August 2012

What can you learn about grace vs. works from your kids? Plenty…

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.

Read the entire original post here.

Three links. Three previews. Three things I’ve been reading this week. Happy Threesday.*

The Truth About Adoption – One Year Later. Jen Hatmaker knocked it out of the stratosphere with this post. Don’t stop praying for adoptive families once their child is home. Truth be told, that’s when the real hurdles begin.

This is Fake Life, and everyone is smiling. Your bios are more helpful than they will ever be again ever, and it’s like you are at Weird Family Camp. Nothing is normal. Everything is fragile and bizarre and unfamiliar. Your new one appears compliant and easy-going and obedient, and dear ones, this is because she is about to have the Most Epic Freak Out in the History of Life. [read more]

How Much Did Famous Logos Cost to Design? This is absolutely mind-boggling to me. I frequently use H&R Block’s logo as an illustration in part of our First Impressions Training (don’t ask why. Just trust that it makes sense in context). Can you imagine that marketing meeting? “Okay guys, I’m thinking of a square. But not just any square. It’s a green square!”

Stock Logos, the largest identity design community, recently compiled a list of famous logos, highlighting their cost, designers and purpose. With price ranges that stretch from $0 to $211,000,000, one has to ask: What is the value of a logo? What does it take to create an icon? And can it be done for free? [read more]

Wi-Fi On Donkeys? Biblical Tourist Park Says Why Not? “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you streaming YouTube videos.”

The Bible says Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, where he was greeted by adoring crowds before beginning his Passion and eventual crucifixion. But what if that donkey had doubled as a Wi-Fi hotspot?

A biblical park tourist attraction in Israel has fused together the ancient and online worlds by equipping its donkeys with wireless routers. [read more]

* My deepest apologies for that pathetic bit of wordplay.

Last night was our church’s annual Vision Night. It’s a time we look forward to every year as we gather to celebrate what God has done, and look with anticipation to what he is going to do.

Last night we rejoiced – as we should – over God’s blessings of the past twelve months: new churches planted, a new campus launched, hundreds of baptisms, thousands of first time guests, and multiple community partnerships started.

But it was in the midst of those prayers of thanksgiving that I glanced up, caught sight of a little face, and snapped this picture:

This is Samuel James. If you’re not familiar with his story, Sam is a miracle baby. His mom Amy is one of our administrative assistants, and last year she went from a completely healthy pregnancy to severe prenatal distress within a matter of hours. I remember getting the call on November 20th, a Sunday, just before our 11:00 service began. LJ and Amy were in an ambulance headed to the emergency room, delivery was imminent, and Samuel was only 25 weeks along.

At the end of that service, we called our campus to pray on behalf of Samuel, Amy and LJ. We asked God to spare his life, to allow Amy to carry him a bit longer, to allow his lungs to develop…anything. It was a prayer of absolute desperation, knowing that this child could not survive except for the hand of God.

Sam was born two days later. He just barely weighed a pound, and was the size of a Coke can. The first several weeks of his life was literally a day-by-day waiting game. He spent months in the NICU, and even upon release (a miracle of itself), LJ and Amy were told that he would not be able to be out in public for the next two years for risk of infection and sickness.

That was February 28th, and in that time my little buddy Sammy J has proved them wrong over and over. He’s smaller than most babies his age, but he is as healthy as a kid could be. He visits our offices frequently (a highlight for all of us), is in church most weekends, and is a living, breathing, grinning miracle.

When I think of God’s blessings on our church over the last year, yes, I am grateful for churches planted and lives changed. But I can’t possibly overlook the miracle of Sam’s life. In some ways, Sam seems to represent a 2011-2012 that has been marked with extreme highs and lows with young families in our church. In some stories, God’s faithfulness was shown in the sparing of life. In others, his faithfulness was proven by his comfort even in death. But in all, we have seen that he is faithful. In the good times, he’s faithful. In the bad times, he’s faithful. In life or in death, he’s faithful. Whether we baptize one or a thousand, whether we make budget or face layoffs, whether our programs soar or crash, he’s faithful.

That’s why our night of vision had to be anchored in a night of reflection. That’s why our anticipation for the future had to rest in his provision of the past. That’s why – before we dared to ask and dream – we had to stop to remember and be grateful for the good moments as well as the bad.

Samuel James is one of the clearest examples of the good moments. He’s what I think about when I think about God’s faithfulness to the Summit Church in 2011-2012. What are the moments you think about? Comment below.

We’re in the middle of the fall attendance surge here at the Summit. College students are back, families are returning from summer vacations, and people from the community are hitting one of the two times per year when they typically try to check out a new church.

There was a time in history when I affectionately referred to these weekends as “Oh Crap” Sundays*…as in, “Oh crap, these people really showed up. Maybe we should set out more chairs.” But over the last couple of years we’ve learned how to be ready for the surge. Here are the six things we’ve found helpful:

1. Know thy enemy. Your greatest enemy can also be your greatest adversary, and that’s the calendar. Church leaders: track your attendance. Track your trends. Knowing when your natural ebbs and flows occur on the church calendar is one of the best ways to be ready for the rush.

For us, we’ve discovered that the second weekend in January and the third weekend in August are typically our high-water weekends. College students are back in the dorms and families are back from Christmas or summer. If you’re not in a college town or if you’re in a touristy area, you might find your ebbs and flows work a bit differently. We’ve tracked attendance religiously for the last ten years, so we have a pretty good foundation to spot big weekends and seasons well before they happen.

2. Prep your facility. If you know you’re going to have a larger-than-normal attendance, make sure you have a larger-than-normal plan for handling who will be there. Set out extra chairs, perhaps plan for an additional venue, add an extra service. We know the maximum number of chairs that will uncomfortably fit in each of our venues, and we shove every last one in there. We also have racks and stacks of chairs on standby in order to fill the lobbies if necessary.

3. Prep your regulars. For the last few weeks, we’ve been interrupting the service to ask people to scoot in. Necessary? Not yet. But as we’ve explained during the announcement, we want to mentally prep everyone for the crowds that will soon be arriving. That includes reminding them to arrive early, park far away to give guests the best spots, and consider serving on the First Impressions Team for a few weeks to help with the rush.

4. Prep your volunteers. We’ve found that simply reminding our volunteers that the surge is coming is immensely helpful in getting their game faces on. We encourage them to make sure they’re there, they’re there early, and they’re ready to bring a five-star experience to guests. Let them know about the ebbs and flows of #1 above, and make sure they know about the plans you have for handling the crowd.

5. Prep your systems. We have an intricate three page document that we’ve put together in the event that a venue fills up. It covers timelines for shutting the venue and redirecting to a secondary location, then opening lobby space, setting out the extra stacks and racks of chairs, etc. All of our appropriate volunteers are familiar with the “Go Team” plan so that when the call goes out, then know how to respond. (If you’re a church leader and would like to see a copy of that plan, hit me up on the “Make Contact” tab above.)

6. Prep for the inevitable. No venue has infinite space, and there’s a chance you’ll have to eventually turn someone away. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to do that in twenty years of ministry, and none of ’em have been fun. The best way to handle it? Extremely carefully. We actually script talking points for those who are posted outside, and we generally post pastors to have those uncomfortable conversations.

We’ve tried different tools to soften the blow: a free CD of that weekend’s sermon, a card listing all of our locations and the less-populated service times, even a list of area restaurants or coffee shops so someone can grab a quick bite and return for a later service. It’s still never enjoyable to turn someone away, which is why we do all we can to make sure tips 1-5 are running seamlessly.


Those are our six. What are we missing? Comment below.


*”Oh Fiddlesticks” Sundays if you’re an Independent Baptist.

Fresh outta the archives (which is a oxymoronic sentence if there ever was one), here’s a fun-filled topic from last year:

When I came on board in 2003, the church had transitioned to a hybrid model: on-campus Sunday School and off-campus small groups. One of my first roles was to complete the transition to 100% small groups, and I was just young enough and just stupid enough to say, “Sure, that sounds easy.”

And by and large, it was easy, compared to finding a cure for the common cold or explaining the popularity of Nickelback. We transitioned primarily because of space issues: the church was growing so rapidly that there wasn’t enough room for all of our adults to meet on site on Sunday morning.

But the transition from on-site to off-site led to a host of intangibles, some we expected and some we didn’t:

Yikes. Cliffhanger for church polity nerds. Read the entire post here.

Some Thursdays, I link you to meaningful articles that I’ve been reading. But other Thursdays (this Thursday), you get fluff.

Hey, fluff can be good. Kick your feet up. Have some coffee. Read the fluff.

Ten Worst Marriage Proposal FailsI’ll admit, every time I see one of these, I think, “FAKE!” But good grief, there are ten assembled fakes here. God bless the poor guys who pop the question without having a 147% guarantee that she’ll say yes. (video)

Pennsylvania Road Crew Paints Yellow Line Over Dead RaccoonMy pastor from when I was growing up used to say, “The only thing in the middle of the road are yeller streaks and dead possums.” He can add another mammal to that list. (photo)

This is America’s Sugar Addiction – an infographicThis makes me depressed. And makes me crave a king sized Snickers bar.

Here’s an oldie but a somewhat-goodie. What makes it goodie, you ask? It’s already been written. I’m takin’ the day off.

…we’re going to need your Social Security number, you need to quote five consecutive scripture verses from Leviticus, employment history, a letter of recommendation from your former church, blood samples, your personal stance on Calvinism, your shoe size, and you have to promise never ever ever to leave this church no matter how psychotic we get or how many splits we have or how many fights break out in business meeting, but we still reserve the right to talk bad about you if you ever wear a Santa sweater with 3-D beard fur.

Read the full post here. (I promise it makes more sense when the Santa sweater is in context.)

‘Tis been a few weeks since I’ve delved into the Thursday Three For All waters. That’s where I don’t contribute anything meaningful to the blogosphere, save for what I’ve been reading. Which is pretty meaningful. So here it is:

Exploding Chocolate, Poisoned Scuba Suits, and the Bulgarian Umbrella: A Survey of Strange Assassination Tech. Well this is just awesome. 

Hitler himself was almost done in by an exploding briefcase planted not by a spy, but by a member of his military during a coup attempt. His press secretary said of the attack, “The German people must consider the failure of the attempt on Hitler’s life as a sign that Hitler will complete his tasks under the protection of a divine power.” [read more]


I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why. I couldn’t agree moor. (Did you see what I did there?)

If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me. If you think a semicolon is a regular colon with an identity crisis, I will not hire you. If you scatter commas into a sentence with all the discrimination of a shotgun, you might make it to the foyer before we politely escort you from the building. [read more]


A Field Guide to 20 Great Regional Sandwiches of the USA. Two words: road trip.

Many American sandwiches can only be found in one very specific location or region (or restaurant), but even those that have ventured beyond their birthplaces are generally best enjoyed in their original context. Sandwich history can be layered and complicated, but, like a good sandwich, rarely dry. American sandwiches are often surrounded by unexpected controversy, and naming the definitive version of any one of these sandwiches will almost certainly spark an argument. [read more]

While we were listening to Sunday School bells in West Tennessee this weekend, we took a few minutes hours for a photo shoot with our Official Franks Family Photographer. Robin has been shooting our kids for almost as long as we have had kids, but this is the first time she’s had a little Franks girl to play with.

This is just one result of many breathtaking shots. And it just confirms what I already knew: my daughter is the second prettiest thing I’ve ever laid my eyes on. (Her mama will always win first place in that contest.)

I’m gonna need a shotgun to keep the boys at bay.

If you’d like to see more of Robin’s work, you can find it here.

This weekend Merriem and I got to catch up with some of our oldest friends on the planet. Not Methuselah-style old friends, but friends-since-college friends.

Mike Waddey and I were roommates back in the day, and then he and Robin lived a few doors down from us in married student housing. For the last several years he’s been pastoring a small rural church in a little bitty town in northwest Tennessee. Mike is the consummate small town pastor. His heart beats for rural ministry the way mine beats for Reese’s Cup milkshakes from Cook Out (take a HINT, people).

And that’s where today’s blog post begins, because my kids were introduced to the rural church way of doing church this weekend. In other words, not the way they’re used to. There were points during the weekend when I could almost feel myself channeling a Dana Carvey character: “Back in my day we didn’t have all of those fancy lighting systems and fiberglass pulpits and drummy sets. If we wanted light in our auditoriums we had to set the Sunday School quarterlies on fire with the discarded cigarette butts that the deacons flicked onto the front yard. That’s the way we had church, and we liked it!

Because you see, I realized that my kids haven’t grown up in church the way I grew up in church. Exhibit A: just a few minutes before the worship service began, we were hanging out in the auditorium, when suddenly a long, lonely bell rang. And rang. And rang. And my kids’ eyes all got just a little bigger. I think my ten year old was ready to stop, drop, and roll. And it was then that I realized that they’d never heard a Sunday School bell. Astonishing.

(And by the way, if you’ve never heard a Sunday School bell, it is a specific instrument of God’s grace that saves your life or at least your sanity and makes the Sunday School teacher wrap up the lesson that he’s meticulously planned for all week long, and by that I mean he read to you from the Sunday School curriculum for a solid hour.)

Exhibit B: a few years ago my oldest son went with us to visit the first church where I’d served on staff. He picked up a Baptist Hymnal and said, “What kind of book is this?” I’m an ordained Southern Baptist pastor, and my kid doesn’t recognize the second holiest book in the pew rack*? Sheesh.

And don’t get me started on the fact that my kids don’t know what a fellowship hall is, they’ve never skipped a third stanza, they’ve never attended RA’s, and they wouldn’t know a good business meeting fist fight if they saw one.

So what about you? What is it that you held dear as a church-going youngster that your own child will never experience? Comment below.


*The first holiest is The Baptist Faith and Message. What did you think I was talking about?