Is It Just Me Or Are You Overwhelmed (Too)?

IMG_2996Disclaimer: This post is probably more for my processing and therapy than any other purpose. But hopefully you’ll find some value in it for yourself as well!


I cry sometimes. And when I cry, I’m well aware of the reason for the tears. Two recent events have again brought me to tears…feeling overwhelmed by the lack of kindness in the world.

I know I should not be surprised and I guess I’m not really, but it’s just more than I can take at the moment.

Maybe you feel the same…

It could be the political climate in our country and the corresponding ads. Or the refugee crisis around the world as we watch thousands of migrants marching away from dehumanizing poverty and violence. Or seeing your children get made fun of at school, on the bus, or in the dugout. Or ___________…

And what can you do about it?


This past weekend my family was attending a birthday party at a local park. As soon as we arrived, my kids headed straight for the playground to swing and slide as usual. While being my typical helicopter-parent self—staying within arms’ reach on the play structures—I noticed a boy sitting on the steps. He was pouting while holding his Mountain Dew, wearing a bright red nascar shirt and jeans. His hair was dark and uncombed; which seemed to match his disposition. (My kids’ hair also goes uncombed, unless they get caught in the grasp of a grandmother, so no judgement on his appearance—just trying to put you in the scene.)

As I passed by, I heard him mumble something under his breath. “Who cares if I’m too tall to ride the train?” he whispered bitterly. I don’t know what led to his state of sadness. Maybe someone told him was too old or too big to be riding the “kiddie rides” in the park. Maybe he came to this conclusion on his own.

Honestly, my first thought was that this kid is probably on track to be a “troubled child.” And that’s as much thought as I gave it…in the moment.

About 20 minutes later, my oldest son and I were throwing baseball next to the playground when I missed a throw that rolled several yards behind me. On my way to retrieve the ball, a red flash flew by me and beat me to it. It was the boy who had been pouting earlier on the playground!

I have enough emotional intelligence to know how this was going to play out. He obviously wanted to participate in our game of catch and, because I try my best to teach my children to be inclusive, we were happy to include him. He didn’t have a mitt so I let him use mine and went without one.

I asked him his name and his age. I asked him where he lived and with whom he had come to the park. He was an open book. His name is Aiden. He’s 10 years old. He was at the park with his “Pop Pop.”

Then the sad news…

He has an 18 year old sister and a 17 year old brother, but

It’s the but that brought me to tears.

“But we don’t live together, because we’re separated, and we’re getting a divorce…again.” 

Again? Again?!

I know I’m projecting a lot onto his situation…making assumptions about his family life, but either way…it’s never healing and wholeness that leads to a divorce, right?? Heartbreak and hurt are typically the recipe for broken relationships. Aiden was so matter of fact as he described his family situation. It was like he was telling someone else’s story. But it was his story.


Then a second event the day after…

My wife and I had just dropped off our two oldest at school and were on our way to drop the princess off when we noticed a road was blocked off by several police officers. “I wonder what’s going on,” Emily said. I went to Twitter and typed “Butler High School” in the search bar and there it was…a student shot by another student. Again, heartbreaking. Tragic!

We still don’t know all the facts and may never know, but whether the cause was bullying or a fight over a girl or whatever, the reason is not what’s most important and most certainly does not justify the end.

Then, to make matters worse, this grief I’m experiencing is further compounded by these events stirring up memories of my own adolescent antics. There were many, many occasions when I was unkind; which led to bullying or fights. Hopefully moments of me being unkind are growing fewer and farther between, but just the memories still illicit remorse.

Why? Why does it have to be this way? 

Or does it?


What’s the real root cause of our lack of kindness? As easy and flippant as it sounds, the answer is sin. Unkindness is one way sin gets put on display. And I’m convinced that we all have a choice: will we put our sin on display or will we put love on display? Right now, in this moment, which will I put on display today?

The morning following these events I sent out the weekly email to my soccer team; which always includes a memory verse. Coincidentally (or not so much) this week’s verse was a word of advice from the apostle Paul to the church in Thessalonica:

“Always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”

Image what the world might look like if we were always obedient to Paul’s advice…if we were intentional to teach it and to put it on display for our children. Certainly we can all make a choice to make life a kinder experience and just the thought of a kinder world helps to curb my lament.

Neither you nor I can fix the lack of kindness in our world. But we can choose kindness and we can be intentional to teach our children to do the same. I’ve been praying for Aiden. I’ll probably never see him again and I have a feeling that he will experience a lot of unkindness. But for a brief time, in a random park, he experienced kindness.

Growth Chart

phil-hearing-751935-unsplash.jpg

How many of you, who are parents, have a way to measure the height of your children? It could be a fancy Pottery Barn purchase or a Pinterest-inspired creation. Or, if you don’t have kids, do you remember having something in your room as a child…maybe tick marks in a door frame?

These decorations can be fun and a way to record growth inside the family, but they’re certainly not the most accurate. On the other hand, every time I take my child to the doctor, nurses and techs run him or her through the same exact routine. Then, sometime during the appointment, the doctor will pull up a chart with dots plotted along a line; which accurately tracks the growth of my child.

Why are the doctors and nurses so militant to measure every single child every single time? Because these measurements determine the health of my children. There is a predetermined range and an arc the doctor hopes to see. Then we can know whether or not our child needs something else to help him or her grow!

One question people ask me these days is, “Is your new church growing?”

What does growth and health look like for Multiply Church? As a living organization, how do we know if this new local church is being effective in our mission and making decisions that lead to health?

Many people have ideas about what growth looks like in a local church. Just mentioning the word growth brings a particular metric to your mind. At Multiply Church, however, these classic metrics for measuring growth and health have no place. Therefore, if we do not use the metrics of worship attendance and offering amount (we do not count attendance, nor do we collect an offering), then how will we know if we are in alignment and where we need to be?

The answer is found in the founder.

Where should we go as a local church to determine rather or not we are on point? Here’s a hint: Where do the leaders of the fast food restaurant Wendy’s go when they want to determine if they are on mission or not? Who does the leadership at KFC go to when they want to determine if they are in alignment with the original vision? Wendy’s, of course, goes to Dave. KFC goes to the Colonel. They go to the mission of the founder. So for us as the church, we have to go to our founder and his mission. We go to Jesus.

The words of Jesus recorded by physician-turned-journalist Luke is a great place to start. After thoroughly investigating, Luke writes that Jesus appointed 72 of his disciples and sent them out 2 by 2. Luke also tells us that Jesus had just done the same thing with his 12 apostles earlier in the narrative. Jesus is scaling the operation.

But where does he send them?

“The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.”

Jesus sends his followers into the harvest. The harvest is people who may have already heard a version of Jesus’s message, but have not yet decided to embrace his Gospel. They have not chosen to believe that he is the son of God and that the Kingdom of God is upon us.

So what does “going in to the harvest” mean for us today? When we picture the harvest, we may envision large fields of crops that have yet to be harvested. This can be a less than helpful and overwhelming picture.

What might be more helpful?

The question we ask in Multiply Church is, “Who are three people close to you, but far from God?” Rather than being overwhelmed by picturing thousands of nameless people in our city or beyond, we can all easily think of three people close to us, but far from God for whom we can be praying regularly.

You live near (or with) them. You work with them. They are the parents of your children’s friends and teammates.

So who are your three? In our post-Christian society, even here in the Bible belt of Charlotte, this is our harvest. It is as simple as making space in your life and inviting those who are skeptical of religion into your existing rhythms:

“Hey, would y’all wanna come over for dinner one night this week?”

“We’re heading to the pool this afternoon. Wanna join us?”

“We’re gonna pick up some pumpkins at the farm this weekend. Y’all interested in coming?”

Imagine the impact we could have if we were to live with the mindset of continually being on mission. Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he spoke of the abundant life.

For the Multiply Church growth chart, attendance at The Gathering will never be adequate for reflecting growth. Instead, growth will only come from the harvest. Growth only counts for Multiply Church if it is growth for the Kingdom of God.

Every Christian Should Read This Book

IrresistibleThat’s a strong statement.

You’re probably thinking “this book” should be the Bible. You’re right! But no one does that anyway. Actually, according the American Bible Society, 54% of churchgoers in the city of Charlotte engage the Bible less than once a month; which might be why we’re in this situation. So after the Bible, read this book.

Reading this book will change how you read the Bible anyway.

I’m convinced Irresistible will redefine and rejuvenate your faith. It would be great for every former Christian to read as well.

Andy articulates how Jesus (and what he introduces) is irresistible. He writes, “There was something about the faith of first- and second-century believers that made it attractive, compelling, and seemingly irresistible. People who were nothing like him liked him. And Jesus liked people who were nothing like him.”

Think about that thought-provoking sticky statement. This is certainly hard to argue with and makes me wonder what happened over the last couple thousand years that threw the church off course??

There is so much I’d love to share with you…

…like how Andy argues that the temple and the empire are the two powers most threatened by Jesus. They also have the greatest potential to taint what Jesus offers when the church aligns with either. The temple is all things religion. The empire is all things state. Unfortunately greed and wealth find their way into both. There is a direct correlation between the church’s ability to relinquish all allegiance to both and the opportunity for the church to be irresistible.

…like how Irresistible causes you to dig through the layers applied to your religion and understanding of Jesus over the years; which makes a mess of your personal view of God. This is a journey to discover the kernel at the center of a brand new worldview introduced through Jesus.

…like how you don’t realize the ways pastors, professors, biblical scholars, experts, and church people have skewed your view on the Old Testament.

…and so much more, but you should just read the book for yourself!

Much of this teaching parallels and overlaps with Andy’s teaching series Brand: New; which was very influential to me and the team I was on at the time it debuted. Many within the church will have a difficult time with this. They will call it too simplistic. I, however, am all in on the simplicity of the message. This might even explain why I myself have had such a difficult time fitting in to established local churches. In fact, the only way I could reconcile the call on my life as a pastor and remain in a local church was to start a brand new one.

Don’t make the mistake of confusing irresistible Jesus with attractional church. The message is not to get cooler or more relevant. I think Andy is asking us as the church to get simpler. Let’s get truer to the heart and mission of the Founder.

Andy pushes for the decentralization and deprofessionalization of the current local church system in order to allow the movement of Jesus to gain the most traction possible. I could not agree more…and this is coming from one of those professionals! After all, the cost of discipleship is hard enough. We should not add to it as an organized institution.

Andy also cuts through the confusion of the Old Testament to reveal the heart of God that is consistent with the new covenant Jesus announces. At the same time, he explains how our current version of Christianity brings with it and maintains portions of the Old Testament (Covenant) that make the current message so resistible.

Let me finish with this review and endorsement by asking a question…

Do you care about people?

Of course your answer is, “Yes!” Andy suggests we answer that question through our behavioral patterns, rather than our feelings.

He writes, “When you care about someone, you’re never content to simply make your point. When you care about someone, your goal is to make a difference. So you think long and hard about your approach.”

People in our communities close to people in conservative churches may think we care more about, “standing on the truth” than we do about them. 

People in our communities close to people in mainline denominational churches may think we care more about “making a difference”…making the world a better place than we do about them. This really means we care more about making ourselves feel better about ourselves than we do about them.

I love this book and I’m sure you will too, no matter what (or if) you believe!

Andy is not necessarily compelling us to believe differently. Instead, he asks us to consider leaving some things behind that are unnecessary and even encumber our ability to fully experience the abundant life Jesus offers. He’s asking us to reconsider the approach.

Let’s take him up on it.

You can read more and order a copy of the book at Andy’s site.

The Next Chapter

Happy Thanksgiving!

Many of you have heard about my upcoming transition from pastor of 801South at Matthews United Methodist Church to being a part of planting a new church in 2017. My last day with Matthews UMC will be December 24th.

Following my departure from MUMC, I will take a brief hiatus and then begin working full-time on the new endeavor in early January.

I know that many of you have asked for more information regarding plans for the new church. Many of the details remain yet to be revealed and those of us who are a part of this new expression are currently in a season of prayer and preparation. We are believing God to reveal many of the details with each next step of faith. This has already been the case for several of us.

I will continue to share bits and pieces of my personal story on this blog as it unfolds, much of which currently resides as scribbles in my journal. Future posts here will include what I’m learning about leadership, reflections on my time serving through 801South, my gratitude to the people of Matthews UMC, and the incredible heart of this church’s leadership being displayed through this transition.

In the meantime, I want to give those of you who are interested the opportunity to receive updates on what’s next.

I hope you will click over to the new site at Charlotte Church Plant and subscribe to receive weekly updates as we further discern the path for this new adventure. Future posts on the new site will include the mission, vision, and values that will guide and direct this new community of faith, along with ways you can support our efforts to continue reaching the city of Charlotte with the message of Jesus.

Please feel free to contact me personally if you’d like to hear more. I’m always available to grab lunch or coffee and share how God is calling us to a new approach for the local church.

Tap Into Your Fullest Potential To Lead

lead

These are the principles no one told you, but would have changed everything. This is the stuff you wish you knew at the beginning.

While reading Clay Scroggins’ new book, How to Lead When You’re not in Charge, I continuously recalled situations from my past where I would have proven to be a much more effective leader had I approached the situation according to the principles Scroggins shares.

This book could have easily been titled, What to do with your Feelings as a Leader. As leaders, we naturally have certain thoughts and feelings toward the organization of which we are a part. This is a good thing. These thoughts and feelings are what validate your propensity to lead. The question is, “What do you do with those thoughts and feelings?” Clay gives incredibly wise advise on how to process and proceed for the benefit of everyone involved.

Through entertaining and humorous illustrations like the story of being hired to move a crotchety old man’s pool table in college; which contained one my favorite lessons in the whole book, Clay gleans wisdom from everyday life experiences and provides practical application for how to implement that wisdom in my everyday life. He is humble and vulnerable in his storytelling…all for the benefit of the reader and the organizations in which he or she leads.

Clay also lays out simple and practical advice along with brilliant questions that you need to answer for yourself. For example, Clay is very generous to share his Lead Me Plan…a process anyone can easily work through to develop better self-leadership; which is where it all starts. An example of brilliant question-asking is evident in Clay’s self-appointed 360 degree evaluation when he moved to a new role. He sent three questions to around 50 previous coworkers and asked them three simple questions:

  1. What did I do over the past few years that inspired you?
  2. What did I do that frustrated you?
  3. What do I not know about myself that has become a blind spot?

Who does that?? Leaders who want to get better do that. Leaders who desire to leverage more influence despite a lack of authority do that. I should do that. You should do that.

Clay is also direct and honest with words we need to hear, especially if you are a young leader. He comes right out and says, “You are not ready for your boss’s job.” How many of us have thought that we should be in that position…in those shoes?? He’s right. We’re not ready and we need someone to be honest with us while also helping us determine how to best lead right where we are to make the biggest impact, as well as prepare us for what’s next. This is what How To Lead does for a leader.

Personally, the most influential section of the book is when Clay explains the difference between thinking critically and being critical. His explanation of how to be an effective critical thinker and to share your thoughts in a way that adds value to the mission of your organization is amazing. Do you find yourself continually burdened to make your organization better? The good news is that you can…right where you are…with exactly what you have. Clay shares how to do it well.

When I first read the endorsement by Andy Stanley (senior pastor and founder of North Point Ministries), I thought to myself, He has to say that. Clay is his replacement. Andy writes, “This book you are holding in your hands will be one of the most, if not the most, pivotal leadership books you’ll ever read.” After actually reading the book, I totally agree with Andy. He’s right (as usual). This book should be required reading for everyone entering an organization at any level. I know this will be the next read for my team and it will help them in every role they play, rather it’s in the workplace, at the local rec league, and even at home.

Clay breaks down every myth and removes every excuse as to why we cannot have incredible influence and impact in our current position. If you are looking to be inspired to action and you are tired of feeling stuck, Clay’s book is exactly what you need. We are all leaders and we can either lead well or lead poorly. It starts with a decision. The next decision you should make to lead well is to pick up How to Lead When You’re not in Charge.

Leaders Grow Leaders

IMG_5430

The 801South staff team grew this summer and I’m full of anticipation for what these hires mean for the future. As the opportunity to bring more staff on board (due to some transitioning and restructuring) became apparent, I wanted to pay special attention to hiring around our values. Many times organizations will hire according to their perceived needs; which can be a mistake. I’m particularly excited about our most recent hires for two reasons. First of all, I’m excited because of who they are and what they stand for. Secondly, I’m excited about the way they came into these positions.

The most important value we strive to embody is community. We want to see people connected in new relationships—both to Jesus and with one another—through intentional community. This is why small groups are a big deal, which serve as the primary behavioral pattern to match this value. The second most important value is growth. We want to see people grow in their character and competency as followers of Jesus. Leaders grow leaders. This is exactly what happened in the case of our two most recent hires.

Molly Joyner has been with 801South since the beginning and her family has been one of the most devoted families to the mission of 801South. She has led small groups and has been effective in designing and executing opportunities for people to serve our local community as a volunteer. Her passion for creating community and serving our surrounding community has led to her staff position as Community Director.

Natalie Davies also recently made the transition from key volunteer to staff. I’m particularly excited about Natalie joining the staff team because she brings quality corporate retail experience. She too has demonstrated a passionate commitment to the mission of 801South (inviting people into the story of Jesus). Unlike many of us who have been professional Christians (i.e. church staff) for a long time, Natalie still has close relationships with many people who do not follow Jesus. These relationships remind her of the need to be inviting people into the story of Jesus and fuels her passion for the mission of the church. Prior to joining the staff, Natalie was apprenticing up to three people at the same time as a volunteer. As I’ve stated already, leaders grow leaders.

The manner in which Molly and Natalie have come on staff is exactly what I have hoped for from the beginning…rather than trying to discern a felt need, posting a description on job websites, going through dozens of applications followed by interviews, hoping that the individual will be a “good fit,” and trying to avoid falling into a bad hire. Instead there is a proven track record of leadership development and commitment to the mission for both Molly and Natalie. I never have to question their initiative. I never have to question their passion. I never have to convince them why. I have already witnessed them lending their gifts, talents and resources to further the mission. As a team, we will debate about the how, but never the why.

801South is in great hands under the leadership of our current Operational Team; which includes Ryan Devenney and Nick Hunter. The team has been working hard to prepare for expansion as we head into the fall. Join me in believing God for more changed hearts and lives through the environments of 801South.

I Am Racist (Part 2)

This post is the second in a two-part series. I suggest you read the first part before continuing with the post below.

jens-johnsson-121807

One reason I feel so inadequate in addressing this topic is because my kind has kind of been the problem. The real problem, however, is sin. Sin kills. Sin divides. Sin is no fun to discuss and we are often tempted to avoid the concept all together. If only it were that easy.

The issue with avoiding sin is when we don’t own our sin, our sin will own us. When I allow my sin to motivate my thoughts and behavior, everyone loses. If you prefer, we can use the language of selfish human nature in place of sin. They are not interchangeable, but close enough for this conversation.

The church, of all the organized institutions, must be the one to stand and say this is not acceptable. In order for our prejudices to no longer control our thoughts and behaviors, we have to change our clothes. Using the Apostle Paul’s metaphor from his letter to a gathered group of people in Colossae that we read in the New Testament of the Bible, we have to take off our old nature and put on a new nature. We must take off the nature of anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk. We must put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. This is most difficult (I would say impossible on my own accord and in my own strength) when in the presence of those who believe differently than I do and who may even choose to slander me.

For most of us, and this is where I will lose some of you if I have not done so already, this means we also must take off what daddy and grandaddy taught us. We must take off the goggles we inherited from those who have gone before us through which we see the world. Without this challenging and often painful separation from certain hereditary ways of thinking, the prejudices we inherit deter and delay putting on a new nature.

God is working to redeem and reconcile all of creation back to Himself. That’s you and me. At the same time, the ways we divide and segregate ourselves is bigger than us as individuals. I think what all means is…all. All includes everything. Therefore, we have to address the issue from a perspective of society and culture as a whole. Prejudice is an issue within the individual. Societies are comprised of individuals and we bring our individualism with us. Therefore, division among people according to skin color, economic status, and belief is also a societal issue.

We cannot simply jump to reconciliation to resolve these complex issues. There must be means of repair. If the real issue is sin, then we will likely never experience full restoration in our lifetime, but we can choose to put on the new nature and take off all that hinders us from loving people despite our differences.

I have participated in several diversity trainings over the years and they are certainly helpful to gain perspective. I will be participating in another diversity and bias education experience later this month. I highly recommend you do the same, but healing will ultimately be realized through relationship. It is in close relationship with those who are other that our own prejudices are proven to be misinformed.

What steps are you taking to develop relationships that will peel back the layers of your prejudice and aid in putting on a new nature? The church must be the place and the people who show the world how this is done well.