadly.  You will dry up spiritually.

Ask yourself this question: “What was it that brought me / kept me at the Summit?”  Chances are, you’ll have to factor the service of volunteers into the equation.  Now ask, “Am I contributing something that would attract or keep someone else?”  If not, you’re hoarding the blessings you’ve been given.  But I have good news!  At Frontline, you can take the first step towards extending your gifts to others.  You can break out of the non-serving rut and learn how to be a blessing to new peeps at the Summit.  Most importantly, you can stop worrying about the lack of hazelnut creamer and start worrying about those who are still far from God.

What’s keeping you from extending the blessing?

I’ve laced up my asbestos suit and waded back into the firestorm I’ve created by daring to mock North Carolina pork products.  Two things are very obvious from the last post:

  1. You tarheels are passionate about your piggies.  And by “passionate,” I mean, “please stop saying ugly things about me, my children, my state of origin, and my mama.  I was writing about a dead pig, for crying out loud.”
  2. There’s a whole lot of pagans who read this blog that would sooner comment about pork than posture.  I think I’ve found my target audience.

Now, on to today.  Today, I sit in a Staples parking lot, accessing their wifi because my in-laws have this great new device called “Satellite Internet.”  The way Satellite Internet works is, you attempt to log on to the web, then you go brew some coffee, get a shower, watch a few reruns of Monk on USA network, read the Left Behind series, discover the cure for cancer, scale Mount Everest, and then return to the computer to see the screen that says, “Logon attempt failed.  Please try again when you realize you were ripped off by the Satellite Internet people.”

Editor’s note: Let’s all pray he’s joking about those Left Behind books.

But I digress.  I am accessing Staples’ wifi, because (a) I can, and (b) no, I don’t feel bad about it, because I bought school supplies for the kids here last night.  True, they were having an incredible sale and I got six spiral-bound notebooks and ten pocket folders for a whopping 32 cents, but I bought something, dang it.  However, since the store manager will probably call the cops any minute to report the vagrant with NC tags sitting in the loading dock area (because it’s shady and it’s 278 degrees in North Alabama with a heat index of 7,121), I should probably get to the topic o’ the day.

Typically, when I am on vacation, I follow a pastoral rule that says You Avoid Going to Church at All Costs.  I know.  It’s an unspiritual rule.  But think about it…if you are a dentist, how many times are you sitting on the beach thinking, “You know, what I’d really like to do is walk over to that guy with all the back hair and check out his overbite.  Oh, and then I’d tell him to put on a shirt.”  If you’re an accountant, you don’t want to spend your off time balancing the books for the office manager of the mountain retreat where you’re staying.  Me?  I typically don’t want to show up at church.  You should understand that I love my church.  Heck, I love church, period.  But church for me is more than an adventure…it’s a job.  So I encourage my family to take two Sundays a year to sleep in late on Sunday, or at the very least, feel sorry for our families that we are visiting, who are getting up, putting on their Sunday best, and heading off to Sunday School.

Editor’s note: and then he lets them watch Harry Potter movies and poke little old ladies with sharp sticks.

So imagine my surprise when last Sunday, we attended not one, but TWO churches.  Sunday morning, we checked out a relatively new church that my wife’s brother and sister-in-law have started attending.  Sunday night, we visited my dad- and mom-in-law’s church.

You should know that when I violate the Avoid Going to Church at All Costs rule, I end up being a compulsive critique-er and note-taker.  I love getting ideas from what other churches are doing well.  On Sunday, I was not disappointed.

The two churches that we visited are only 25 miles apart, yet, there was a world of differences between the two.  One is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by cow pastures and cotton fields.  The other is right on the edge of North Alabama’s version of Research Triangle Park (sound familiar, Summit peeps?).  One had worship that was led by a bunch of rockers at heart, the other sounded like I had fallen into a Truth concert.  One met in a gym while they build a new auditorium, the other met in an old, traditional, renovated, land-locked church building.  One had a pulpit that could have been used as a bomb shelter in case of nuclear attack, the other had a metrosexual table that was just picked up at Pier One. 

Both of these churches are growing like crazy.  One is doing it by small groups meeting in homes, the other by traditional Sunday School.  Both have pastors that can “shuck the corn” (it’s a North Alabama thing, you wouldn’t understand).  Both are friendly, hey-how-y’all-doin’, make you feel at home churches.  Both are places that I would recommend without reservation to people who are moving to this area.  Both churches are completely different, but both churches are completely effective.

By “effective,” I mean this: each of these churches knows who they are.  They are each reaching people within their spheres of influence.  Metrosexual Pulpit Church isn’t going out of their way to force cotton farmers into their target audience.  Trombone Worship Church isn’t scampering to have the latest, coolest media and countdown clocks.  And neither church is wrong in their approach. 

Too many times, we get hung up on silly arguments about worship styles and delivery styles and demographic reports and…and…and the big “R” word: relevance.  And all the while, the unchurched world watches and smirks and wonders when we’ll ever get our stuff together.  What we must understand is that relevance doesn’t mean the same thing in all contexts.  You can have a wide range of relevance within the same state…or city…even the same neighborhood.  Within a two-mile radius of the Summit, there are various churches that are reaching various people, and that’s okay, because there are various, one-size-does-not-fit-all people within a two-mile radius of the Summit.  We have to realize that we are simply spinning our wheels until we’ve first determined who we are.  If your church leans more towards being a contemporary-styled church, then go all out in perfecting your contemporary style.  If you feel more comfortable being a suit, tie, and hymns church, then slap some inviter cards down on the counter at Men’s Warehouse.  Once you know who you are, you’ll have a much better chance of reaching those that you need to reach.

Ahh…I feel better after getting that off my chest.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to head back to my in-laws house.  The Satellite Internet has almost loaded.

(By the way, my long time friend Mike has a little bit of a different take on relevance in one of his latest posts.  You can read about it here and then decide which one of us you like best.  Just kidding.  I think.)