June 2011


I own a 14 year old entrepreneur.

Well, “entrepreneur” may be too nice of a word. “Con artist,” “swindler,” “shyster” … those are the words that more accurately describe my – ahem – entrepreneur.

Austin has launched several money making ventures in the past: dog walking, lemonade selling, propane tank painting (hey, there’s a market for it)…but none has the profit margin contained in ripping off his little brother.

Last month we discovered that Austin sold Jase (9) a handful of year-old, dry-rotted Silly Bandz for $2.40. Yes, these are the same Silly Bandz that were all the rage last year…little rubbery plasticy bands of shape-filled wonder that he probably paid 99 cents for. Yet somehow, he convinced Sir Jase the Naive that $2.40 was a steal of a deal.

Last week we noticed that Jase was playing with Austin’s PSP quite a bit. This is the same PSP that usually elicits fists of terror whenever Jase gets within twenty miles of it, and yet he was playing in blissful harmony with nary a punch in sight.

Further investigation revealed that Jase was playing in peace because he now owned the PSP. That’s right, he paid $80 worth of birthday money to his scam artist brother…who had paid $40 for it to a neighbor just a couple of months back. (Fear not, we called the law offices of James Scott Farrin after Jase decided it was his money and he needs it now.)

As impressed / horrified as I am with Austin’s entrepreneurial spirit / makings of a future Ponzi scheme operator, the truth is we do the same thing with the gospel. We take something that should be free, and we add our own layers of charges to it:

“All you need is Jesus…and to clean up that nasty habit.”

“Just accept what Jesus did on the cross…and get involved in a good church.”

“Jesus can change your life…but your faith gift of $45 per month will add untold blessings.”

Don’t get me wrong: rejecting old lifestyles and church involvement and generous giving are not bad things. But when we use those things as an add-on to the gospel, we’re heretics on the level of the Galatians. Remember them? They were the knuckleheads who said that it was the cross plus circumcision that brought righteousness (wouldn’t you like to be the marketing guy for those gospel tracts?).

The cross was enough. Jesus’ payment for sin was once for all time. There’s nothing else we can do to earn more of God’s favor. Everything we need is wrapped up at Calvary.

So how does this hit? Are you trying to overcharge yourself for the gospel? Or are you placing more on someone else than the cross requires?

Don’t be a con artist. The gospel was meant to be free. A gift. Leave it that way.

(And if you have a little brother, stop cutting him in on lousy deals. You’re annoying your dad.)

Everyone has a stage to call their own. You have a voice. An area of expertise. An audience.

It’s not enough to use that stage for your own agenda. Good stewardship dictates that you share the stage, that you bring in more voices, more experts.

The rise of social media has made it easier than ever to both hog the spotlight and share the limelight. But really, whether you’re a blogger, a preacher, a nationally-known speaker, a mid-level manager, or a front-line cashier, you have a voice. And you should use it wisely.

Our tendency is to solidify our own fan clubs and never think about helping others rise. I’m continually impressed with well-known social media mavens who use their platform not as selfish silo-building, but as a generous expression to help others find their voice.

  • Jon Acuff does it. He’s runs a struggling little blog that’s read by every person on the planet. People who don’t like to read, read his blog. People without computers read his blog. Blind people hire Braille experts to glue little divots on their screens so they can feel his blog (it would be easier to wait for the audiobook). And yet Jon regularly steps off the stage so others can step on. Guest contributors are a rule, not an exception. He’s the Johnny Carson of the Christian blogosphere, launching unknowns onto their own platforms.
  • Trevin Wax does it. He runs an almost-daily feature called “Worth a Look” that promotes several links to other sites. Some are news articles, but most are blog posts or thoughts by pastors and ministry leaders around the country…pastors and ministry leaders that may not ever be heard any other way.
  • Michael Hyatt does it. His blog is the go-to resource for refining your systems and improving your work life. The former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, Michael also gives ample space for guest contributors.
You share your platform when you point people to others who may have an informed opinion of a certain topic. You share it when you promote books or websites or content that has been helpful to you. You share it even in the simple things like a retweet on Twitter or a “Like” on Facebook.
The key to it all is first recognizing that God has given you a platform. He has! You may be an expert in theology or third grade classroom crafts, but he’s wired you for specialty in something. How can you use that specialty as a blessing to others in your field?

Around these parts, we talk a lot about serving our guests as well as our members. And that’s a great concept, as long as people behave themselves.

When they don’t complain about the parking, when they worship with passion rather than complaining about the volume, when they don’t gripe about the coffee bar shutting down when the service begins, then serving people is a delight and not a drudgery.

But when people make snide comments to volunteers…when someone discredits Christ in the community…when someone constantly criticizes your ministry…then you begin to wonder if this “serving people” gig is really worth it.

Because people are messed up.

And so are you.

And so am I.

That’s why every morning as we get out of bed, we have to remember that we’re called to serve Him, not them. Our allegiance is to Jesus first, to his people second. Viewing life through the them / Him filter will leave us despondent. Angry. Bitter. But viewing it through the Him / them filter gives us clarity. It gives us hope. It gives us a standard.

Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. (Ephesians 6:7)

 

 

Photo credit: Ed Stetzer

The people at Kensington Church get it. Church shouldn’t be creepy. It shouldn’t be a place where the unchurched crowd’s worst fears come true: I’ll be stared at. I’ll be judged. No one will talk to me. Everyone will talk to me.

Church should be a place where we remember what it’s like to be new, and adjust our services and systems and personal preferences to accommodate those who will be new this weekend. That often means re-tooling our brains and remembering that what works for people who have been in church all their lives just doesn’t work for newcomers. Ever.

Maybe it’s the hand-shaking time at the beginning of your service, where friends talk to friends but your guests are only spoken to by paid staff who feel sorry for them. Perhaps it’s your sermon that speaks in deep theological terms that are never explained. (Hint: your life-long attendees probably don’t understand those terms either.) Maybe it’s your follow up process. Seriously: do you really think people want you showing up unannounced at their house at 7:00 on Monday night?

Our churches shouldn’t have the persona of a socially awkward, gangly high schooler who is trying to get a girl to go out with him. Nor should we be a Christian Amway convention (something our church has been called before), full of annoyingly happy gauntlets of people who will smile you to death before you get out of your car.

You have to figure this one out. You have to decide how much is too much when it comes to greeting your guests and making them feel cared for. You have to discover the cultural code of your surrounding community: what works? What doesn’t? And what’s more, you have to figure out the code of the individual guest: what’s the cap on their comfort level? How can you ensure their second visit by honoring their space on their first visit?

Leave the creep factor to lovesick high school boys. Don’t be a creepy church.

What are your best “creepy church” stories? Don’t name names, but do comment below…

Chris Gaynor, circa 1980something (mustache courtesy of Magnum P.I.)

This month marks a big milestone around the Summit Church. Our long time worship pastor Chris Gaynor is celebrating 25 years of ministry. 25 years. Here at the Summit.

If you’re not familiar with pastoral tenures, 25 years at the same church is a huge deal. That sets him apart from roughly 99.2% of pastors out there. This is the stuff gold watches are made of. Chris is the Galapagos Tortoise of Southern Baptist pastors.

When Chris started at the Summit (Homestead Heights back then), I was in middle school in Tennessee. That’s right: he’d finished seminary before I’d hit adolescence.

Mind-boggling.

Our staff was asked to contribute notes and letters to Chris to mark the occasion (we’re too cheap to chip in for a gold watch). I’m sharing mine below, because in all seriousness Chris Gaynor is – in many ways – the heartbeat of the Summit Church. His fingerprints are all over the history of this place. He’s been a great friend to me and to thousands of others as well.

If you’d like to join the celebration, comment below or email Chris directly. But use big font. After 25 years, the boy has to squint.

 

June 9, 2011

Ah, Chris Gaynor. You’re a man of many titles: Husband. Dad. Song Leader. Elder. Senior- Staff-Member-Who’s-Been-Here-Since-Before-Most-Of-Us-Were-Born. Guy-Who-Gripes-About- Being-Called-A-Song-Leader-And-Insists-He’s-A-Worship-Pastor.

And you’re a man of many talents: You sing weekly even though the doctor told you four years ago that your throat was 42,000 miles past an overhaul. You sneeze obnoxiously loud in bright sunshine (You say it’s a malady, I say you just love a good sneeze.). You get away with wearing shorts even though your legs are somehow pastier than mine. Or really, pastier than any human pair of legs on earth.

You’re also a man of many accomplishments: You married up (way up) when you were practically a senior citizen. You’ve had two great kids that love their daddy and already have plans to take over the Gaynor Dynasty (have you seen them direct the choir?). You’ve survived 25 years in the same church. (Well, honestly it’s not really the same church, you made sure of that several years ago when you renamed the joint.)

But for the purposes of laud and honor on your silver anniversary, let’s be somewhat serious for a moment: In a way, you’re responsible for me and Merriem and countless hundreds of other people “sticking” at Homestead Heights / The Summit over the years. You’re a one-man greeting and connecting machine who shakes hands, kisses babies, and has invited more people over for dinner than a hundred pastors combined. That was us, way back in 2002. You let a couple of broke seminary couples (and their combined four kids) crash your house for an afternoon, treating us to an incredible meal and a behind the scenes tour of life in Durham.

You’re a man who has set the spiritual tone for our church for the past quarter-century. When you lead worship, it’s more than evident that you lead from the overflow of your heart. I see that when you’re on the stage just as I see it when you’re in your office or interacting with your family. There’s no pretense, no hype, no shuck-and-jive. Just gut-level honest worship when things are great and not so great in your life.

You’re a pastor in the truest sense: knowing what’s going on in people’s lives and how things are going in their hearts. You’ve kicked off marriages, commissioned infants, and committed saints into the presence of Jesus. You’ve been a counselor and cheerleader and prophet and priest for more people and more situations than most of us will ever know.

So thank you, Chris. Thanks for sharing life and ministry and tears and fears and kicks and giggles with the rest of us. We’re better people because of your presence.

But seriously dude…cover up those legs. You’re ruining our retinas.

Something tells me that if I ever gained an audience with an internationally-known figure, I’d try something like this.

And also fail miserably.


Now if he really wanted to get the laughs going, he should’ve used the old “Your sandal’s untied…made you look” gag, or at least sung the title song from the hit Broadway musical Hello Dalai.

Kudos to you, Karl the Australian news anchor. If you ever want to fill in as Campus Pastor at the Summit’s Brier Creek Campus, call me.

Those people are used to lame jokes.

Thanks to Curt A. for tipping me off to the video!

I love leaders who get it. Who understand the win. Who realize that the role of our weekend First Impressions team isn’t just to pour coffee or park cars, but to pave the way for the gospel.

Two of our leaders helped demonstrate this last Sunday in a meeting with our volunteer team. Clayton Greene & Anna Chambless were asked to lead our weekly training / collaboration gathering, and after the introduction they stood.

With their backs to the crowd.

Silent.

Facing the wall.

For what seemed like an eternity.

Finally, one of the volunteers said, “Um, this is a bit awkward.” And with all the panache of Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, Clayton spun around and said, “EXACTLY! It IS awkward! And somebody does that every single week to at least one of our guests!”

Clayton is right, of course. All of us – paid staff, volunteers, Joe Church Members – have been guilty at one point or another of setting up a “they” vs. “we” culture. “They” interrupt the conversations that “we” are having. “They” inconvenience the morning that “we” have imagined will run problem-free.

And when “we” ignore the needs of “they,” “they” will find someplace else to go.

Or not go anywhere at all.

Because “we” missed an opportunity.

Whether we have our backs to a guest or simply overlook a need that they have, we fail to display the extravagant generosity of the gospel. Generosity doesn’t just come when we give a first time guest a gift or a cup of coffee. Generosity is displayed by the way we selflessly include our guests, making “they” a “we.” By turning outsiders into insiders. By taking a stranger and making them family.

What awkward moments have you created at church? What moments have made you feel awkward? Comment below.

If you missed the beginning of this saga, you’ll want to start here.

So there we were, fleeing for our lives in Wallace, NC, miles away from the world’s largest frying pan that we could’ve used as a weapon. We made our way into a Piggly Wiggly parking lot (attention non-Southerners: it’s a real thing. Shut up.) where we  assessed our situation: inadequate tire. Serial killer. Small town. Two hours from home. Extreme exhaustion. Indigestion from french fries.

Suddenly, we saw a cop pull up in the lot behind us. Seeing an opportunity to get a police escort to the nearest 24 hour tire shop, I jumped out of the van and walked over, just in time to see him cautiously approaching an old Jeep Cherokee. That cop was soon joined by two other cops, and there I stood 15 feet away, trying to make eye contact but not interfere with official police business and get tazed.

The cops were there for a guy who soon emerged from Hoggly Woggly with a child that I can only assume was his little girl that he had lovingly carried on a daddy-daughter date. Either that, or by the way the cops surrounded him he was a prime suspect in an Amber Alert. Regardless, before I walked off I noticed that he (a) had a spare tire in the back of his Jeep and (b) was wearing a shirt that said “_____’s Tire and Battery Repair.” Since I’m not educated on the propriety of a tire change just before the Miranda rights are read, I decided to let that one go.

The next 45 minutes were a bit of a blur as I started making phone calls back to Durham, advising people that I wouldn’t be there to execute my Campus Pastor duties (i.e.: try to make funny announcements and fail) the next morning. Most significant was a text to Spence Shelton, our Small Groups pastor: “Hey man, is it too late for me to call you?”

And Spence, dear sweet Spence. Community-building Spence. Let’s-do-life-together Spence. Discipleship-happens-in-relationships Spence. Life-as-we Spence. Yes, THAT Spence simply replied, “Yes.”  As in, “Yes, it’s too late for you to call me. Go back to your police crackdown in a Piggly Wiggly parking lot as you continue to evade the Unabomber. But hey – if you need a sermon-based study guide, I’m your guy!”

At this point, there were no other options. No hotels in Wallace. No open tire shops in Wallace. No rental cars in Wallace. No friends in Wallace. We finally realized that we were going to have to get really cozy with our AAA membership and find a driver that could haul our entire family as well as our van, but preferably not our entire family in the van, which I’ve heard is cool, but somewhat unsafe.

After several conversations with the AAA dispatcher as well as the local towing company owner, the calvary arrived in the form of Leslie and his 35 foot truck. The first thing I did after apologizing that he was about to drive us 110 miles to Durham was to ask about seat belts…you know, those things that keep you from flying through the windshield in case Leslie crashes because it’s 10:30 PM and he’s already driven to Fayetteville and Carolina Beach that day and is existing on 15 minutes of sleep and a box of No-Doz.

Fortunately, Leslie had seat belts. Unfortunately, Leslie didn’t have enough seat belts. Or seats. Which is how my wife ended up in the front seat with Leslie, my kids ended up in each other’s laps while sharing a belt in the back seat, and I ended up folded double in the floorboard like an embedded reporter in a tank in Fallujah, tweeting constant updates so that people would know I was in the truck whenever it crashed and I went through the windshield or was inextricably wedged under Leslie’s seat.

Which probably would have been more comfortable than having my 14 year old’s knees in my temple for 110 miles.

Gosh, there’s probably more to this story, but I’ve tired myself out just replaying it in my mind. I could tell you about Jeremy Pollard, our heroic children’s pastor who met us at the church to give us his van at 12:30 AM. I could tell you about driving Jeremy home and then realizing my keys and wallet were still in our van and we had to drive back to the church to get it. I could tell you about Merriem getting a Diet Coke craving and the post-midnight giggles and fortunately Cook Out stays open until 3 AM. I could tell you that I got four hours of sleep and was not a happy camper the next morning. But at this point, all of that is anticlimactic.

So that’s our weekend. That’s how we wrap up weddings at the beach. That’s how we roll on three working tires.

Do you have any horror road trip stories? I’d love to hear ’em. Comment below.

My family doesn’t enjoy doing things the easy way.

This weekend I officiated a wedding in Wrightsville Beach, NC. Merriem and I decided to make a semi-weekend out of it and loaded the kids up early Friday afternoon to head down, spend the night, hang out on the beach, eat way too many french fries at this place, and see just how much sand we could grind into the floor of the minivan. That’s easy enough, right?

Saturday evening we started driving back at about 7:30. About 35 minutes outside of Wilmington, our rear tire lost a good sized chunk of tread. (It wasn’t a complete blowout, but “Good Sized Chunks of Tread and Banjo Music” would’ve made a lousy title.) Needless to say, we weren’t chancing the rest of the trip home, because as the commercial says, so much is riding on our tires. (In this case, three cubic tons of sand and a family full of french fries.)

So we made it off of I-40 and pulled over at a gas station in Rose Hill, NC, home of the world’s largest frying pan and a town where the motto is apparently, “Look! We have a gas station!” As I was using all of my mechanical skills to stare at the tire in the gas station parking lot, an older man around 65 or 70 pulled up and offered to help. So, my boys and I searched the van for the spare tire, and after pulling out one suitcase one computer bag one makeup bag one beach floaty thing five ocean smelling swimsuits ten gross beach shoe flip flop things and 289 shovels full of sand, we proudly produced the tire for our good samaritan.

He eyed it for a moment, and said, “That there’s a donut.” (WHAT? WE HAD DONUTS?!?) “You can’t ride on no donut. I think I gots a tire your size at th’ house…follow me back there and I’ll change it fer ya.”

At that moment, I was touched at the generosity of the human spirit. The kindness of a stranger. The…wait a moment…I’m receiving a text from my 15 year old who has relocated to the far end of the van…”MAMA DOESN’T LIKE THIS.”

After reloading the donut, the suitcases, the flip flops, and the sand (I think we grabbed some extra from the gas station parking lot), we followed Mr. Good Samaritan Serial Killer down the back roads of Rose Hill. My bride – always the trusting one – began replaying every movie we’ve ever seen where someone relies a stranger for a tire change and then suddenly the stranger is wearing their small intestine as a necklace.

After several tense miles and multiple twists and turns and crisscrossing back and forth over I-40, we arrived in Wallace, NC, whose official motto is “How come they got the world’s largest frying pan?” When Dahmer’s Tire Service turned off onto yet another back road, my bride very helpfully encouraged me to DRIVE JUST DRIVE LOSE HIM YOU DON’T KNOW THIS MAN YOU DON’T OWE HIM YOUR LOYALTY!

And so there I was…speeding away from our guardian angel at a whopping 27 MPH, you know, with the speed laws in Wallace and the fact that our tire had metal shards sticking out where our treads used to be.

We pulled up in the parking lot of an Auto Zone, and by this time it was 8:50. I know it was 8:50, because the two guys working in there enjoyed a very lively conversation with their regular customers, all the while eyeing me standing there and giving me the “You ain’t from around here, are ya boy?” look for roughly nine minutes right up until closing time.

And suddenly the front door of Auto Zone flew open and my 14 year old busted in, white as a sheet, and said, “DAD! The tire guy! He’s driving up and down the road looking for us! We need to go NOW!”

One thing you need to know about my 14 year old – he tends to imagine things. When he was on a Sean May celebrity kick a few years back, he thought he saw Sean May everywhere we went. Usually Sean May turned out to be a 5’7″ white guy, but still. So I don’t put a lot of stock in his idea that Mr. Bundy’s Auto Repair was roaming Wallace looking for us, but at that moment I didn’t have the emotional energy to fight it.

I hear that happens when you’re on the run for your life.

Coming tomorrow: Amber Alerts, Apathetic Friends, and AAA.

I’ve been working on a theory for the last several years. I have absolutely no way to substantiate it, so it makes perfect sense that I’d put it out on a blog for all the world to see. Or my 17 readers. Whatev.

My theory involves corporate giant Wal-Mart, a retailing behemoth that would surely realize that a middle-management Campus Pastor, hack blogger, and Grandpa Car driver has no real assets to attack in a defamation lawsuit. You know, if they did that sort of thing.

So here it is: I think that the widespread Wal-Mart remodelings of recent years have served to cover up a huge Wal-Mart problem…bad shopping carts. Think about it: all newly-built or newly-remodeled Wal-Marts have crazy bumpy tiles in the entryways where you grab your cart. Bumpy tiles that rival off-road ATV courses. Bumpy tiles that rise and fall like sand dunes in the Sahara.

Bumpy tiles that mask bad wheels.

You know the scenario. You’ve grabbed your cart, maneuvered the engineered potholes, steam cleaned the cart handles (What? Your Wal-Mart doesn’t have a steam cleaner to kill the bacteria on the handles? Oh, the humanity.), and headed towards the Breyer’s Chocolate Chocolate Chip ice cream, arguably the best flavor in the frozen section. And then you hear it…the CLACK! CLACK! CLACK! CLACK! CLACK! of the cart with one bad wheel. Oh sure, you couldn’t hear it while you were steering across the Fallujah entryway. But now that you’re on smooth ground, everybody in the store is looking around to figure out who the jerk is who sounds like they tossed gravel in a dryer and hit the “fluff” button.

It’s enough to make you want to abandon the cart and load up your arms, balancing your way to the speedy checkout, which will be occupied by some moron paying for 42 items. With a check.

My postulated point? Those tiles trick you into believing that your experience is going to be smoother than it actually is. I understand that cart wheels go bad. I realize that not every buggy comes standard with shock absorbers and all-weather radials. But the tricky tiles hide that fact until it’s too late or you’re too frustrated to do anything about it.

Do we do the same things in our churches? Do we have tricky tiles that mask fixable issues from the beginning? Maybe it’s a lot of hype about the weekend experience…but the experience never happens. Maybe it’s the promise of life long relationships in a small group…but the leader never follows up when someone shows interest in the group. Perhaps it’s a bang-up special service like Easter or “bring a friend” day, and that glitz is never ever repeated.

Whether it’s a guest’s experience or a repeated dropped ball with a long-time member, our tricky tiles can derail someone’s ability to stick around. Don’t mask a fixable issue. Just fix it.

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