December 2010


We’re wrapping up a three-day series that’s looking back on 2010: the best search terms, the best books I’ve read, and today…my favorite blog posts.

Being a writer is like being a dad. There are some of you that will like my kids and some of you that won’t. Some of you will think their antics are cute while others will think they need to be deleted.

Editor’s Note: Wait. Are we talking about blog posts or offspring now? You’re freaking me out.

With that said, there are posts that were particularly fun / thought-provoking / meaningful to me this year. These are the ones that actually made me laugh or made me cry as I wrote them. Here they are, in order of appearance…

I heart me some Google search terms. I believe that when Al Gore was inventing the Internet, there’s no way he could have foreseen the fun you could have by typing in random stuff and waiting to see what pops up (or maybe he could, be cause he also invented time travel).

Don’t believe me? Just try the old trick of typing in “French military victories” and click “I’m feeling lucky.” That was fun, wasn’t it?

That’s why I get a kick out of the search terms that lead people to this blog. Here are the best (and most unexplainable) of 2010…

  • “gourd jesus” (No. It’s Lord Jesus. Don’t worry…your sinuses will clear up soon.)
  • “facebook devouring” (Set my status to “starving.”)
  • “haters gonna hate statler waldorf” (Those two old Muppets bring out the street fight in some people.)
  • “little dog sniffing a big dog” (If you can’t sniff with the big dogs…)
  • “when to plant lima beans” (My best guess would be a few weeks before you want to eat the lima beans.)
  • “jack jacob pastor” (After God saved him from his Jingleheimer Schmidt, he went into the ministry.)
  • “what is another name for sphenopalatineganglioneuralgia” (I think it’s supercalifragilisticexpealidocious.)
  • “im a constant loser” (At least you’re predictable.)
  • “donut hole tomb snack idea” (For when you want to resurrect your appetite.)
  • “what is greg fishel’s favorite snack?” (I think our local weatherman likes donut hole tombs.)
  • “god is a chicken” (This is what happens when emergent guys get ahold of Luke 13:34.)
  • “what do the campus pastors do at summit church brier creek” (Pay attention. They write stupid blog posts like this one.)

It’s that time again, boys and girls. Time to gather around the warm screen of your laptop and tune in for the turn-of-the-year tradition known as the Connective Tissue Year End Review. What? You didn’t know there was such a tradition? You believed that the only year-end tradition we should observe is eating black-eyed peas and hog jowl on New Year’s Eve?

What?!? You didn’t know there was such a tradition as eating hog jowl and cannibalizing Fergie and will.i.am? And you also didn’t know that I’m just cool enough to toss in that pop culture reference? Well boo-yah. And boom boom pow, to boot. Perhaps you’d be more well-rounded like me if you’d read these books…the ten best I read this year, in no particular order…

  • What is a Healthy Church Member? Thabiti Anyabwile. Thabiti tackles the pew-dwelling phenomenon known as American Churchgoer, discussing ten characteristics that should mark the body of Christ.
  • The Beautiful Fight, Gary Thomas. In his usual, highly-readable style, Thomas walks us through the journey to holiness, reminding us that holiness in the life of a believer is active, not passive. (I reviewed it here.)
  • Less Clutter, Less Noise, Kem Meyer. This is a must-read for any communicator, especially communicators within the church. Kem lives what she writes and has traveled this road in her role at Granger Community Church.
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni. Our staff read through this in the spring. If you’ve never read Lencioni’s books, this is a good place to start. All church staffs should read this book.
  • Sticky Teams, Larry Osborne. Larry covers three main teams that every pastor must deal with: the church board (i.e., elders, deacons, etc.), staff, and volunteers. One of the best leadership books I’ve read, period.
  • Influencer, Kerry Patterson et al. This was my surprise book of the year. Patterson and company weave just a few stories through the fabric of the entire book, discussing how you don’t have to be powerful to have powerful influence.
  • Knowing God, J.I. Packer. I confess that I was supposed to have read this a decade ago in seminary. I finally dug it off the bookshelf this year, and I’m glad I did. It’s deeply theological and a catalyst for worship.
  • Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul David Tripp. If you ever find yourself sitting in the counselor’s chair, this book will be a tremendous help. It’s a great reminder that the gospel is enough.
  • The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg. A friend and I read through this together. If you’re convinced that a Christian must look like [fill in your own formula here], Ortberg will help you break the mold and live your life as God designed you to.
  • Hiroshima, John Hersey. I swiped this one from my high school freshman who had to read it as a summer assignment. Let’s just say that I enjoyed the story of nuclear fallout much more than he did.
  • Whiter Than Snow, Paul David Tripp. I’m on the last few pages of this one now. Tripp’s book is a 52 chapter devotional on Psalm 51. It has been an invaluable companion to Pastor J.D.’s current series, Search for a King.

What did I miss? There are still a couple of days left in 2010. What book did you read this year that you’d suggest?

Our year has been a little bit country, a little bit 1960’s Rat Pack. May you and your family have a blessed day focused on the baby who gave us life!

 

Thanks to A Life Well Photographed for the photo shoot!

Over on my alternate world known as The Twitter, it’s been a fun few weeks as we’ve been taking a look at Sad Christmas Carols. You know…not the CheeryHappyJollyMerry songs that greet you in every mall and on every radio station, and not the truly sad songs that actually exist: a toothless child that simply wants to be able to chew for Christmas, African villagers that won’t know it’s Christmas time at all, and people telling scary ghost stories around the fire.

No, I’m referring to the theoretical wonderland of really sad Christmas carols that don’t yet exist. Below is the complete list, but be aware that there’s another one or two to follow. If you’re not a follower of The Twitter, you can take care of that situation here.

  • Winter Wonderland’s divorce rate was abnormally high because Parson Brown didn’t offer premarital counseling.
  • The utilities weren’t paid (baby it’s cold inside)
  • Frosty the Snowman was an un-elected soul
  • Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Had a Very Stuffy Nose
  • In the meadow we can build a snowman, and pretend that he’s a deranged clown.
  • It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like January Bankruptcy
  • God Rest Ye Buried Gentlemen
  • Let Her Go, Let Her Go, Let Her Go.
  • Up on the housetop reindeer pause, and watch in horror as Santa falls…
  • Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire
  • It’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with your much cuter cousin
  • Here limps Santa Claus, here limps Santa Claus, hobbling on his cane…
  • This is my grown up Christmas lisp.
  • …it doesn’t show signs of stopping, so I’ve brought some zits for popping…
  • Little Dumber Boy
  • …we’ll frolic & play, the Eskimo way, until the pipeline ruptures on our land…
  • I’m dreaming of a wide Christmas, with every fresh-baked treat I bite…
  • On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a restraining order from a deputy…
  • No L, No L, No L, No L, some little thief stole my free-ee-kin’ L.
  • There must have been some acid in that old silk hat they found. 4 when they placed it on his head he began to thrash around.
  • Dashing thru the snow, running for my life. Rudolph’s toting hoof grenades & Frosty’s got a knife…
  • I saw Daddy contacting his attorney after I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus.
  • Harold the Harking Angel sings: “Glor(COUGH) to the (COUGH)born (COUGH)!”
  • …and since we’ve no place to go… (no seriously. I have no place to go. I’m alone. So very, very alone.)
  • Grandpa got plowed over by his John Deere
  • Re: Joyce! Re: Joyce! It’s another self-absorbed email from Joyce…

I don’t want to become blind.

I don’t want to fail to see what other people see.

I don’t want to overlook a glaring hole in our process for welcoming first time guests. I don’t want to miss the obvious ways that we’re dropping the ball. I don’t want to get so familiar with the familiar that I miss the flaws of the familiar.

For the last few years, we’ve been a church on the move. As such, we’re constantly launching new campuses and starting new venues and experimenting with new service times. And every time one of those things gets underway, we notice the things that should be noticed. We see the peeling paint in the lobby. We make a note of the crack in the sidewalk. We recognize that the kids’ area smells a little too much like…well…a kids’ area.

But unfortunately, if those problems aren’t fixed within the first few weeks, we no longer notice them. When problems become familiar, they turn invisible. Not to our guests, to be sure. They certainly see the peeled paint and trip over the cracked sidewalk and smell the…um…efforts of our kids. But to us, it’s just white noise.

Andy Stanley said it well in a recent message: “The only way for you to evaluate what we’re doing correctly is to view things through the eyes and ears of someone you’ve invited.” If you’ve ever invited someone to your church, you know that’s true. You immediately notice the off-pitch soloist, the out-of-toilet-paper bathroom, the overlooked typos in the worship guide. Everything that you think your guest will notice, you notice. You notice it because you fear it will be a big deal to your friend, therefore it’s a big deal to you.

For a long time now, I’ve been telling our guest services team about the importance of thinking like a guest. See what they see. Hear what they hear. Smell what they smell. If it doesn’t pass the guest filter, then the “why” behind the “what” probably deserves a second look.

What are the things that have become invisible around your church?

More than likely, you’ve already seen this. I tend to be late to the viral video scene, mostly because I wash my hands a lot and wipe my keyboard down with antibacterial wipes.

But if not, take three minutes and enjoy…

I have a confession to make: I’m not supposed to be writing this blog post.

Instead, I’m tucked away in my bedroom on Sunday night, sent here by my bride who told me not to come out until our annual Christmas newsletter is finished. (In my defense, Christmas is six days away. I still have time, woman!)

Never mind the fact that we had our Christmas picture taken extra-early this year. Never mind the fact that I made a big show out of telling her that this year, I’d have the newsletter in the mail by Thanksgiving weekend. Never mind the fact that at this point I’ll still be licking envelopes on New Year’s Day.

But here I sit, wondering if our fourteen-year tradition has jumped the shark. We started sending out a newsletter when Jacob was brand-spankin’ new, utilizing that much-loved format where we tell everyone how awesome life is and how many trips we’ve taken to Paris this month and how our kids just got accepted to Harvard but turned them down so they could go dig a well in Botswana while finding a cure for malaria and competing on Dancing With The Stars.

I’ve known for a while that we were living on borrowed time. There are only so many ways you can re-hash a year. Eventually I’ll be forced into the literary equivalent of steroid use, which is taking dramatic liberties to make real-life stories sound more palatable. For example:

  • Jacob continues to excel in the classroom and on the baseball field. (Translation: He has to stay awake until midnight to finish his homework because he chose a sport with games that last for 71 hours.)
  • Austin is a delightful conversationalist. (Translation: We’re not sure he’ll ever stop talking.)
  • Jase is adjusting well to third grade and looks forward to school. (Translation: He stopped eating glue sticks sometime last year and we think the brain cells will eventually come back.)

I also realize that over the years, I’ve started writing to an audience of one. (No, not that “One,” stop being so spiritual.) I’m talking, of course, about Merriem’s grandmother. I know that she looks forward to our newsletters – and may be the only one that reads them – so I’m careful not to include my rascally humor that might go over her head (“Jase is eating glue sticks? I’ll pay for therapy!”). Along with that self-editing comes…well…boredom.

I don’t know how this should shake out this year. Maybe no news at all, but just an awkward picture, ready for the fridge? Perhaps a Newsletter Farewell Tour that includes flashbacks to Newsletter Greatest Hits? Should I go the Jon Acuff route and make a Twitter-length Christmas card?

As you can see, I’m stuck, blog readers. And I need your help. What do you look for in a Christmas newsletter? Long and flowy or short and choppy? Do you care? Do they go straight to the trash? Has anyone ever spiced yours up with a gift certificate to the Fruitcake of the Month Club?

A couple of disclaimers…

  1. Your suggestions will probably be irrelevant. Yep, it’s sad but true. Because by the time you read this post on Monday morning, I will have exited the bedroom. And I’d better have a stinkin’ newsletter in hand. (But hey…there’s always 2011.)
  2. Stop asking, “Why doesn’t he ever send me a newsletter?” I know that most of you aren’t asking that (you probably just dropped to your knees to thank Jesus that I don’t). But the truth is, we send ’em to out of town family and friends. If you live in Durham, you already know the stuff that goes on with us. And if you don’t, you can take me to Starbucks and I’ll tell you. (Or just send me a gift card and I’ll be glad to talk to myself.)

So there you go. You’re watching history being made here, my friends. How do you think this will go down? What’s the worst (or best) Christmas newsletter you’ve ever received? Comment below.

Before you complain that somebody took the seat that you always sit in at church…

Before you get aggravated that you have to walk a little farther from your car in the cold or the rain or the heat…

Before you get flustered that too many people showed up and now the pastor is asking you to scoot in…again…

Before you wonder why your church doesn’t do more to improve the lighting or build a bigger sanctuary or adjust the speaker volume or repaint the women’s room…

…take a look at the procession to Emmanuel Church in Cuba. These folks not only provide their own chairs for a worship service, they carry those chairs on their back as they walk to church on a dirt road.

No website. No fancy sound system. No Goldfish crackers for the kids’ ministry. No kids’ ministry.

No chairs.

 

Thanks to Raudel Hernandez for the picture.

As I write, we’ve just finished up Summit Staff Christmas Party 2k10. The auditorium is a wreck, the lobby is covered in coffee spills, and I’m pretty sure I just drank a year’s supply of hot chocolate (hello, 10 PM buzz!). It was a night for the history books, and a night where I realized the dream state I’m living in.

We may have the most functional staff ever. Yes, I know church staffs are often known for dysfunction, but ours has to be a pretty glaring exception. Can I brag on my peeps for a moment? (Hint: yes I can. It’s my blog. Hands off my keyboard.)

I work with some of the biggest dreamers in the church world. These people tire me out by playing the “what if?” game all the flippin’ time. “What if we went to our city instead of expecting them to come to us?” “What if we raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and gave it all away to bless other churches in other nations?” “What if we forgot about being a comfortable church in a comfortable building and adopted ‘industrial ghetto’ as our official design scheme?” They dream big, and God rewards big dreams. These people inspire me.

I work with some of the hardest workers in any office anywhere. Big dreams lead to big plans, long task lists, and multiple projects running at once. I love watching our team visualize, strategize, and execute “only-God-could-make-that-happen” plans. Whoever said pastors only work on Sunday is just wrong. (Because we also have a Saturday campus. Boo yah.)

I work with the most fun people anywhere on the planet. We laugh. A lot. Tonight’s party was one continual stream of merriment and mirth (early reports tell us at least 8% more mirth than last year. Impressive.).

I work with the most brutally honest group of people ever. Bad ideas don’t survive long around here. Neither do bad attitudes. If you’re going to work with people who are like family, you’d better be ready to get “the talk” in the middle of a family meeting. Ideas are sharpened, visions are honed, and character is crystallized in this environment. And amazingly, we walk away friends.

We have the greatest support team. Period. The unsung heroes of our church staff are people that you’ll never see on stage, never hear preach a sermon, never witness leading a ministry. But I’ll guarantee you they’re there. Our administrative staff is a group of ladies who consistently make us look much better than we actually are. They pick up the ball whenever we drop it (average drop rate: 172 per day). They do the tasks that we stink at and help us make wise use of our time and talk us off the ledges when it’s been a rough week. Any church staff – even a great church staff – probably has some dispensable people along the way, but our administrative rock stars ain’t one of ’em. Nine of ’em. Whatever.

So that’s it. At least five reasons why I love my co-workers. And because I’m a cheapskate, this is a dang nice gift. Merry Christmas y’all.

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