October 2011

Far too much of what keeps us busy in the church has nothing to do with ministry.

Committee meetings. Building projects. Even “sacred and spiritual” things like Vacation Bible School and Fall Festivals (“Hey kids, don’t eat candy and dress up like a witch to celebrate Satan, eat candy and dress like Sampson to celebrate Jesus!”).

Not all of these things are bad, per se, but unless we’re intentional they veer off of the ministry track pretty quickly. Committees can become a group of people that meet regularly to maintain themselves and figure out…nothing. Building projects can serve to construct a monument rather than serve the mission. And VBS? Without intentionality, it’s just flannelgraphs, stale cookies, and warm Kool Aid. (And Kool Aid has signaled the abrupt end of a few religious movements.)

So how do you move from filling roles to doing ministry? How do you make sure that your task list includes touch? It’s simple: make sure the gospel is the undergirding reason and the power behind all that you do. Keeping the gospel at center keeps people from becoming projects. Keeping the gospel at center keeps your focus on making disciples rather than just hitting goals.

Anybody can toss on an orange vest and park cars for Sunday service. It takes a gospel-centered volunteer to pray for the needs of the people in the cars. Anyone can stand at a door and say hello. It takes a gospel mindset to pause long enough to learn the names that go with the faces. Anybody can keep kids in a classroom for an hour. It takes the gospel to have a vision for who Jesus wants those kids to be, and let that drive our lesson plans.

Life is too short and the mission is too urgent to fulfill tasks without the Great Commission as a backdrop. Do everything with God’s glory and the forward movement of the gospel in mind. If it’s not really ministry, kick it to the curb.


I’m a sucker for a good customer relations story. As a guy who helps design the experience for our first time guests, I love tales of organizations who go above and beyond to “WOW” their people. I love it when managers realize that the bottom line isn’t always financial…sometimes it’s relational. As a matter of fact, I’ve been known to do business with certain companies not because I knew much about their product, but because I’ve heard so much about their legendary service.

That’s why I can’t get Peter Shankman’s Morton’s Steakhouse story off my mind. I came across it a couple of months ago and filed it away to my Read It Later account, but I’ve gone back to it several times just to bask in the glory that is phenomenal customer service. Shankman’s epic saga of a tweet, a flight, and a guy in a tuxedo carrying a steak dinner is something you have to see to believe.

Take a few minutes and read it for yourself. I promise you’ll find yourself saying “no WAY!” at least three times during the post. (Warning to my homeschool crowd: there are a couple of saucy words in the attached link. You should go here instead.)

After you read it, answer one of these for bonus credit:

  1. What’s the greatest customer service you’ve ever received?
  2. What is one company you’d do business with based solely on service alone (even if their product wasn’t the absolute best)?
  3. If you’re a church leader, tell us your Morton’s story: how have you gone above and beyond to serve someone?
Comment below…

If you’re newish to the ol’ blog…say in the last six weeks or so…don’t jump right into this post. Doing so will confuse you with too much cuteness and not enough context.

Instead, start with this post, and feel free to work your way through that series. And then jump back here. I’ll wait on you. Promise.


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Last night my fourteen year old came to me, excited out of his skull about a study trick he’d just developed. In preparation for an upcoming biology test his teacher told the class that they could bring a 4×6 index card to the test with them. Whatever they could fit on the card, they could use for the test.

Austin had painstakingly typed out his notes, printed them, trimmed them, and coated every square millimeter of the card with them. It reminded me of my college finance final (the very last test of my university career) when our professor made a similar offer and I found the smallest possible font to do the exact same thing.

But what I told Austin was that he shouldn’t worry about the small font. Nope, he should find the smartest senior biology student he could and have them stand beside him in the test, tip-toed on the card.


(At least until he’s expelled for listening to his smart-aleck daddy.)

I’ve learned that I’ll never know enough about certain topics. Handyman projects around the house? Lowe’s doesn’t print enough how-to books to cover my stupidity and propensity to electrocute myself. Retirement plans? I don’t understand why my 401 needs a (k). Deep theological concepts? If you’re depending on this pastor to explain supralapsarianism, you’re going to be disappointed. I’m not even sure I spelled it right.

But I’ve tried to seek out and befriend people who know those things. When a deck needs sanding and staining or I need to diversify my funds or my lapsarianism needs some supra flava, I know who to go to.

And so should you.

Don’t seek to leverage all your learning so you can be the smartest guy in the room. Yes: be well read. Expand your knowledge. Tackle a subject you’re unfamiliar with. But at the end of the day, figure out the experts and go to them. You let them be smart about the stuff they’re smart about, and you focus on finding the smallest font possible. You’ll need it for that bio exam.

Recently I had lunch with a new friend who is the owner / operator of a local Chick-Fil-A. I won’t share his real name for fear that the following story may violate some sort of chicken cartel protocol, thereby causing Truett Cathy to parachute through his roof at midnight and release his Cows of Fury™ towards the general direction of his jugular vein.

My friend was telling me that he’s actually – ahem – not a fan of the Chick-Fil-A original sandwich formula. He said when he’s eating in the store, he likes his sandwich to be a bit more on the crispy side, then sit out for a while until it’s cool to the touch…and the taste.

Further, he said that back in the day before Chick-Fil-A’s chicken salad became extra-chunky, he was the daredevil who would make up batches that were a little on the meatier side because that’s the way he liked it. (I know…that guy’s a true rebel. I’m shocked he didn’t hold me down and forcibly tattoo Eat Mor Chickn onto my trembling, sweaty forehead.)

But here’s the catch: he recognizes that his tastes don’t match that of the general populous. He knows that the majority of his customers don’t want a room temperature sandwich. The chicken chain has spent decades refining their process so the final product is carefully calibrated and delivered to hordes of satisfied customers. He realizes that his personal rogue recipes would never pass muster with corporate, because his tastes don’t necessarily match that of the paying public.

If you’re a pastor, you face the same thing every day. For better or worse, your church is the product of someone’s preference. Choir robes or casual? That’s a preference. ESV or KJV? Preference. Hymns or choruses, Sunday school or small groups, padded pews or auditorium chairs? It’s all preference.

Preferences aren’t right or wrong, they just are. As long as you’re not violating scripture or common courtesy, you can shape a service or a congregation just about any way you’d like. And it’s natural that the longer a pastor is at a church, the more that church will look similar to his personal bent. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but the question is: do your preferences represent the majority?

Sometimes great changes come when a trailblazer pursues his preference. And sometimes we leaders realize too late that our preferences weren’t preferred by the people.

As a pastor for nearly 19 years, I shudder to think of what things would look like in the churches and ministries I’ve led, had I gotten what my preferences dictated. I’d hate to say what the Summit would look like if I’d won every argument I’d engaged. Thankfully God has placed me in a church and on a staff where my “norm” is constantly challenged, evaluated, and sometimes left wanting. I’ve been stretched to understand new paradigms and embrace new ideas that aren’t biblically incorrect, they’re just different methodologies. And differences aren’t deficiencies.

So how do you determine which preferences will be your pitfall? Listen. Learn. Have the courage to spill your heart to an array of people within the church. Find wisdom in a multitude of counselors. And eat your sandwich. It’s getting cold.

My good friend and rock star First Impressions Team member Clayton Greene sent me the following story. With his permission, I’m reprinting it in it’s entirety. Don’t let the “home trimming device” line fool you – Clayton is a guy with a sharp eye for a good first impression. He’s one of the folks who gets ‘er done every Sunday at the Summit’s Brier Creek campus, and reminds us that it’s important to take ownership of your role and connect with people…even at a hot dog stand.

I was going into Lowes after a long day of work.  I needed to find the right weed eater line to fix the line on my home trimming device.

Did I mention it was 4:00 in the afternoon?

Did I mention I hadn’t had lunch yet?

As I walked out of the door the sweet aroma of hot dogs, chili, and sausages drifted past my nose.  I turned and looked.  Being a lover of efficiency I find it difficult to pull off the road and wait in the drive through line to pick up some food.  I knew this was a great opportunity.  Jim’s Dogs was going to meet my needs.  They already had me hooked.  Their placement, prices, and product smells had me rushing to the car to grab a few dollar bills (of course they didn’t take debit).

Jim was out for the day but Tim was taking his place.  (Tim works on Mondays and Tuesdays). Tim was almost out of dogs for the day but had one sausage dog left.  He asked how I liked my dog.  I said I didn’t know, I would take it how he like ‘em.  Chili, onions, and mustard. Tim asked me my name and asked how my day was and we chatted as he was making my late lunch.

I asked for a drink as well and offered my three dollars.  Tim looked at me in the eye and said, “is this your first time with us?” I answered in the affirmative.  Tim says, “end of the day special, two dollars, come back and see us.”

And I will.

Tim wasn’t even the owner.  Jim was off that day.  But Tim has bought into the business.  He knows what it takes to make a happy customer.  The sausage dog was good enough, but his effort to make my experience a good one will keep me coming back to him over the fast food restaurant that won’t even ask me my name.

For lunch today, I suggest checking out the Cary Crossroads Lowes hot dog stand.  Tell Tim I sent you.  It’s Tuesday, he’ll be there.

Many of you asked about this weekend’s Tim Keller quote in the sermon. And by “Many of you” I mean “No one in particular, but by golly it was a blog worthy quote so I’m putting it up anyway.”

Our campus pastors and venue pastors were preaching out of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17. One of my points was that as believers, we struggle with the tension between being in the world vs. of the world vs. out of the world. Keller suggests there’s another option found in the text. The following is paraphrased from his 1999 sermon titled The Lord Praying for Mission. (thanks to my buddy Raudel for the tip)

My commentary is [bracketed] – don’t blame Yoda…um…Keller for that.

There’s a balance in being IN the world vs. OF the world vs. OUT of the world. We seek to do exactly what Jesus prayed we wouldn’t do. We either look just like our environment [we’re secret agent Christians who blend in, we don’t want to rock the boat, we don’t want to risk our promotion, we don’t want to ruin a friendship] or we remove ourselves completely from our environment [we buy a bunch of denim jumpers and we listen to K-Love and we only eat at Chick Fil A on Tuesday mornings from 9 to 11 because that’s when the lowest population of pagans will show up there and we don’t want to get pagan cooties.]

We’re too much assimilated to the world or too much afraid or disdainful of world. In this passage, Jesus doesn’t say IN the world (that’s too passive for the believer) or OUT of the world (that’s too overreactive of the believer), he says INTO the world. What does it mean to be INTO? That means that we are deeply engaged with people who differ radically from you in terms of beliefs. People with whom you’re in over your head, people whom you love, but not people whom you’re seduced by. People OUT of the world are afraid. People IN the world are assimilated and seduced. People INTO the world are deeply engaged but utterly unattracted to it.

Now that I’ve quoted Keller in a sermon, maybe he’ll write the foreword to my next book.