February 2010

Over the last couple of months I’ve been a part of a team from our denomination’s state convention that is attempting to launch a discipleship initiative for churches in North Carolina.  Some of the conversations have been downright shocking and heart breaking as I’ve realized how many churches there are that truly don’t have a process or plan for what to do with people who follow Jesus. (Disclaimer…not the churches represented by the people I’ve been meeting with, but other churches.  You know, led by a guy that my friend used to know that one time.)

Let me be blunt: if you don’t have a plan in place to grow Christ followers, shut the dang doors. Or bring in someone to help you.  Or read a book.  Or attend a conference.  Or – gasp! – read the Bible.  It has a plan or two in there.

If you’re a pastor, it’s your job.  It’s your calling.  Your calling is not to plan spaghetti supper fund raisers or make sure the youth group doesn’t stain the carpet in the fellowship hall or to drive the van so the senior adults can raise their cholesterol at the buffet.  Your job is to grow disciples.

Your church is not a social club.  It doesn’t exist for itself.  It had better not exist solely for people who are already there.  If you’re not reaching new people and introducing them to the gospel, shut the dang doors.

Soap box over.  So how would you define discipleship?  I know how I define it…I want to know how you or your church defines it.  Keep it to Twitter-length sentences, please.  Ready?  Go.

If you missed part 1, you should catch up here to put today’s post in context.  Go on.  I’ll wait.

Creative church types are always talking about thinking outside of the box.  We don’t want to do the same old, same old.  Standard messages need a fresh twist, familiar songs need a new tune, and traditional programming needs a jolt of new energy.  (Whether that’s a good idea or bad is not the topic of today’s post, so save those comments for another time.)

In many ways, our creativity is very good.  Creative elements engage society’s artists, thinkers, and those with preconditioned ideas of what church will be.  But other times, our creativity is just the opposite of good (it’s bad…pay attention).  As we’ve seen in recent days, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

But back to the box.  Every church has a creative box.  Every single one.  Even the most creative churches in our country will find their limits if they rely on today’s “new” as they look towards tomorrow.

That’s why I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the network led by Mark Waltz.  In our session on Monday, there were 13 church leaders from across the country…big churches, small churches.  Methodist churches, Baptist churches.  Traditional churches, contemporary churches.  Lead pastors, staff positions.  People with experience, people on the job for two months.

And what I discovered was that I learned something from every last one of them.  Their “out of the box” thinking looks far different from my “out of the box” thinking.  Regardless of where they are in their journey as a leader, a guest services coordinator, or a believer, I was able to glean from their experience.

How about you?  Are you surrounding yourself with people who don’t live life in the same box as you?  Are you intentionally seeking out new relationships that will fire new creativity and passion in your skull?  Get out of the box.  It’ll be the best move you can make.

We’re in the middle of a several-week series called Topical Tuesdays, where you pick the topic and I make up answers.  You can add your topic / question to the list by commenting on this post.  Today’s question is submitted by Lauren Dyson:

Since you have three sons, what are you doing to make sure your sons don’t grow up to be wimpy pansies?

Let’s get one thing straight: I’ll never be mistaken for the Brawny paper towel man.  I can’t grow facial hair, I don’t carry an ax, and the idea of running fifty yards to score the game winning touchdown makes me want a nap (I don’t think Brawny man plays football, but you get the drift).  That said, I think we rip our kids off when we neuter their gender-specific identities and don’t teach them how to be men (or women) from a young age.  No, I wasn’t the guy that freaked out if my kid was playing with his girl cousin’s baby stroller (Two years old?  Okay.  12 years old?  Not so much.).  But I believe that Merriem and I have a responsibility to raise our young men to be men.

However, rather than turning this into a “do as I say” list, let me take this approach:

How to Raise a Pansy
by Danny Franks, a dad for 14 years tomorrow (happy birthday Jacob!)

  1. Always bail them out. Never let your kids own their own mistakes.  Drive to Wal Mart at midnight to buy supplies for the science project due tomorrow that they conveniently forgot about.  Make excuses to the coach on why they didn’t have their uniform, and somehow it’s probably your fault.  Write notes to the teacher every day questioning every unacceptable grade they every get, and somehow it’s probably the teacher’s fault.  (I subscribe to the Kevin Leman school of responsibility: “Pull the rug and let the little buzzards tumble.”)
  2. Maintain low expectations. Repeat one of these phrases frequently: “Boys will be boys,” “That’s a teenager for you,” or “Maybe they’ll grow out of it.”  Don’t have a vision for their life.  Expect them to figure it out for themselves.  Let them dictate their lives and butt out, because you’re just the parent, after all.
  3. Make sure the world revolves around them. Let them call the shots on where you eat, where you go on vacation, and push their social commitments to the max.  They need to know that the family will stop when their mood strikes.  Cower and cave to every request they ever make, and respond quickly to every pout and tantrum, giving them what they want.
  4. Don’t teach them to honor women. Let them view girls at school as an object to be conquered rather than a heart to guard.  Allow them to watch any movie, any TV show, or listen to any song that degrades women or promotes sex because “You can’t shelter them forever.”  Don’t make them hold a door, clear a table, load a dishwasher, or put their clothes away for their mom. (You say that’s woman’s work, I say that you’re a freakin’ idiot and your wife should punch you in the throat.)  Related to this…
  5. Let them walk all over their mom. Allow talking back, questioning, and disrespect.  Settle for “good enough” when it comes to the way they honor their mother.  Let them see you model disrespect and dishonor towards her.  Let them treat her as their personal maid.  (At our house, I tell my boys that they can talk to their mom that way, but they won’t talk to my wife that way.  And then I send them on a scavenger hunt to find a soft place to sit until the pain passes.)
  6. Leave spiritual things to chance. Don’t put Jesus into real-world scenarios.  Never pray for them.  Never pray with them.  Trust that they’ll read their Bible when they’re ready.  Don’t challenge them to go deeper in their spiritual walk.  Don’t make them go to church or get involved in a small group.  And above all – never let them see you doing any of the above.
  7. Don’t have a vision for their life. React rather than respond.  Don’t watch for what God is doing in them.  Never challenge them to tackle great things.  Be prouder of their high score on the PS3 than you are of their character.
  8. Never apologize. You’re the omniscient parent.  You don’t make mistakes.  You should not demonstrate humility, say “I was wrong,” and redirect your misdirected course of action.  Don’t ever ask for forgiveness, and don’t ever acknowledge your sin as sin.
  9. Never show affection. If you’re going to raise a pansy, the quickest route is to stop the hugs and kisses early on.  Don’t tell your sons you love them.  Don’t let them see you show emotion.  Don’t kiss ’em goodnight and trade fist bumps and tell them you’re proud of them.  Don’t encourage them.

So dads, there’s gotta be a #10.  What am I missing?  What’s your best advice on raising a pansy?

Next week: What are some of the scriptural foundations for your philosophy of the First Impressions ministry?

It’s not a secret that pastors only work on Sundays.  The rest of the week is spent honing my curling skills, or whatever it is that you imaging pastoral-type folk do on their Sabbath from Sabbath.  That’s why it’s often difficult – if not impossible – to break away and check out other churches on a Sunday.  In my seven years at the Summit, I’ve visited roughly four other churches on a Sunday.  Four.  (That’s less than five, people!)

But it is crucial for a leader to get out of his own environment and experience the way other places do church.  I had that opportunity yesterday.  Granger Community Church is an organization I’ve followed for several years.  Their reputation is stellar in so many ways, and it seems that every staff member has authored or co-authored a book (look for Simply Strategic Toilet Plunging to come out from the facilities team later this year).  In short, they are the go-to authority on matters of communication, guest services, administration, culture…you name it, they know about it.

This will be the first of several posts where I debrief my takeaways, but here are the biggies:

  1. Seamless. If anyone at Granger was panicking about anything, I never knew about it.  I’ve been in the church biz long enough to know that at the Summit, we’re often called a “well oiled machine.”  As nice as that sentiment is, I know the truth.  I know there are Sundays where I want to find a corner and get in the fetal position.  I’d assume folks at Granger have that feeling sometimes, too.  But what I saw was organized fluidity.  People knew their role, knew the win, and knew how to deliver it, top to bottom.
  2. Relaxing. Granger’s auditorium is like a massive Panera Bread, without the bread (except for communion Sundays, when… never mind).  The auditorium opened plenty early so people could grab a seat and chat it up.  The programming all led up to the service kickoff.  They have a “service-before-the-service” culture that takes every bit as much planning as the service itself.
  3. Attractive. Everything…everything…looks good.  Signage.  Facilities.  Restrooms.  Staging.  You just know that they expected somebody to show up.  Excellence is reflected down to the last detail.
  4. Community. I intentionally laid low on Sunday, since I was attempting to visit multiple campuses and needed to pop in and out, but the setup at Granger is such that they want you to hang around and make friends.  They reflect that value with a full-scale, sit-down cafe, a bookstore, and outdoor gathering space (although with all the snow on the ground, I didn’t see any takers).

I hope you’re taking the time to get out and see what other places are doing.  You need to build in that discipline if you’re a pastor, church leader, or church member.  Get the heck out of Dodge, and see what other places are doing.  It will spark new ideas (and new passion) every single time.

Yesterday morning I caught up with my friend and fellow Summit pastor Brad O’Brien over coffee.  If you’re new to the Summit, it might surprise you that Brad and I haven’t always carried the titles of Lofty And Exalted Ones (or, “Campus Pastors,” for short).  We haven’t always lived in the lap of luxury, eating our imported filet mignon off of diamond-encrusted plates (for breakfast, no less).  We haven’t always sported European suits made of silk threads spun by fairies.  We haven’t always driven matching Lexii (that’s the official term for two Lexuses, you commoner).

No, there was a point back in early ’03 where Brad and I were newcomers to the Summit staff, working part time and –gasp!- sharing an office.  It was seventeen glorious square feet of common space, cramped conditions (when he sneezed, I wiped my nose), and the occasional #2 diaper by my youngest son who was hanging out for the morning.  We sat back-to-back and, in the pinnacle of efficiency, e-mailed conversations to each other:

Brad: What’s that smell?

Me: Jase ate strained carrots last night.  Sorry.  It’ll clear out shortly.

Brad: Pass me your trash can.  I need to puke.

But there was a day when Brad and I became more than office mates.  On that day, he almost made the ultimate sacrifice and gave his life for mine.  On that day, as I sat developing a master plan for the ongoing discipleship of thousands (or playing Free Cell, I really can’t remember), the tone in the office turned ominous.  Brad’s voice broke what had been the silent click-click-clicking of computer keys, and his pitch was lower than normal:

Brad: “Danny.  Don’t.  Move.”

Me: “Wha-?”

Brad: “SHH!  Don’t move.  There’s a snake beside your desk.”

Me: [barely squeaking] “A sn-?”

Brad: “I SAID SHH!”

And then, in a nanosecond laced with the heroism and dexterity only displayed by a Russell Crowe-style Hollywood saga, I heard Brad leap from his chair, grasp my chair firmly by the back, and then felt myself being flung away from the epicenter of death.  My chair rolled and spun across the office (all 36 inches of it) and into the hallway as inside, I hear all h-e-double-hockey-sticks break loose.  Boards were breaking.  Things were getting flailed.  Somewhere that night, a snake mommy and daddy would be very sad.

Brad emerged, his red face and breathless stance betraying his valiant efforts in restoring order to our world.  I looked at my friend – the friend who shudders at the sight of a clown and hyperventilates when the word “midget” is uttered, the friend who cries every time Fiona is transformed from a princess to an ogre in Shrek – and I am filled with gratitude.  Until…

Brad: “I didn’t get him.”

Me: “You didn’t get him?  How could you not GET HIM?  It sounded like you threw my desk out the window!”

Brad: “It was a glancing blow.  He slithered back behind your desk.  [dramatic pause] We have to go back in there.”

And so, with the courage and conviction of two seventh grade girls walking through a field at midnight after watching Children of the Corn, we re-entered the crime scene.  We pulled the desk out slowly, ever so slowly (mainly because it weighed 1400 pounds, but still…).  A half-inch here, a quarter-inch there.  We were prepared to come face-to-face with our foe.  Would it be a copperhead?  A rattlesnake?  A venomous cobra placed in the office by a bitter enemy?  We didn’t have to wait long for our answer, for it was then that we saw him.  We were staring death in the face, and looking into the beady eyes of…

…a lizard.

A tiny, five-inches-including-the-tail, two ounce lizard.  Oh sure, he had bloodthirsty deeds in his little brain, but yet, he was a lizard.  And so, like brave warriors, we finished the deed.

I would like to tell you that we picked him up with the firm grasp of our bare hands and took him outside, after which we did something equally manly like chop down a tree, but no.   We took turns kicking that rascal out our door, down the hallway, through the lobby, and into the parking lot.

And then we had a good case of the reptilian shivers, because that dude gave us the heebie jeebies.

And now you know why I owe Brad my life.  Or a cup of coffee, which I bought him yesterday.  So I guess we’re even.

Gary Thomas is the kind of author that makes you wince and worship all at the same time.  Wince – because he clearly identifies our rebellion against God as part of our fallen nature, and worship – because he reminds us that God hasn’t left us that way.

The Beautiful Fight was at least the fourth Thomas book I’ve tackled (there’s an asterisk by Authentic Faith, because I skimmed.  Sorry, Gary).  This one deals with the subject of spiritual transformation and the fact that holiness is not passive, it is active.  He points out that of which we’re already aware: that we have watered down the message of Christianity to the point where there is nothing compelling, nothing that draws people in, nothing that identifies a difference.

An author’s typical take on holiness might include the mandate to separate from the world.  Thomas refutes that idea, and says that “The surprising message of the incarnation – and later of Christ’s ascension – is this: ‘Don’t try to escape the world, but rather go deeper into the world.  See it as you have never seen it.  See it with God’s eyes.  Hear it with God’s ears.  Feel it with God’s heart.  Think about it with God’s mind.'”

Thomas argues against the avoidance of pain in growth: “I’ve come to realize that when I refuse to face the pain of transformation, eventually I must endure the misery of my immaturity…There is no greater weight we must bear than the heaviness of our own sinful choices.”  He helps us re-visualize Jesus’ admonition to “Take my yoke upon you.”  (“While a superficial look at yokes makes one think of work, deeper reflection reveals that a yoke is an offer of help.”)  And he reminds us that spiritual maturity is incremental: “Christlikeness is born in us…in the small tasks of life.”

Like all of Thomas’ books, The Beautiful Fight is a challenge towards living a gospel-centered life.  If you struggle with your spiritual trajectory (and if you say you don’t you’re a stinkin’ liar), pick it up today.

Previous Reviews:

The scene: last Sunday, the Summit’s 12:30 service.  We’re roughly three minutes into the message, and I’m sitting four rows back, right center section, settling in for Pastor J.D.’s weekly tirade against lasik surgery.  Or proclamation of the gospel.  Whatever.

And then, out of nowhere…drip.

I feel water hit my shoulder and splatter on to my head (the bald spot, specifically.  Shut up.).  Three distinct possibilities immediately came to mind:

  1. My favorite Spitting Pastor has struck again.  And with such reach, this time.  I’m sitting 25 feet away, for golly’s sake!
  2. The guy on camera #2 (sitting just above and behind me) has a cold.
  3. The roof is leaking.

As much as I wanted to ignore possibility #3 – we were going to be discussing buying this leaky rat trap the next night, after all – it became very obvious that it was indeed the roof.  And at this point, the escape plan wasn’t quite clear, because:

  1. It was directly above my head (dumb luck? micro-judgment from God? I may never know),
  2. there was no open seat on either side (except for a seat with a “reserved for greeters” sign, and if I sat there I might have to – gasp! – greet somebody),
  3. I was currently sitting beside my 13 year old, so a sudden move could communicate loss of father love, and,
  4. 300 fellow worshippers were behind me, so I couldn’t necessarily pull out my emergency poncho.

And so, I endured the rest of the service with the every-three-minute-drip.




And at the end of the service, when Fellow Worship Guy was no more and End of Service Announcement Guy resurrected, he had quite the unusual pit stains not under his pits, but on his shoulder.

But hey, at least it wasn’t option #2.  Camera-guy nasal leak on top of my head is not my thing.  You may think it’s funny, but itsnot.

We’re in the middle of a several-week series called Topical Tuesdays, where you pick the topic and I make up answers.  You can add your topic / question to the list by commenting on this post.  Today’s question is submitted by Mike Gifford:

Should covenant members be the only ones that serve on ministry teams?

Nope.  Next question!

Actually Mike, that’s a great question (face it, the question wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t moderately awesome).  The short answer is that we do not restrict serving opportunities to our covenant members.  While there are some leadership roles that require membership, just about all of our teams are open to those who are still checking out the Summit.  There are a couple of reasons for that:

  1. Teams provide context. There’s nothing like a smaller community in order to define your church experience.  It’s through serving on a team (or attending a small group) that you get the inside track.  You begin to learn the vibe of the church, and you build relationships like crazy.
  2. Teams provide evangelistic opportunity. We have many cases where people are serving on teams and they’re not yet Christ-followers.  Serving alongside other believers provides multiple real-life conversations which often lead people to the truth of the gospel.

Obviously, we want to move every volunteer towards covenant membership.  Some of our teams have grace periods of several months, but at the end of that time membership is required.  The reason for that is because we want to build spiritual, relational accountability into the serving relationships at the Summit.

An obvious question follows this discussion: How do we ensure that “the wrong people” aren’t serving?  Can just anyone serve? The answer: it depends.  There are some “low-risk” serving opportunities (worship choir, First Impressions team) where an unbeliever is in a relative safe zone and surrounded by experienced volunteers who know the expectations.  However, when it comes to serving with minors, every volunteer – brand new or here for 30 years – must submit to a thorough background check.  No background check, no access.  And even those with a background check may not serve in a leadership position prior to a six-month period.

So the next time you’re dropping your kid off in the nursery to the guy with the eyepatch, multiple tats, and a running chainsaw, remember: he’s been cleared.  Relax.

Next week: What are you doing to make sure your sons don’t grow up to be wimpy pansies?

If you’re a long-time reader of the blog, you know that I put way more stock into Super Bowl commercials than I should.  (Read last year’s rant here.)  But this past Sunday I recognized something else: the ads have lost their soul.

Very few advertisers left me with the feeling that they believed in what they were selling.  It was more about the glitz, the humor, the shock factor, or any other number of things.  But it wasn’t about the product.  And in the end, many of us overlooked what should have taken center stage.

Case in point: Charles Barkley can’t rap.  But the rap in question was creative.  The background and set design was creative.   And when it was over, my wife said, “That’s a good deal.”

“What’s a good deal?”

“That Taco Bell $5 box.  That’s a pretty good deal.”

“That was a Taco Bell commercial?!?”

You see, I missed it.  I missed the point of the commercial because I was lost in the misguided rapping talent and Suess-like writing.  (To be fair and balanced, I thought the Google ad was spot-on.)

Churches can be guilty of that, as well.  We can get so caught up in our own hype, our flashy music, our latest creatively-packaged series, or our creature comforts, that we lose the proverbial “product” amidst the “sales pitch.”  We’re not in the coffee bar business or the worship band business.  Jesus is the centerpiece of why we exist.  And when we lose Jesus, we are – as Paul says – a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Or, as I would add, a rapping Barkley.

Today we begin a several-week series called Topical Tuesdays, where you pick the topic and I make up answers.  You can add your topic / question to the list by commenting on this post.  Today’s question is submitted by Jeremy B:

What is a good response when someone (or group), who is affiliated with the Baptist orientation makes national news for allegedly trying to smuggle Haitian children?  More generally, what is a good response when other Christians (or sometimes we ourselves) embarrass The Name?

I still remember one of my youth pastor’s famous one liners whenever we went somewhere as a group: Whatever you do, don’t drag the name of Jesus through the mud. Bob knew something that we hadn’t quite learned, and that is that it’s very easy to draw attention away from the holy, grace-filled name of Jesus and towards our own stupid / ignorant / sinful behavior.  Sometimes we behaved that way because we meant to (church buses are simply a sin pit on wheels, just so you know), other times because we simply didn’t know any better (“What? I shouldn’t have yelled ‘Shine your head for a quarter, sir?’ to that bald guy?”).

Still, it seems that Christians are continuously doing dumb stuff.  I haven’t followed the situation in Haiti closely enough to know the full story, but I’d guess that this church group was trying to do a good thing with either (a) false information (“But what they told me was…”), (b) incomplete information (“Let’s just trust God for the details.”), or (c) just plain stupidity (“What? I can’t take kids that aren’t mine into another country?  But they’re so cute!“).

But back to Jeremy’s question, how do we as fellow believers respond?  I think four points are in order.  (I’ll use the Haiti situation as a springboard, but try to keep this as general as possible for other scenarios):

  1. Pray fervently. True, untrue, or somewhere in between, the fact is that we are dealing with fellow believers in crisis.  Pray for their safety, for justice, and for mercy in the case where honest mistakes were made.
  2. Listen discerningly. In nearly every situation where a church group or individual Christian makes headlines for nefarious purposes, I typically don’t jump to conclusions until I’ve heard from the church or the individual.  Proverbs 18:17 says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”  In 17 years of ministry, I’ve heard hundreds of accusations against churches or church members.  Sadly, my thick skull has only recently learned that until I hear both sides of the story, I’m probably not getting the accurate version.
  3. Argue (or defend) honestly. When a non-believer asks your opinion, be gracious, be humble, but be truthful.  If you don’t know, don’t comment.  Don’t spout your opinion.  And by all means, don’t play the persecution card.  (“You just hate us because we’re Christians!”   “No.  I hate you because you’re obnoxious.”)  Where Christians mess up, we should own up.  But there’s a difference between honestly assessing a situation and crossing the line into gossip.  Be careful.
  4. Re-direct accordingly. In my experience, these stories do little more than give people another barrier to the gospel.  That’s why we must perpetually re-direct people to the truth.  Christians are not perfect.  Jesus is.  Churches are going to fail us.  Jesus won’t.  It’s important that people understand that we are very imperfect representatives of a perfect savior.

Great question, Jeremy.  Anyone else want to take this on?

Next week: Should covenant members be the only ones that serve on ministry teams?

Next Page »