September 2008

kirkcameronMost of human civilization recognizes this guy’s face.  Kirk Cameron rose to meteoric fame when he portrayed Cameron “Buck” Williams in the smash blockbuster, Left Behind, which brought in literally dozens of dollars at the box office.  Oh yeah, and he was on some TV show in the 80’s, too.

I never really understood what his TV show had to do with Growing Pains, except towards the end of the series when his little brother (Ben, maybe?) developed that really thick unibrow.  Talk about painful…that was painful to watch.  I felt bad for him, and wanted to mail him a razor as a token of goodwill.

Churches have growing pains, too.  Granted, I’ve never met a church with a unibrow.  Church deacons?  Maybe.  Church?  Not so much. 

The Summit is no exception.  The last six years have brought a series of challenges.  Added services.  New strategies.  Storage pods.  Overflow plans.  Volunteers.  More volunteers.  Office moves.  Saturday night Tylenol PM so you can shut your brain off and go to sleep.  Sunday night Advil so you can help your body heal from a lot of set up, tear down, and a few miles’ worth of walking. 

Somewhere along the way, we met up with a beastie called multi-campus.  In the last year, we’ve grown to two locations and two distinct “campuses” at one of those locations.  This Sunday, we launch our fourth campus on West Club Boulevard near downtown Durham.  By next Sunday night, we will have had seven different worship services at four campuses.  I need a nap just thinking about that.

Prepping West Club – as with every time we’ve added a campus – has brought with it it’s own set of growing pains.  Some of our best volunteers at existing campuses leave to help launch the new campus.  People who used to see each other every Sunday will now be worshipping at two different locations.  The staffing and volunteering holes that are left at the existing campuses have to be patched, filled, repaired…and done so quickly.  Time and resources have to be reallocated to get the new campus launch-ready.

In short, growth is painful.  But the bigger picture is that growth is worth it.  Think for a moment about the new people we’ll have a chance to reach…the impact that can be made for the Gospel…the number of serving opportunities that will open up…the development of leaders to fill needed positions.

The Summit is growing to a new community, and if that means that our existing community is temporarily affected, so be it.  Every once in a while, I pray that – as a church – God will keep us uncomfortable.  When churches get comfortable, bad things can happen.  Apathy breeds.  Discontent rises.  Obedience wanes.  Expectation lags.

But when we keep moving, I believe God is freed up to move among us.  When we refuse to sit back and rest, God steps up and does amazing things.

So yeah, I’m a bit bummed that I’m losing some good people at our Brier Creek at Cole Mill campuses.  But I’m thrilled that we’re gaining a neighborhood, and we’re leveraging influence for the Gospel to a new set of future Christ-followers.

As you pray this week, please take some time and pray for our West Club launch.  Here are a few prayer points to get you started…

  • Pray for Campus Pastor Brad O’Brien and the team of pastors who will launch with him: Logan Dagley, Mike McDaniel, and one of my Connections guys, Walter Strickland. 
  • Pray for the West Club neighborhood, specifically Duke’s East Campus and NC School of Science and Math. 
  • Pray for Pastor Rocky and our friends at The Journey, who are graciously sharing their building in this huge step of faith.
  • Pray that volunteers will continue to step up in the areas of kidslife and First Impressions.
By the way: since you’re wondering, the above signed photo was provided from the private collection of fellow Summit staffer Courtney Shelton.  (just kidding…or am I ?)

I’m not a jump-on-the-bandwagon kind of guy, especially when it comes to pop culture.  I probably should be, but I’m just not.  I rarely get into TV shows when they’re actually on air…I usually start watching them after they’re in syndication.  The latest and greatest book – although I might buy it – usually sits on my bookshelf until the cool factor has long worn off and nobody wants to discuss it once I’ve read it.

Movies are no different.  I heard a conversation on one of the drive-time talk shows last week that reminded me that there are movies that I have still not seen, a fact that could get my Man Card taken away, at least on some of them. 

Oh sure, I attempt to look like I’ve watched them.  I have even (I’m almost ashamed to admit this) quoted lines from movies I’ve never actually seen.  Poser.

But now it’s time to speak up…to come clean.  In an effort to broaden my horizons, and risking the fact that this post has absolutely nothing to do with ministry, I share with you the Top Five Greatest Movies I’ve Never Seen.  (A disclaimer: as a good Baptist boy, I’m not necessarily recommending any of these movies…remember I’ve never seen them.  Some of them may indeed have very naughty content (i.e., dancing) which wouldn’t be proper for me to endorse.  And yes, you’re welcome to warn me of that in your comments.)

  1. Braveheart: I know Mel Gibson paints his face blue, makes a big speech, yells “Freedom!”, and I just lost dude points by not having seen this.  I know…no excuses…I should go to Blockbuster today.
  2. The Shawshank Redemption: no clue as to why this should be a movie I should watch, but everyone says it is, so I included it.
  3. Top Gun: as an 80’s teenager, I really can’t tell you why I didn’t watch this.  Maybe I had a prophecy that one day Tom Cruise would jump up and down on Oprah’s couch and negate the movie’s coolness.  Nevertheless, I know Spence Shelton has called me “Goose” in the past and I’m curious as to whether that’s a good thing.
  4. Terminator (I, II, or III): When Robert Patrick made a cameo in Wayne’s World (a movie I actually did see…several times), it took me a long time to figure out why everyone was laughing that this particular cop had pulled them over.
  5. Schindler’s List: ummm…nope.
So it’s your turn, readers…any other movies that I definitely should add to my watch list?  And which one of these should I definitely rent this week?  (And it’s sad, really, because more of you will comment on this than something really important like this post.  Yep.  I know my audience.)
I’ll be back.

Since I’ve been on an 80’s kick this week, I may as well make a pop-culture reference to one of the greatest shows of that decade: The A-Team. 

At the end of every episode, Hannibal would pull out a cigar, light it up, and say those eight classic words: “I love it when a plan comes together.”

I have to agree wholeheartedly with Hannibal.  But I also have to admit that sometimes what happens on Sunday…as planned as it might seem…happens more by accident than on purpose.

Nevertheless, we have a group of incredible volunteers in the area of guest services that simply get the job done.  With no thanks to their leader (yours truly), they know their stuff and they know how to make their stuff happen. 

One of the coolest parts of my job is reading the notes and e-mails that we receive from first-time guests.  This one came in this week from a pastor and a brother of a Summit member…who is also one of our First Impressions Team members.

My wife and I were in the area Sunday a week ago (the 14th) and we had the opportunity to attend The Summit.  Since we are involved in ministry ourselves (I serve our church as Assistant Pastor, and we work with children as well), it is always interesting to see how things are done elsewhere in the vineyard. 

From the time we arrived, we were very impressed with the warmth and joy shown by the people who greeted us.  First impressions are very important, and the first impressions that we formed were very positive.  From the guy directing traffic who gave us a cheery wave, to the folks in the tent outside who made a personal connection and welcomed us, we just got the impression that these people like what they are doing and are glad we are here.  The greeters were knowledgeable about the church and—my pet peeve—did not point at where people should go, but actually walked them to their destination!  Oh, glory!

We also greatly enjoyed the worship, especially the wonderful choir.  We felt a real atmosphere of worship that made praising the Lord irresistible.  There was leading in worship, instead of pushing.

The sermon was just the right blend of deep insight and understandable application.  I took home a page of notes and fodder for further study.  It was right on the mark!

I just wanted to let you know that we enjoyed our visit, and that the plans and procedures that you have in place to welcome people are effective.  I am sure you know that these things are essential to growth.  Keep evaluating and don’t coast!  We will pray for you that the Lord continues to send hungry people your way.  I think He can trust you to feed them. 

God bless You

Tom Miller

First Impressions Team, you need to know that this letter is from a guy who expected a positive experience.  He’s a pastor, and he wants us to win.  However, every week you encounter dozens of people who don’t share that expectation.  They expect church people to be rude…uncaring…harsh…critical.

Just as we made Pastor Tom feel welcome, we must do the same for the guy who’s checking out church for the first time.  I know that you will, and that’s why I’m glad you’re part of the team. 

I really do love it when a plan comes together.


We’ve all been there.  At some point in your life – likely sometime this past summer – you were stricken with a dreaded case of sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.  That’s right…brain freeze.

Brain freeze happens when we least expect it, but always when we should expect it.  It usually starts innocently enough.  You’re trying to get your Icee fix or, in a perfect world, you’re slurping down a Mocha Freeze from Costco (the best buck fifty five you’ll spend in your life).  And then, about five sips in, you feel it coming.  It’s as if you’ve hit the point of no return, and no amount of fear, tears or cries to the sweet Lord above will stop the pain from commencing.

We try the typical anti-freeze tricks.  We squeeze our eyes shut.  Press our fingers into our temples.  Grit our teeth.  Death grip the chair we’re sitting in.  Begin speaking in tongues: “No-no-no-NO-oh-please-no-help-me-Tom-Cruise-ouch-ouch-ouch-AAAAAAHHHHH-make-it-stop!”

Watching someone with brain freeze is one of the best recreational activities I can think of.  Just like blue-haired ladies buy DVD’s of birds for their cats to watch, I’d like to market a set of videos titled “When Brain Freeze Attacks.”  I’m sure it would be a hit with tyrants, dictators, and eighth grade boys. 

When you’re in the ministry, there’s a type of brain freeze that’s always just around the corner.  Usually the freeze takes the form of a conflict, a criticism, or a failed strategy.  But in all cases, it’s every bit as painful as sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.  Often times you know that it will probably happen, but you keep sipping away, thinking that this time you might just dodge the bullet.

Every few weeks I talk to or hear from pastor friends of mine who are dealing with P.S.G.  Most of the time, they are at the receiving end of constructive criticism that is anything but constructive.  They often know it’s coming, but it usually hits faster than they expected…and sticks around longer than they want it to.

I’ve been unusually blessed to be a part of a church that doesn’t have a lot of P.S.G.  Oh sure, there’s the occasional conflict or disagreement, but we have a lot of bizarre church members who just choose to love Jesus and love each other.  (I highly recommend trying that sometime, it’s a little addictive.) 

Nevertheless, if you’re one of my pastor friends that’s currently suffering from P.S.G., or maybe you’re just dealing with brain freeze in your professional or relational life, here are a few tips from Uncle Danny:

  1. Slow the heck down.  Brain freeze usually happens when you get greedy.  No sooner does your straw hit the cup than you’re slurping away, trying to get to the bottom.  I’ve found that most pastoral problems within the first couple of years occur because we try too much, too soon.  Now don’t misunderstand: some stuff needs to move, and move quickly.  But leadership sometimes means that we lead with a carrot rather than beat with a stick.  Ask yourself, “What is the potential loss if we wait six more months to implement this and give more people time to get on board?”
  2. Prepare for the ice age.  Remember, P.S.G. is something you can usually see coming.  That’s when you begin to ask diagnostic questions: is this the right vision?  The right vision but the wrong time?  The right vision but without the proper foundation (prayer, vision casting, etc.)?  Do I need to back up and try this again?  Bring more people into the process?  Sometimes by asking the right questions of the right people at the right time, you can avoid trouble before it starts.
  3. Realize that there are times that you have to suck it up (pun!) and experience the pain.  I’ve known guys who had great vision and good timing, and their people still attacked in full P.S.G. fury.  There are a dozen different ways to deal with these situations, but in all of them you have to remind yourself that God is your leader, and you have to be faithful to follow no matter the cost.  You might gain enemies, you might lose friends, but if you are following a clear vision from God, you simply can’t apologize.  You can – and should – be gracious to everyone, but ultimately you have to submit to the call.

To my pastor friends, I’m praying for you today as you face another day in the trenches, and another day of P.S.G.  Be encouraged, and remember that even those who suck will eventually get to the bottom of things.

Geez…I gotta get new analogies.

If you were to ask my bride to think back to our dating and early marriage days and highlight a particular pet peeve, she can name it without thinking.  Actually, pet peeve is not the best phrase.  I’d like to toss this guy into a pit of razor blades and then spray him down with lemon juice…now that’s a good way of describing it.

Early in our relationship, I had to be right.  More importantly, Merriem had to be wrong.  I’ll share a frequent example, and for some unknown reason will do it in the present-tense: we’re on a date.  She makes a statement.  I politely point out that there may be a fallacy embedded in the statement.  She even more politely counterpoints that there is not.  The date draws to a close, and when we get back to one of our parents’ homes, I ask my mom / dad / future mother-in-law / future father-in-law / whoever is listening if they believe the aforementioned statement to be true.  If it turns out that I am right, I look at her with a grin, fully expecting her to throw herself at me, thanking God all the while that he was so gracious to give her a wise, humble young man to be her boyfriend / fiance’ / husband.

As you can imagine, that rarely never happened.

Thankfully, God was able to whittle down what was a very rough edge.  I have now learned – as many husbands do – that even when I’m right (rarely), it’s wrong to parade it.  It’s not helpful to our relationship, and in the case of those razor blades, it might not be helpful for my well-being.

That’s why I’m so distraught over what may be my new favorite thing.  Just last week, I found out about a new service called ChaCha.  ChaCha is the poor man’s answer to not having an iPhone.  Let’s say you’re out with friends and the subject of 80’s music comes up.  As you must do when discussing 80’s music, you will spend a portion of your time on the topic of Billy Joel’s smash hit You’re Only Human (Second Wind).  This is the song, you may remember, that addressed the prevalent issue of teenage suicide.  It’s a proven fact that many teenagers changed their minds on taking their own lives after realizing that, no matter how bad they had it, at least they didn’t produce a music video as horribly crappy as Billy Joel did.

So back to ChaCha…somebody in the group says, “Hey, whatever happened to the people in the Second Wind video?  Did any of them go on to fame and fortune?”  And so, you whip out your celly, call 1-800-2-ChaCha, speak your question into the phone, and set in motion a live team of ChaCha experts to research your question.  Moments later, your cell buzzes, and you have a text message telling you that the drowning 80’s-style nerd in the video is none other than Adam Savage, co-star of MythBusters.

I have to tell you, ChaCha has the potential to ruin my life, my marriage, and all my friendships.  It’s a powerful force that must be used sparingly.  Used unwisely or as a “See there?!?” tool, I may yet suffer the wrath of that lemon juice.  (Which, according to the good people at ChaCha, burns because of the acidity that is found in the lemon.)

Today I should probably write about something funny. For example, I could tell you about a doctor’s visit a couple of weeks ago where I was told that I had warts somewhat odd skin abnormalities on my elbow. 

“Warts?”  I said.

“Not warts, necessarily.”  He said.  “It’s a special kind of wart.  Not a full fledged wart.”  (You realize I’m paraphrasing.  He probably threw some Latin words in there for fun.  But in reality – what I heard was that I had midget warts.)

The midget warts required a prescription medicine to fully de-wart me.  When I went to the pharmacy to pick it up, Pharmacy Lady handed me a little bag which was obviously studded with diamonds, because it was going to cost me 90 bucks to carry it out of the store.

“90 dollars?  You realize I want to buy the one drug, not the whole company.”

“Yessir.  You see, you have an 87 day supply.”

“I don’t need an 87 day supply.  I need to rub this on my war- um, skin abnormalities twice a week for two weeks.  That’s four rubs.  Just squeeze some on my finger and I’ll be on my way.  I’ll protect it until it’s time to rub.”

“Um…we can’t break up the set.  It’s gonna be 90 dollars.”

Now, I’m not that great at math, but 90 divided by four is …um…carry the one… more than 20 bucks per squirt.  At this rate, I’m going to have to twist a toad on my skin once a day for the next eight years to get my money’s worth.

So you see, if I wrote about something like that, you’d laugh.  It would be funny.  But today is not so much about funny as it is about reflection.  Specifically, reflecting on the events of the last several days. 

Many of you know that my wife and I have been in house mode for the last 19 months.  That’s right.  House for sale.  19 months.  Over the past few days we’ve had a potential offer, found a potential house to buy, worked through potential financing, developed a potential ulcer, and on and on. 

Also over the past few days, we’ve realized that our own wisdom is terribly limited.  We know just enough about origination fees and points and interest rates and contracts to be dangerous.  During this time – as I’ve frequently done over the last year and a half – I’ve had the opportunity to call in some trusted friends to act as my advisors.  These are people who know their stuff when it comes to real estate law, finances, mortgages, and just good common sense.

With all of these people, it’s been easy enough to ask the intellectual / financial / strategic questions.  “What offer should we accept?”  “What should we offer?”  “What should we look for in a loan?”  “What questions should we ask?”  But the most important question was centered around something much more important…

“What would you do if you were me?”

That’s where brains and hearts diverge.  Brain answers will give you data.  Heart answers will give you direction.  Brain answers keep you from losing money.  Heart answers keep you from losing perspective.  Given enough time and books, I can pick up all the brain answers I need.  But it takes a friend who cares about me to cut to the chase and answer…

“What would you do if you were me?”

Getting back to The Decision … it still hasn’t been made, incidentally.  As a matter of fact, it looks like we’ll very soon be entering month number 20 in the madcap universe of house selling.  But the point of the post is that there is power in more.  More brains.  More hearts.  More insight.  More care and concern for me than even I can show for me.  Because these people have my best interest in mind, and they’re going to give me the heart answers as well as the head answers.

To my circle of advisors, you know who you are.  Thanks for indulging my phone calls, my e-mails, my text messages, my unannounced trips to your office.  You are my “more” that God has graciously given me, and I appreciate you.

Speaking of more…there’s one more tube of $20 skin abnormality cream I gotta rub on.


As many of you know, we’ve been struggling to keep up with the number of worship leaders and teams that are necessary to lead the various campuses that we launch, such as our upcoming West Club Campus.  I’m pleased to announce that we just auditioned and signed a new group last week.  They will begin soon at a new, yet-to-be-disclosed campus .  Please join me in welcoming them…I’m uber-excited.

September 16 update: if you missed the original video below, you’re out of luck.  Apparently the millions of Connective Tissue readers rushing to click on the video caused red flags to go up at YouTube, and they pulled it due to some sort of copyright law violation.

In it’s place, you’ll just have to settle for this new one.  Warning: do not have liquid in your mouth when you watch this…it’ll just come out your nose.

Next weekend we’re doing one of the coolest things we do all year here at the Summit.  It’s our annual Falls Lake baptism service, where we regularly see dozens of people paint a living picture of their relationship with Jesus.

You can get more information on the event here, and if you’re ready to talk about baptism, e-mail me at no later than Wednesday, September 17th.

Many of us who grew up in church are familiar with Worshipper’s Territorial Rights.  In my church, people’s pew occupation skills were so honed that I could have gone blind, walked into the auditorium, and still found my Sunday School teacher Steve sitting in the back right section, first row, halfway down.  Our friends Jay and Helen were in the far left back section, second row back.  Even now, years after growing up at and then being on staff at that church, you could give me a name and I can tell you within 97% accuracy where they sat.

Editor’s note: you must be a real riot at parties.

Our family was no different.  Front right center section, three rows back.  About three feet from the edge of that pew, one of the support beams or whatever holds those things together had gone bad, so if you sat there you’d sink down a little bit.  That was actually a handy tool for the Sundays when the pastor was preaching on whatever sin you were currently struggling with.  It saved you the toll on your posture.

I don’t necessarily remember any turf wars in the pews, but that would have been fun.  I can envision blue-haired ladies pulling their shiv out of the Baptist Hymnal and carving their gang name (Grannies4JC) in the forehead of the ne’er-do-well who took their seat. 

At the Summit, we tend to track along the same lines as my home church.  Oh sure, there are differences.  You have to arrive an hour early to guarantee a seat.  You have to have a grid map of the auditorium, because due to the acres and acres of tan (Tan chairs?  We got ’em!  Tan floor?  You betcha.  Tan walls?  Look around!  You’ve just been digested by a huge khaki beast!) it can be hard to find your same spot from last week.  And there are the obvious seating preferences: I’d like a medium-charismatic, audio hot spot, clear view from the columns, easy to slip out during the offering seat, please!

I’m driving these points home – albeit by a circular route – because the time has come to relinquish our claim on Worshipper’s Territorial Rights.  Last Sunday, we had a total of 3,054 people attending one of our six worship services.  3,054.  That’s only a little less than half the population of my home town, and more than ten times the attendance of the little church where I grew up.  3,054 has only been topped once at the Summit…and that was at an Easter service, where even atheist Jesus-hating people who punch nuns as a hobby will show up.

In our 10:45 service at Brier Creek, there were 1150 people crammed into an auditorium that seats somewhere between 1120 and 1140.  We had non-choir people sitting in the choir loft.  Twenty-plus people were sitting in the lobby.  And the other 1100 on the auditorium floor became very close friends, whether they wanted to or not.

Now, you know that we have other service options besides the 10:45.  And I know that we have other service options besides the 10:45.  But the sixty-plus first time guests (and their families!) who showed up on Sunday don’t necessarily know that.

If you’re a Summit attendee and you’re reading this blog, I consider you a regular.  (It’s a little-known fact that most people don’t start coming to the Summit based on the insane popularity of the Connections Pastor’s blog…go figure).  So as a regular, I have a few assignments for you:

  1. If there is any way possible, consider changing your preferred service time from 10:45 to something else (Sunday PM, anyone?).  I know for many of you, you just can’t, because you serve at 9:00.  I’m not talking to you.
  2. If you do attend the 10:45, listen and watch for the cues.  Chris Gaynor, our Worship Pastor, does his best to scoot people in.  However, taking a chunk of time out of the service to give detailed instructions on where to sit just isn’t feasible.  The first time you hear a seating-related syllable come out of his mouth, you should scoot in.  The first time you notice the seating team getting a little antsy looking for empty seats, you should scoot in.  The first time you notice the incoming people beginning to back up, you should scoot in.
  3. Better yet, get up.  Relocate to the choir loft.  Stand against the wall.  Move out to the lobby.  Or go home and download the message on iTunes.  Remember that if you choose NOT to move, we will be forced to turn people away.
Summit regulars, this is your time to shine.  If our historical trends prove true, the next two Sundays will make last week look like a cake walk.  We need you to consider our guests, and make room for ’em.  Lay your territorial rights to the side for the sake of the Gospel!

Editor’s note: do you have any old school, Baptist Press-style cartoons that would illustrate this post?

As a matter of fact

Every Sunday, the Summit Church plays host to hundreds of super heroes.  These people don’t wear a cape or leap tall buildings in a single bound, but they’re every bit heroic when it comes to providing “wow” experiences for our guests.

One of our First Impressions teams is consistently called to action when it comes to making the Summit the friendliest church anywhere around.  Every week at our First Time Guest tent, we have a group of guys and ladies who do nothing else but help brand new people find their way around.  

One of those ladies is Robyn Eason, and last week I received an e-mail from a pastor in Mocksville who experienced Robyn’s first-class hospitality… 

This past weekend our church staff went on a retreat at a retreat center in Henderson. As part of our retreat, we wanted to visit some churches in the Raleigh/Durham area and see how they do worship and learn things that can help us in our worship. We visited your church this past Sunday (August 24) at the 9:00 service. The three of us, minister of music, youth pastor, and I were blown away. We were so impressed with both the music and the message. Both were excellent. But the thing that helped our worship most was the welcome we received from your church members. As soon as we arrived I registered at the Visitor’s Tent and there we met Robyn who was so gracious and helpful. She showed us all the important stuff – worship center and coffee stand as well as the REALLY important stuff – restrooms. We had a great feel from the minute we walked in. I started to tell Robyn who we were and what we were doing; however, I wanted to know how your people would treat “regular” people. We were received extremely well. The other church we attended has a ways to go. On the way we home we talked about it and decided that we had such a great experience at your church because worship began when we first entered the building through the friendliness of people like Robyn. You also made us want to come back next week for your message series.

Thanks for a great worship experience and may God continue to bless you as you minister to people in the Triangle.


Van Lankford

Did you catch that?  “Worship began when we first entered the building through the friendliness of people like Robyn.”

Great job, Robyn.  And a question for the rest of us: are we contributing to…or distracting from…a first timers’ worship experience?

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