October 2012

Connectors gonna connect.

Back in 2003 when I started in the brand new role of Assimilation Pastor here at the Summit Church, I had one thought on my mind:

“Does assimilation have one ‘m’ or two?”

The second thought was, “How quickly can we change my title to something else?”

But a third thought was also in the recesses of my brain: “Am I the only one out here?”

At the time, I only knew of one other Connections Pastor in the nation, the Hoosier Daddy* himself, Mark Waltz. And since that time, I’ve gotten to know a few dozen more men and women who do what I do.

But I know there are more out there. And I know at least a few of you stumble across this corner of the blogosphere from time to time. That’s why today I’m announcing the First Annual Connective Tissue Connections Ministry Survey™. (It’s not really trademarked, but I think you’ll agree it makes it look way cooler.)

Here’s how this works: you click the link below, fill out a simple form, and then boom: I know you’re out there. Whether you’re a connections pastor, director, guru, czar, dictator, or potentate, I’d like to hear from you. Whether you’re full time or part time, paid or volunteer, megachurch or Possum Holler Baptist, I’d love to connect.

The fine print: I’m building this list for my personal use. I won’t sell, spam, share, or trade your info for any reason other than personal, targeted, one-on-one connection opportunities (i.e., “Your church is in Council Grove? You need to meet my buddy David up in Topeka.”). I won’t put you on my Christmas card list (unless you ask, and send money to cover the Madonna and Child stamp). I reserve the right to use it to promote my upcoming All-Star Connections Pastor Polka Band World Tour. And from time to time (translated: very rarely because we’re all so stinkin’ busy), I may pass along news you can actually use, news that would bore a mere mortal blogging audience, but would make connections nerds cackle with glee.

So that’s it. Reach out. Make contact. Whether we know each other or not, whether you’re in Jacksonville or Johannesburg, whether you’re brand new or a seasoned pro, let’s connect.

Here we go: Connective Tissue Connections Ministry Survey.



*You gotta admit, that’s one of my better puns.



Our church is currently smack in the middle of a series called “All In.” If you’re not a part of the Summit, All In is a movement that is part capital campaign, part mission fund, part small group & ministry team push. (You can read more about All In here.)

Yes, there is a financial component to All In. And no, that has not been the only push we’re making. All In is really about a person’s entire life: financial, community, service, mission, holiness…you name it.

As a staff, we’ve been praying for our congregation (and ourselves) to embrace all of All In. And I had faith that would happen, but not necessarily enough faith to believe God for what I’ve already personally seen and experienced:

  • The gentleman who sought out our Starting Point director on Sunday morning to tell him “I’m all in.” This guy had had a couple of conversations in recent weeks about baptism, and was digging in his heels that he didn’t agree that he needed to be baptized. And yet, this series made him rethink that stance, and he was baptized Sunday morning.
  • The 3-4 conversations I had with people this past weekend who approached me out of the blue to ask how to become a covenant member of the Summit. In nearly ten years of ministry here, I can’t remember 3-4 unprompted conversations about that subject in that time frame.
  • The new believer I spoke to Sunday who said she didn’t really even know what tithing was, but she and her husband were excited to sit down and figure out how they could start giving to the mission of God.
  • The seasoned believer I spoke to that has never left the United States, but has committed to a mission trip to India in early 2013 so she can share the gospel with one of the most impoverished people groups on the planet.

Oddly enough, while these subjects have been alluded to, none of them have received top billing in this series. But what we’re finding is that All In is really causing people to consider going all in. Go figure.

I’m beyond excited about this movement. I’m thrilled for the stories I’ve heard and know I’ll continue to hear. I’m honored to be a part of a church to understand what it means to go all in.

Need to take your next step? Here’s how you can make it happen:

…or at least that was the famous saying of a student pastor I used to work with. His theory was that we never really leave behind the self-concious insecure zit-focused weirdness that seems to punctuate the lives of 6th-8th graders everywhere. And I think I agree with him.

Last Friday night I spoke at the Summit’s first ever Middle School Retreat (apparently based solely on my expertise as being a middle schooler myself, once). The topic was “Identity” out of Ephesians 2, and my goal was to try to help kids understand that for the believer, our identity was established at the cross. We are not the hats and personas we try on; we are the workmanship of Jesus Christ. His righteousness is what God sees when he looks at us. For that reason, we no longer have to worry about whether others accept us. Because God has already accepted us, it gives us the opportunity to go on the offensive and accept others and see them reconciled to the gospel.

And man, that sounded so, so good. I felt downright spiritual. I was tossing out gospel truths like they were butterscotch disks at a Christmas parade. I was telling these kids something that would change their lives forever.

But meanwhile, back at the ranch…

As you know, we just moved to a new neighborhood. And prior to this neighborhood, we lived out in the country. Way out in the country. So our sum total of the rural Halloween experience was either (a) hiking into town and pretending to live in a “real” neighborhood so we could go trick or treating, (b) going to eat dinner at Pizza Hut and trying to ignore the merriment and mirth and potential satanic graveyard sacrifices at midnight that was going on all around us, or (c) protecting our rural home from the onslaught of rural Halloween-themed practical jokes, the main one involving a rural flaming brown paper sack filled with rural…things.

So the suburban Halloween experience has been new for us. One of the main things we’ve noticed is a neighborhood phenomenon known as “You’ve Been Booed.” The way You’ve Been Booed works is that a neighbor sneaks onto your porch in the middle of the night, leaves a little bucket full of candy and treats and a You’ve Been Booed sign, and as long as the suburban squirrels don’t discover it by morning, you get to take the You’ve Been Booed sign and hang it on your door, signifying that you have great relational value and intrinsic human worth in the neighborhood.

Well, I’ve been seeing these You’ve Been Booed signs on doors all over the ‘hood. And I kept thinking, “We don’t have a You’ve Been Booed sign. Nobody has left us a You’ve Been Booed sign. Without a You’ve Been Booed sign, we’re probably cementing our non-popularity status for the duration of our mortgage. I MUST GET A YOU’VE BEEN BOOED SIGN EVEN IF I HAVE TO PRINT IT MYSELF.”

And so imagine my delight when I woke up on Saturday morning (less than 12 hours after telling middle schoolers that their worth is found in Jesus) and saw a glimmer of an orange bucket sitting on the front porch. I threw open the door, shooed away the suburban squirrels, and paraded the bounty back into the house, announcing to my family “WE’VE BEEN BOOED! WE’VE BEEN BOOED! THEY LIKE US! THEY REALLY LIKE US!” (Okay, I didn’t actually announce it that way, mainly because half the family was still asleep and I wanted first crack at the candy.)


In the time it took me to tape the coveted You’ve Been Booed sign on the front door, I discovered that in the depths of my heart I’m still an insecure 7th grader. I still care way too much what other people think of me. My sense of identity is not found in how God sees me, but in how people with a stash of fun sized Snickers bars see me.

How about you? What’s your best example of how you’ve never left middle school? Comment below.

Every Friday we jump in the Wayback Machine so that I don’t have to come up with fresh content. Today we jump in the WayWayWAYback Machine, dredging up a post from nearly four years ago.

Someone once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  I’m thinking that this person had kids.

In our house, we experience insanity roughly every 29 minutes.  It usually comes in the form of one child doing something to annoy another child, which results in the offended child actually repeating the behavior verbatim so he can demonstrate what it was that annoyed him so badly.

Being the voyeuristic blog reader you are, I’m sure you’d like an example.  Being the accommodating blog writer I am, I’m happy to oblige.

Read the entire insane original post here.

It’s Thursday, kids. And around these parts that means Thursday Three For All…a trio of stuff that I’ve been reading and enjoying this week. Let’s go.

Inside Starbucks’ $35 Million Mission to Make Brand Evangelists of Its Frontline Workers. When is the last time churches spent 35 cents to get volunteers excited about the mission?

“[Employees] are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance and theater, and as such the primary catalysts for delighting customers,” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wrote in his book, Onward. Give them reasons to believe in their work and that they’re part of a larger mission, the theory goes, and they’ll in turn personally elevate the experience for each customer–something you can hardly accomplish with a billboard or a 30-second spot.

Great Leaders Simplify. A crucial, much-needed, must-heed article / blog post about the need to cut and/or trim and/or prune things down to their bare minimum. What I’ve noticed – or I guess observed in self-retrospect – about myself in the last few years, is that I have a tendency to get too wordy and make things a bit too complica…um, never mind.

Leaders simplify processes. The best leaders I know don’t like bureaucracy. These men and women are always interested in streamlining the process. The questions they ask include: how can we make it easier, make it faster, reduce the number of steps? How can we simplify the process?

Disneyland Carves Up Exotic Pumpkins. This is ridiculous. I can’t even get my pumpkin’s triangle eyes to line up.

For the fourth year, Disney has hired five carvers to make these unique pumpkins during the Halloween season. The artists usually work two at a time and complete a pumpkin or two each a day.

Every weekend, my role is to love people who are connected and people who are committed.

Every weekend, my goal is to convince people who are connected to become people who are committed.

(Feel free to go back and read those two sentences again. I’ll wait.)

Our church is full of connected people. Maybe they visited for the first time last Sunday. Maybe they only show up at Easter and Christmas. Maybe they drop a few dollars in the plate, volunteer to help one Saturday on a Habitat project, or have sat down for coffee and conversation with a pastor.

We do first impressions because we love the connected people. We love it when they show up, we love it when they come back, we love it when the light bulb suddenly appears over their head and they understand the gospel for the first time.

But connected is not enough.

I want to see people go from being connected to being committed. Connection says “This is a good church.” Commitment says “This is my church.”

Commitment means people move from a large auditorium to a small group. It means they figure out their sweet spot and serve on a volunteer team that exercises that gift. It means they put down roots, declare the church to be family, and officially join as a covenant member.

Connected people come and go. Committed people plant their feet and stay.

I love our connected people. I’m thrilled that they’re here and I’m dedicated to making their weekend experience the best it can be.

But part of that experience is to make sure they’re moving from connection to commitment. That they’re finding a family and discovering a purpose and pursuing a plan to give back.

Want to know more about moving from connection to commitment? Check out our next Starting Point event on November 10th. You can RSVP here.


Alright, blogosphere, we have a serious matter to discuss. Grab some coffee. Clear your minds. Focus on the topic at hand:

Hugging a complete stranger.

A bit of background: Merriem and I are new to suburban life. For the last eight years we lived in the country, where sunlight was piped in and neighbors only came calling if our dog ate their chickens (true story). We each grew up in tiny towns where everybody knew everybody, or at least knew who you belonged to.

But since June, we’ve been living la vida suburbia, in a neighborhood complete with sidewalks, storm drains, and a homeowner’s association. It’s like The Truman Show meets Leave It To Beaver meets The Neighbors, a new show so incredibly awful I can’t believe it wasn’t cancelled by the first commercial break.

We’ve been trying to meet as many neighbors as possible, a difficult feat when the average temperature this summer was Surface Of The Sun. But one neighbor I met fairly early on was a delightful lady in her 70’s whom I’ll call Louanne, because that is her name and I’m fairly certain that reading this blog is not on her list of 1,001 things to do before she dies.

In the first meeting with Louanne, I was out for a walk with Haven and she was walking her dog, whom I’ll call Toby even though that’s not his real name, but really: why should I remember a dog’s name? It’s a dog. We exchanged names and pleasantries and went on our way.

Meeting number two: I was working in the yard when Louanne stopped on the sidewalk while she was walking Toby. Picture it: I was standing about three feet away from her, and she said, “Welcome to the neighborhood!” and spread out her arms. My friends, she spread out her arms.

Where I come from, spread out her arms is code for “move in for a hug.” So I did. Quite slowly and awkwardly. And my hunch was right, because my sweet little 70ish neighbor embraced me.

And then kissed me on the cheek.

(Let me interrupt my own story: I come from a section of the country where you do not casually kiss other people. You say things like “Bless your heart” and “Hot enough for ya?” but you do not kiss someone that you didn’t buy a sizable piece of jewelry for or share the same last name with. So the concept of a casual kiss – even just on the cheek – is still very strange to me, and I considered putting a For Sale sign up in our yard that very day so as not to ever have to go through that again.)

I digress.

Meeting number three happened on Saturday night. We had a neighborhood picnic, and I was fully prepared to throw Merriem in the path of Louanne’s lips, because that’s what husbands do.

Meeting number four happened last night. Again, I was walking, and again, she had Toby on the leash (apparently he has bladder issues). As I approached, I was racing through my options: pretend I’m looking at my phone? Fake a sneezing fit? Tell her that I have a rash that’s exacerbated by close contact with hugging strangers?

As I got within two feet of her, she threw out her right arm. Not both, just one.

So, reluctantly, cautiously, I moved in for a hug. To my 70ish sweet little neighbor. Who is at least 18 inches shorter than me. And her nose was in my chest.

And at that precise moment it was 100% apparent that the thrown out right arm was, in fact, just a thrown out right arm. Perhaps a muscle spasm, but not a posture of hugging. And Louanne and I proceeded to have what was the most awkward 1.4 seconds of both of our lives. Even Toby was embarrassed.

So I ask you, readers: what is the code? To hug or not to hug? Can I leave my house again? Will Toby ever learn to use the toilet?

When is it okay to hug a stranger? Comment below.

My family is going through a season where we have to watch our language. We have a two year old politeness monitor who has been told that she can’t say “stupid.” So every time I say “stupid” (because let’s face it: sometimes things really are stupid), I hear, “No Daddy, you not say that” in a hushed, condescending tone that is usually reserved for, say, a presidential debate moderator.

(I would point out to her that the correct sentence is “No Daddy, you shouldn’t say that,” but I’m afraid she’ll call me stupid.)

Just as “stupid” is a word that’s not allowed in our house (unless something really is stupid), “visitor” is a word that we steer clear of at our church. For years, it’s fallen on me to be the resident language cop, making sure that we’re calling people “guests” rather than the dreaded V-word.

So why does “guest” trump “visitor”? I first learned this from Mark Waltz several years ago. In his guest services Bible, First Impressions, Mark says this:

“…when we attach such labels to those who are not Christ followers, we need to be aware of the nuances those labels carry with them. For instance, terms such as…visitors have caused us to further alienate those who are really no different from ourselves…”

In Beyond the First Visit, Gary McIntosh says it this way:

“Visitors are often unwanted, Guests are expected.  Visitors just show up, Guests are invited.  Visitors are expected to leave, Guests are expected to stay.  Visitors come one time, Guests return again.”

And finally, Theodore Kinni of the Disney Institute puts it like this in Be Our Guest:

“Words create images and corresponding assumptions in people’s minds. Take the word guest. An unhappy guest and an unhappy consumer are likely to create two different images in an employee’s mind. Guests are welcome; consumers are statistics. If someone is your guest, don’t you feel a greater obligation to ensure his or her happiness?”

Although it’s a tiny hurdle, it’s often one of the most difficult for a church to overcome. We’re accustomed to speaking in terms of the number of visitors we had, the location of visitor parking, the time in the service where we ask the visitors to stand and introduce themselves and tell us the sin that they’re currently struggling with (What, you don’t do that? Oh, you should definitely do that. Visitors love that!).

If you’re a pastor or a hospitality leader, try making that small one-word tweak this weekend, and see what kind of difference it’ll make. Because calling people “visitors” is…well…just stupid.

What are other off-limits words in your ministries? Comment below.

It’s State Fair time in North Carolina again…the time when you load up your family in the minivan, head down I-40, and embark on a fun-filled evening of applying hand sanitizer to every square inch of your body, including the vital tissues on the interior.

We made a rather unexpected and last minute trip to the fair on Wednesday night. If I listen closely, I can still hear my blood cells scooting past each other inside crowded veins (“‘Scuse me, pardon me. ‘Scuse me, pardon m…is that a TWINKIE?!?“)

A few years back I shared some tips on how to get the most out of the fair. If you haven’t had this year’s fair share of greasy food (did you see what I did there? BOOM.), then you’ll want to read on:

…Now it’s time to stake your claim on your favorites.  Tater twirls, turkey legs, Wisconsin fried cheese… Hey, you saved money on water.  Now you get to treat yourself to the stuff the fair is all about.  Make sure you ask for the warm ranch dressing.  It’s not warm on purpose, though…so on second thought you might want to skip it.  Mmmm…food poisoning. [read more]

Engage Your Kids in Discussing Their Day. My friend Michael Kelley is a great dad. He put together this very helpful list on how to get your kids past the shoulder shrugs and Neanderthal-like grunts.

“Complete this sentence: My day would have been more exciting if…” This last one is pretty fun; the last time we asked this question we found out that 2nd grade would have been more exciting if a herd of zebras had invaded the lunch room. Indeed it would. But that led us down the road of discussing math, playground games, and other stuff.

How to Downgrade. Seth Godin has a thing or three to say about companies who are faced with changing their strategic plan.

When possible, don’t downgrade. People are way more focused on what you take away than what you give them. Many times, particularly with software, it’s pretty easy to support old (apparently useless) features that a few rabid (equals profitable, loyal and loud) customers really depend on.

First World Problems Read By Third World People. Last week I ordered a Salted Caramel Mocha at Starbucks, but they were out of salt. This kind of puts that in perspective.

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