November 2010

Last week I went in for my regularly scheduled water boarding session known as the dental checkup. I’ve written extensively about my loathing-love for the dentist before, so I won’t revisit the topic of spit vacuum repairmen or my wife’s behind-my-back calling of the dental receptionist on this post. But as you know, the dental chair is a great place to reflect on spiritual truths. Or watch your life flash before your squinted, pain-filled eyes. Whatever.

At my dentist’s office, I typically am paired up with a nice, calm hygienist. She initiates warm conversations. She doesn’t leave me sitting in the chair too long. And she’s gentle with my teeth. As you can imagine, I’m a big fan of Nice Calm Hygienist Lady.

But occasionally – as was the case last week – I am matched with Helga the Hygienist, who apparently had a huge fight with her husband before she left for work, and decided to take out her frustration on every man she encountered that day. And since I was Helga’s first victim, I received the full brunt of her wrath.

When Helga cleans your teeth, she spares nothing. She digs. She scrapes. She pokes. She prods. She presses down so hard I think my ancestor’s enamel gets clean through some weird time-space continuum thing. When Helga cleans your teeth, you know they’re clean. Yes, they’re probably bruised and bloody and you won’t be able to chew for a week, but by golly they’re clean.

While I was in the chair, it hit me that I view spiritual growth about the same way that I view a trip to the dentist’s office. I want Nice Calm Spiritual Growth…not Helga the Spiritual Growth Catalyst. I want scriptures that are warm and fuzzy. I want sermons that aren’t too terribly convicting. I want prayer times that focus more on God’s provision than my sin.

But I’ve noticed that real spiritual growth tends to look more like Helga’s dental chair. It’s painful sometimes. It makes your eyes tear up sometimes. It makes you want to skip a checkup sometimes. But in the end, you know that cleansing has taken place.

This week I’ve committed to digging a little deeper during my times with Jesus. I don’t want to just look at my actions, but the motivation behind the actions. I don’t want to just ask for what I want, but to ask God to highlight what I actually need. I want him to kick over a few rocks and help me to see the real me that’s underneath.

How about you? What Helgas are you avoiding?


Alright, Raleigh-Durham friends, I’ve got a fun opportunity to tell you about.  This Friday night I’m attending Play for Hope Silent Auction.  Play for Hope is a charity that uses sports like soccer and basketball as a platform to reach children in Rwanda with the gospel.  The kids in the program are street children, mostly orphaned by genocide and HIV/AIDS.  Play for Hope uses sports to put coaches in their lives as positive role models, gives them safe places to play and build relationships, and shows them gospel-centered love.

And no, they didn’t ask me to be a part of this evening because of my legendary sports skills.  I will not be doing soccer demos or letting you go one-on-one with me in a three pointer contest.  But I have been asked to emcee the event.  And if I can find a tuxedo, I might just cummerbund this sucka.

Here are the deets:

  • It’s Friday, December 3rd, from 7:00-10:00 PM (come when you can, stay as long as you like)
  • It’s in Suite 111 at the Summit’s Brier Creek Campus.
  • There will be music, dessert, coffee, and items that you can bid on or win.

Did I say “items”?  I meant to say, “products and experiences of a value beyond what you could ever afford but you should still come and bid on them anyway because they’re so ridiculously freakishly cool.”  This is a partial list of what we’re auctioning off, and no, I’m not making any of this stuff up (except what’s in the parenthesis).  It’s all the real deal…

  • North Carolina and Rwandan art.
  • Photo shoot packages (for an extra $10, I’ll pose with your family in my tux)
  • Durham Performing Arts Center VIP ticket packages, including VIP parking and access to the Presidential Lounge.
  • Personal training packages (I’ll pay you $10 if you don’t make me lift weights with you and the muscular people).
  • A guitar signed by the Rolling Stones (those guys look dead already, so this should be worth something).
  • An autographed Harry Potter cast photo (I should probably watch one of the movies so I can make witty comments).
  • A framed Thriller album signed by Michael Jackson (somebody was personal friends with Bubbles the Chimp).

Come hang out.  I’d love to see you there!

Want more info?  Check out Play For Hope’s website.

Finally, people.  This is the last in a series of blog posts.  You can catch up here.

Today we’re cranking out a two-fer.  That’s right: two Disney principles in one post, which is exactly what you need on the day that you’re in a tryptophan coma / Black Friday frenzy / dirty dishes up to your elbows.  Try to keep up.

Find something to celebrate.

Every year Disney parks have a big theme.  This year’s theme centers around celebration.  Every single day, I saw hundreds of people wearing Disney-issued buttons that had the name of their celebration.  It might have been a first visit, an anniversary, a honeymoon, or whatever, but Disney gave people the opportunity to celebrate something, and took the opportunity to celebrate with them.

As we were preparing for our trip, we were asked that question on multiple times: Are you celebrating something? And as I walked around the park, I saw cast members taking full advantage of the celebration.  A street sweeper yelled, “Happy birthday, Ben!” to a five year old kid.  He lit up like a Christmas tree.  A ride operator bantered with a couple about their honeymoon.  The entire atmosphere was geared towards celebration.

Does it work that way at our churches?  The way I see it, we have at least two things to celebrate every weekend:

  1. A guest’s attendance.  Max Lucado had a killer tweet a couple of weeks ago: “Make a big deal out of guests’ arrival. Swing open the door as they approach. One of God’s children is coming to your house!”
  2. A risen savior.  Face it: most of our worship services feel more like a funeral.  Dead songs.  Dead people. Dead sermons.  We forget that we don’t worship a dead guy, but one who was dead and rose.  That’s the ticket to celebration, right there.

You will make a memory.

Nobody walks away from a Disney trip empty-headed.  They’re thinking about the incredible meal, the first-class treatment, or the the incredible coasters.  Or, they’re thinking about the indifferent cast members, the overpriced hotel, or the favorite ride that was closed for repairs.

The truth is, we’re creating a memory every time someone walks into our church.  And we hold the power on whether that memory is good or bad.  Plan your weekend to celebrate Jesus and with people in mind.  Remember that every Sunday is somebody’s first Sunday.  And when people are replaying weekend memories around the Monday water cooler, make sure the things that they remember are the things you want them to advertise.

Thanks for hanging in during this series.  If you’re a Disney buff like me, you might want to check out the following resources that highlight their commitment to quality first impressions:

Other posts in this series:

No deep thoughts.  Just a funny video (and product placement) about a slippery turkey.

And if you’re in the mood for a walk down memory lane, you can check out “A Thanksgiving Parable” from a couple of years back.

Polish your people.

If there was one letdown of the Disney experience, it was this: not everybody who works there believes it is the happiest place on earth.

It wasn’t like that on past trips.  Everybody was cheerful.  Really cheerful.  Sickeningly cheerful.  Hey-that-kid-just-ate-too-much-funnel-cake-and-barfed-on-my-shoe-but-I’m-still-freakishly-happy-about-it-cheerful.

And after all, that’s the Disney Way.  It’s the role of the cast member to create a little magic and make somebody’s day.  And for the most part, that’s what I experienced.  Rafael was a blast.  Phil the concierge was incredibly helpful.  Joann the housekeeper twisted our towels into fun animal shapes.

But there were exceptions.  One notable exception was the Walt Disney Railroad lady.  This is an almost direct quote…

“Sir, I’m going to ask you to please swap seats with your son.  If the conductor sees a deer, he has to hit the brakes.  We have a lot of deer in the parks and we get fired if we hit one.  So he’s going to hit the brakes, and your son will go flying.”

Now, there are a couple of things I need to say here:

  1. She may not have said “fired.”  She may have said “fined.”  But either way, it was a negative impression.  She may as well have said, “If you don’t swap seats with your child, my child will be hungry, I will be homeless, I will pay no taxes and therefore Florida roads will go unpaved, and you don’t want that.”
  2. Of course there are deer in the park.  And of course it would be bad to hit one.  Bambi’s had a bad enough life.  I hold no ill will against deer.  That’s our student pastor’s job…to kill poor defenseless forest animals.

So what does the church learn from that?  Simply this: we polish our people.  True, we may not be giving people directions on how to ride a train (yet…but a guy can dream), but every weekend our volunteers interact with thousands of people.  That’s thousands of opportunities to design a great experience, and thousands of opportunities to turn someone away.

My friend Mark Waltz says it well in his book First Impressionsthere are five things we never want our guests to hear from our team:

  1. “That’s not my responsibility.”  If you’re asked about it, told about it, questioned about it, or informed about it, it becomes your responsibility.  Your issue to fix.  Your time to shine.  Don’t hand off and forget, embrace and wow ’em.
  2. “I don’t know.”  Volunteers are simply a representation and extension of the pastoral team.  If they don’t know, it’s likely my fault as a pastor.  Still, an “I don’t know” should always be followed by a “but I’ll find out.”
  3. “No.”  Figure out a way to say “yes” when you can.  Rather than dying by your policies, live by a spirit of generosity.  And if the answer really is no, cast some vision as to why the no is there.  People can accept “no” if the reason makes sense.
  4. “They,” “Them,” and “You Guys.”  The proverbial “they” will kill a volunteer team.  “They told me I had to.”  “You guys need to figure this out.”  A solid First Impressions team embraces the “we.”
  5. “I’m just a volunteer.”  No one is just a volunteer.  People either lead out of their giftings and passions, or they need to find another place to serve.  And besides, guests at our churches don’t see unpaid weekend-warrior volunteers…they see living, breathing people who hopefully hold the answers and the hope that they need.

What else?  What are some other ways we polish our people?  Comment below.

Other posts in this series:

Dear Austin,

It looks like you broke your foot after all.  I’m sorry that I questioned you.  You were right.  I was wr…  wrrrrr…

…I didn’t have all the facts.

You have to understand that your track record on potentially life-threatening injuries isn’t very good.  While you’ve never cried “wolf,” you have cried “I think I cracked my collarbone,” “I think my leg just amputated itself,” and “I think I deviated my septum.”  Thirteen years’ worth of every-three-day pleas to go to the emergency room finally took their toll.  I’m sorry that when it came to your first broken bone, we didn’t believe you.

Yes, yes, I understand that you were in a cut-throat game of basketball with one of your student leaders.  I know that you came down wrong on your foot.  But I also know that on the way home that night, you were in the back seat making up rap songs and laughing as hard as you could.  You’ll have to forgive my apprehension when you stepped out of the car and immediately looked like every wounded character in every wartime movie ever made (“Save yourselves!  LEAVE ME!”)

I’m also sorry that you came by your hypochondria honestly.  You learned from the very best.  I still remember the 9th grade mocking for showing up at school wearing an Ace bandage after I’d bumped my knee on the desk the day before.  I know what it’s like to examine every symptom.  And while I still maintain that the Dutch Elm Disease scare of ’08 was touch-and-go (I had scaly bark, dangit!), I’m sorry I passed my drama down the line to you.

However, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that you shouldn’t milk this situation more than you already have.  How you have roped your eight year old brother into waiting on you hand and foot, I’ll never know.  You have that kid making your lunch, fluffing your pillow, and bringing you more movies.  Enjoy it while it lasts, because I’m having a talk with him before he goes to bed tonight and liberating him from the tyranny.

And also, go easy on your mom.  The highlight of this incident will forever be remembered not for your broken foot, but for the “The H.S.A. Talk,” when I overheard her explaining to you how our insurance plan had changed and we couldn’t be running you willy nilly to every x-ray machine in the Triangle.  I love that woman.  The fact that she has survived thirteen years of E.R. trips with you is nothing short of amazing.

So Austin, enjoy your recovery period.  Grab all the sympathy you can from all the people you can.  Decorate your big ol’ boot with Christmas tree lights.  Moan about your chafing armpits.  But the next time that you suspect you have small pox, remember that it was eradicated a few decades ago.



*This open apology was pre-approved by Austin, who really wants you all to know that he broke his foot.  And that his father was wr… wrrrr…

…didn’t have all the facts.


Don’t start here. Back that mouse up.

For a long time now, I’ve been telling you that details matter.  It matters that your facility is clean.  It matters that there’s toilet paper on the roll.  It matters that what’s announced from the stage is communicated to volunteers.

But Disney takes that a step further and teaches us that unseen details matter, too.

Now when I say “unseen,” I don’t mean that nobody notices them.  I don’t mean that they’re invisible.  I mean that they are the smallish, insignificant, unnecessary things that – if you notice them – create some real “wow” moments.  They are the things that Disney’s Imagineers didn’t have to take the time to do, but because they did, you know that the overall experience is going to be a great one.

Here are just a few of my favorite “unseen” details…

  • Look down.  It’s rare to find a spot of ground that doesn’t have some meaning behind it.  That red-bordered pavement on Main Street U.S.A.? That’s there to signify the red carpet that’s been rolled out for you, the guest.  The brown gravel embedded in the pavement in Liberty Square? That’s supposed to look like the open sewers that would have been very present in colonial America.  The entry way to Disney’s Animal Kingdom? You can’t tell it from where you stand, but a quick Google Earth image will reveal that you’re standing on a massive tree-like mural leading to the park’s centerpiece, the Tree of Life.
  • Look up.  Nearly every shop window on Main Street U.S.A. is a tribute to a Disney Imagineer or Disney Legend.  Those folks were turned into “shopkeepers” and given roles to commemorate the influence they had on the park’s design and construction.
  • Listen.  You’re likely to hear a conversation from an upstairs room or a tap dance lesson in the next building or some grand soundtrack that signals the show that you’re a part of.  There’s hardly a spot in Walt Disney World’s parks that doesn’t have some sort of piped in sound effects.  You may not notice it over the noise of the crowd, but it’s there.
  • Look again.  Disney’s architecture is legendary, and you’re likely to find a surprise here and there.  In Sir Mickey’s shop in the Magic Kingdom, for example, you’ll see the giant ripping off the roof to catch Mickey as he heads down the beanstalk.  I don’t care who you are (unless you’re the random dude who thought I was taking a picture of him…settle down, random dude), that’s cool.

But perhaps one of my favorite unseen details has to do with something that I’ve never seen and probably never will.  The Walt Disney World Casting Center is the building where people go to apply and interview for positions with the Disney company.  The place is intentionally designed to be a meandering trip through Disney history.  The entry doorknobs are patterned after the knobs in Alice in Wonderland. The trip from the front door to the receptionists’ desk is intentionally long and winding (rabbit hole, anyone?), taking you past grand scenes from Disney films through the decades.  Project director Tim Johnson quoted architect Bob Stern as saying, “…you enter on the ground floor, and the first time you can ask for a job is at the other end of a hall on the second floor…Let them wander.  Let them get a taste of Disney before they get there.”

So what does all of this have to do with the church?  Unseen details really do matter.  The stuff we do from Monday through Friday has a direct impact on what happens here on the weekends.  The way we plan, the way we train, the way we clean and prepare and rehearse and study and pray…all of those things factor into the weekend experience.  Our weekday game plan affects our weekend game face. When we ignore the details that we think no one will ever see…they most certainly do.  They see our shoddy prep work, they see our inattention to detail, and their overall experience suffers.

What unseen details can you think of?


Other posts in this series:

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