October 2013

When Jesus Haunts Your Halloween(via @davidcmathis)

When Jesus haunts our Halloween, we pour in the extra energy and creativity to capitalize on this opportunity to meet new neighbors and go deep with the old — whether we’re ushering our kids from house to house or leaving our lights on and giving out the best candy.

Florida cop buys $100 in groceries for woman caught shoplifting food(via @ABC11_WTVD) There’s a sermon illustration here. I just know it.

“I grabbed my debit card, ran back into the store and bought things that would sustain her for a week or so and when I walked out she saw that I had the cart of groceries and she burst out in tears and asked if she could hug me, which is kind of unusual for the suspect to be hugging the officer,” Thomas said with a laugh. “I let her hug me.”

Halloween Treats Gone Wrong. 


One of my favorite “details” stories revolves around Van Halen and their brown M&Ms.

Disclaimer: I didn’t listen to much Van Halen as a kid. I remember when “Jump” made it big on the radio. I saw Mr. Lee Roth’s tongue on MTV before Miley’s tongue was even born. But as a born and bred Southern Baptist, I was too busy listening to Larnelle Harris and Sandi Patti (before she dropped the “i” and added a “y”).

But I digress. If you know anything about the 80’s glam bands, you also know of their infamous contract riders: the multi-paged, insanely detailed demands that kept many a concert promoter up late at night: rooms set at 67°, a gallon of freshly squeezed orange juice, a deli tray that includes three-bean salad, that sort of thing.

Van Halen was famous for their insistence that all of the brown M&Ms be removed from the dressing room. That’s right: one candy shell of the wrong shade was enough to give them the right to call off the entire concert, even at the last minute (and at an insane cost to the promoter).

Diva behavior, right?

Maybe not.

In David Lee Roth’s 1997 biography, Crazy From The Heat, he finally came clean about the method behind the madness. I found this fascinating:

Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors, whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through. The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function.

So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say ‘Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes…’ This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: ‘There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.’

So I would walk backstage, if I saw brown M&M’s in that bowl…..well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.

See? Fascinating. The brown M&M served as the canary in the coal mine. It was a simple thing that alerted them to a serious problem.

What’s your brown M&M? What’s the thing that you look for and listen for to make sure all of your systems are working? What’s the external visual that signals internal problems in your guest service teams?

Maybe it’s a volunteer who can’t seem to get over the V-word.

Maybe it’s a long time member who still jockeys for a front parking space.

Perhaps it’s a staff member who keeps reminding you that a guest services team isn’t necessary, because the church is already friendly.

Any of those things can serve as a brown M&M. Any of them can point to a system that’s broken, but fixable. Any of them can highlight a deeper cultural issue.

What are some other brown M&Ms you’ve seen? Comment below.

After my little tirade at the beginning of Wednesday’s post, I was reminded anew how much I dislike the word “Autumn.” (I think it was invented by Hallmark to sell more cards, or something.)

But it also reminded me of this little post from the early years of this blog’s existence. And even though it’s colder than a lizard’s spleen out there, Happy FALL Friday.

So anyway, “my son,” – in this case, my first grader – had something to say.  So I asked him to follow me to his room.  We sat on his bed, and I said, “Jase, do you have something you need to tell me?”

Suddenly a 92 inch grin covered his skinny little eight inch face.  He doubled over giggling, face down on the bed, and mumbled, “I have a girlfriend.”

Now let’s stop and think about this for just a minute.  This kid can’t consistently put his underwear on the right way.  But he’s started a relationship.  With a woman.

Read the entire post hereAnd (SPOILER ALERT!) for the record, Autumn is long gone. But Emma? Emma carpooled with us to school this morning. Hope lives.

‘Mr. Spock goes to church’: How one Christian copes with Asperger’s syndrome. (via @BrantHansen) Fascinating. How are our churches doing in reaching people who feel “like an alien at church”?

Multiple times, each week, every week, I found myself wishing I’d be moved by the worship music, or that I could shut off my skeptical mind during the sermons.

I’d see people in church services, Christian concerts and Bible camps overcome by emotion and enraptured with charismatic speakers, and I wondered why I didn’t feel that way.

Why did I always feel like a cold observer?

Have You Watched Your “Game” Film Lately? (via @robertvadams) Seriously, every last one of us needs to stop and give this one some thought. Where are you doing this in the guest service experience each weekend?

What insights might your team be overlooking because no one is observing carefully enough?

Maybe it’s time to press the PAUSE button and start screening some game film. There are some things you’ll never see unless you look.

A Wondrous GIF Shows the Most Popular Baby Names for Girls Since 1960. (via @TheAtlantic) I have no idea why I find this so fascinating. And neither will you. But I’ll bet you won’t be able to stop watching it.

(photo credit: caufields.com)

(photo credit: caufields.com)

It’s that time of year again: fall (or Autumn, if you consider yourself better than the rest of us). The time when hipsters break out their slightly-less-ironic scarves, pumpkin flavoring seeps into everything, and churches everywhere roll out their 14th annual HallelujahWeen HarvestFest Trunk or Treat Hoedowns.

Full disclosure: I have both participated in and organized my fair share of the aforementioned event. The purpose of this post is not to be critical of churches who pull dunking booths onto their property once every October. Intrinsically, I think we’d all agree that there’s something more to a Halloween event than the event itself. And to be fair, these are questions that I’m asking of myself more than of other churches (more on that later).

So the post’s purpose isn’t criticism. Rather, it’s to ask a question that’s been rolling around in my own hollowed out pumpkin skull:

Are these types of “community outreach” events effective? 

My personal experience tells me that these events largely work to serve people at your church, and maybe people at other churches. (We all know the families who put trick or treating in the same category as – oh, let’s say the Bubonic Plague – but think nothing of loading up the minivan in their Moses / Esther / Seven Headed Beast of Revelation costumes and hitting every Holy Ghost Weenie Roast in the greater tri-cities area.) But when the hay dust has settled and the last bit of apple cider is gone, can we say we’ve had an evangelistic impact on our cities? When an outreach only reaches in, can we really call it an outreach?

Maybe it’s what we call them that gives me pause. I’m not sure that I’ve ever known an unbeliever who’s passed a church with a “Hallelujah Festival” ad on their marquee and thought, “That’s something that I just have to be a part of.” No, in most cases that would be viewed as an odd, insiders-only ritual that just makes them want to step on the gas and drive on by.

Or maybe it’s the “why” behind the “what” that I’m having problems with. If Trunk or Treat events only exist to provide a safe alternative to Halloween and to keep sinners with cooties at arms length, then we’ve missed the bigger picture. If our entire evangelistic goal of the evening is to hand out a Chick tract designed to scare the hades out of people, then maybe we’re doing it wrong.

Critical? Well shoot. Maybe so. But before you angrily toss your leftover fun size Almond Joy bars at me (because let’s face it, even the kids who don’t get sugar 364 other days a year ain’t touching those), what if we found an even better substitute for Halloween?

What if we discovered an alternative to our Halloween alternative?

What if we built the event on pre-existing relationships? What if we didn’t pour time and energy and resources into an event, and then opened the doors and hoped people from our neighborhood would show up? What if we didn’t engage the unchurched in our community only for special events, and then ignored them the rest of the year?

What if we encouraged our people to have real, authentic friendships with people they already live around? Work around? Play around? And what if we leveraged our “community outreach” events to maximize the outreach we’re already doing every single day?

What if we scrapped the event altogether and encouraged our people to get out on the street on October 31st and meet their neighbors and build a friendship?

Confession: the deeper I go into this post, the more I realize how much I stink at this personally. While our church no longer has Harvest Parties, we do have community outreach events on a massive scale. And so many times I get so busy investing in the event, I forget to invest in something even bigger: my relationships with unbelievers. I realize how far I have to go in befriending and serving the people on my street. I discover how many things I do in the name of “outreach” that really just reaches in.

So how about it, church leader friends? What if we got crazy intentional this year about hosting church events that unchurched people might actually show up for? What if we built new relationships outside rather than simply maintaining relationships inside? And most importantly, what if you mailed me all your unused Snickers Bars, because those things are awesome?

What successes have you had in community outreach events? I’d love to hear ’em. Comment below.


That’s right, boys and girls: Christmas is coming again this year. Even better, it’s coming back to Durham Performing Arts Center.

More info is coming later on tickets, service times, and how you can volunteer to serve the RDU community as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But for now, a recap of Christmas 2012…

Last week our staff team celebrated communion together, as we do each month. It’s one of my favorite times of worship here at the Summit, a time when none of us are worrying with weekend responsibilities or what’s happening out in the lobby. It’s a time for us to just be.

And maybe that’s why a particular phrase arrested my attention. We were being led by John McGowan, one of our church planting residents with Summit Network. In regards to communion, John reminded us:

“We are a room full of believing forgetters.”

Believing forgetters. In other words, we can easily articulate the foundations of our faith: Jesus lived a perfect life in our place. He died a substitutionary death on the cross for our sins. He rose from the tomb in order to defeat death, hell, and the grave. He sent the Holy Spirit in order that we might have his indwelling power.

We can believe that Jesus is greater than any earthly competition for his affection. We can say that his glory should eclipse all others in our life. We can sing of our love for him, our devotion to him, our passion for him.

But while we believe, we forget.

We get into the busyness of our day, and we forget. We get into the heat of a trial, and we forget. We wrestle with the same old sins, and we forget.

What we know to be true, we forget to be true.

And that’s why we need the daily reminder of the gospel. We need the daily prompt that – though we’re more wicked than we could imagine, we’re more loved than we could hope. We need to turn our attention again to the cross. We need to remind ourselves of Jesus’ promises and his power over and over again.

We need to remember what we’re prone to forget.

“…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:22-23)

In what has become an annually-recurring post, I present my homage to the North Carolina State Fair. Who’s going this year? And most important: what’s your favorite fried dish?

Upon entering the fairgrounds, head immediately to the grist mill.  It’s an authentic working mill where turn-of-the-century corn is ground by a turn-of-the-century process and then the cornmeal is dropped into a five gallon turn-of-the-century polypropelene bucket.  As a reward for walking through the mill with various sizes of sweaty people staring at wooden mechanisms saying, “Woodja look at that,” you get a hushpuppy on a toothpick.

Read the entire original post.

A Reason To Really Be Offended(via @DavidCMathis) If you’ve hung out here for a while, you know this lines up perfectly with our First Impressions plumbline: The Gospel Is Offensive (Nothing Else Should Be)I’m grateful to David for describing the “offensive” part so crisply.

It is wondrously good news. But unavoidable is the offense, that insulting supposition, that bad news that sets up the good. Did you catch it? You’ve gone tragically bad. You’re a foolhardy rebel against the most powerful person in the universe. There’s nothing you can do to save yourself, earn God’s favor, or get yourself out of the cosmic pit you’re in — the pit you dug and can’t climb out of.

Reading Made Awesome: The Features Of eBook Apps You Should Be Using(via @Lifehacker) I still haven’t completely made the jump to eBooks, but this makes me pretty happy. (nerdalert)

Even in simple stories, keeping up with characters can be an annoyance, but big stories can be downright impossible. Which is why Amazon invented X-Ray. This feature allows you to read up on characters, ideas, or notable items so you don’t get lost. Just mind the spoilers.

This Might Be The World’s Most Romantic Proposal. Merriem tipped me off to this. I think she’s saying that my McDonald’s parking lot proposal wasn’t romantic. (I kid.)

Here on the ol’ blog, I talk a lot about the mechanics of hospitality: systems, structures, and staffing that takes a biblical virtue and puts it together on an institutional level.

But perhaps more important than hospitality’s mechanics are its organics: what is the church’s true culture towards guests? Are we saying we’re a guest-friendly church, but not backing it up with actions? Do we expect the official greeters with laminated name badges to be the only ones who reach out to a stranger?

That’s why it’s necessary to look at very practical things that help raise the organic culture at our churches. And that’s why Uncle Danny’s Tip Of The Day is:

Park far away from your building.

For several years Merriem and I lived out in the country, and every day I’d pass a little rural church that had five little rural signs in the little rural gravel parking lot, all lined up in a little rural row. The two signs farthest from the front door were designated as visitor parking (an automatic no-no). The next closest to the door were two reserved handicapped spaces. But the spot smack in front of the main entrance? “Reserved for our Pastor.”

Every time I passed those signs I’d get madder and madder and tried to find verses that would justify vandalism. (Vandalism done in the name of the gospel? Evandalism. But I digress.)

Now I think I know what happened: that church was trying to honor their shepherd. I’m sure the pastor never opened a business meeting by pounding his fist on the pulpit and demanding his own parking spot. But what did that well-intentioned sign placement say to a guest? “We’re more concerned about our comfort than yours.”

That’s the reason we encourage our staff and leadership to park as far away from the front entrance as possible, and why I’d encourage you to do the same.

A long Sunday morning walk will do four things:

  1. It raises your “guest awareness.” You have a built-in weekly reminder that there’s always room for someone else, and when you walk by those guest parking spaces, you can pray for the people who will eventually park there.
  2. It communicates what you value. I want our people to see our staff walking to our cars after church. Not because we’re jockeying for the Parking Martyr Christian Service Award, but because it says that we value the comfort of a guest more than our own.
  3. It gives you a chance to look at your facility. Weeds, trash, and junk can be turn-offs to a guest. Walking the property gets your eyeballs where they need to be.
  4. You get a little exercise. Let’s be honest: you could stand to lose a couple of pounds.

What are some other ways you raise the guest awareness in your church? How are you doing at instilling organic hospitality? And most importantly, how many more Nicholas Sparks movie titles can we repurpose for blog posts?

Comment below.

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