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.

 

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