The Three Characteristics of Quality People

What is the most valuable resource to your organization?

There are lots of different answers—all of which might be important, but let me go ahead and tell you the right answer—people. The people are the most valuable resource in any organization.

In my context, we rely heavily on people who serve on the church staff and others who serve as unpaid servants out of a commitment to the mission and vision. Money is important and nice to have. Facilities are key as well. But the overwhelming need in any organization is people and the right people can overcome a lack of any other resource. So how do you know if you have the right people?

Here are the top three characteristics that define quality people* as the greatest resource.

1. Quality people are committed to the mission.

The mission of the church is to be a vehicle for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. This includes ushering people into relationship with Jesus, encouraging people to follow Jesus, and equipping them to fully live into this mission. Quality people deserve the opportunity to speak into the vision of how this mission plays out, but there is no room for personal agendas. We can discern together how best to get there, but if you are more interested in promoting your “stuff” (I’m hesitant to name examples of the stuff here), then you will always create sideways energy keeping those who are committed to the mission from moving further faster.

Quality people strive to live out this mission in their own personal lives.

2. Quality people exhibit a positive and encouraging demeanor.

Quality people demonstrate a friendly demeanor. They understand that this is a team effort. They are positive, flexible, teachable, and generally excited to be a part of the team. And when things do not go as planned, they want to know what they could have done differently, rather than pointing the finger at others or crossing their arms with a “told you so” smirk across their face.

Alternately, you know the “expert” in the group. You know the “negative Nancy” in the group. Those who are completely inflexible and always right—who never exhibit any signs of remorse, mistakes, or teachability—are poison to the team. The interesting thing, is that those without the right demeanor can be some of the best talkers around the mission. But their true colors will eventually show through.

There are lots of dynamics that play into an individual’s demeanor and many times he or she may not even be self-aware of how he or she comes across to others. Others simply don’t care how they come across. Poison.

3. Quality people are ambitious.

Have to be careful here, because those with a detrimental demeanor can also be very ambitious. Their ambition looks great at first, but it will cost you in the long run.

Quality people do not just rely on you as the leader or the systems you have created to produce the work. Instead, they create solutions to roadblocks of the mission on their own and their ambitions leads them to filter potential solutions, updates, and tweaks through the values of the organization. They bring their ideas and do not simply consume whatever is being fed from above. They think, create, and challenge.

These are the top three qualities I look for in people as we develop leaders to build a faithful and successful organization.

How about you? How would you describe the quality people in your organization? What am I missing?

* Disclaimer: By using the term quality people, I do not mean to pass judgement on anyone being more or less valuable as a person. At the same time, I often witness leaders operate out of a naiveté that all people are quality people “deep down” and, although I think people can develop these three specific qualities, I have found that energy spent moving difficult people toward being quality people is not energy well spent. I try, however, to love and serve all.

Bragging Rights

Do you mind if I brag a little bit?

People tend not to appreciate this question as a conversation starter. “Here we go, let’s hear about how things are so good for you and how your life is so perfect right now” is the thought that generally follows.

But did you know the Bible actually encourages those of us who believe in it to brag? Psalm 105 reads, “Tell everyone you meet what God has done!” The apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “We hope that our work grows even to the point of the gospel being preached in places beyond Corinth, without bragging about what has already been done in another person’s work area. But, the one who brags should brag in the Lord.” I wanna do some bragging Bible-style this week, mainly because I get a lot of credit for what is happening through our efforts at 801South and I need to make sure credit gets accurately designated. God and those who serve Him through 801South deserve all the credit.

I’ve been witnessing some awesome movements in the lives of people through this new environment. God is at work like crazy and I get a front row seat to witness His work in the hearts of those who are experiencing Him like never before. Those of us in leadership make a lot of decisions about what and how and when, but God alone is who moves to create eternal change in people. This movement is turning into an awesome ride.

The 801South environments are making a difference in the lives of people. “I really enjoy [801South] and all of Pastor Stephen’s perspective,” writes one young mother. She continues, “It really has given my family and I the opportunity to reconnect to God and find grace again. It truly has impacted our lives and family in amazing ways.” This is what we are about! Connecting people to a fuller life in God and a life-changing experience of His grace.

Another young parent writes, “It was a life changing moment for me when I realized I relied too much what others thought for guiding my actions, and it has helped me excel professionally, with family and friends.” This is real life change. As the pastor, I’m privy to so many similar stories that I hear from our Small Group leaders who are witnessing God’s work first hand in these intentional communities and bragging about it. And I’m bragging on these servant leaders.

There are so many stories of people experiencing the love and forgiveness of God—some of whom have been searching for decades—and are now able to extend that love and forgiveness to others in their lives. If these stories do not get you pumped up and you’re not excited about hearing more of them as God continues to move, you need to check the posture of your own heart. We need people whose hearts are set on fire by these works of God.

This is what God does. I’ve experienced it. I continue to experience it. I’m gonna preach and brag so that others will experience it as well. And God’s going to move in the lives of those who He draws and we invite into our environments. He is always faithful.

Most of you who are reading this don’t need to be convinced by these stories. How many of you, though, are sharing these stories? How many of you want to do some Bible-bragging along with me? Will you join me in telling these stories and inviting others who are broken, searching, and disconnected to see God write similar stories for those who have yet to experience His love and grace and peace?

Speaking of bragging, our band is awesome. They’ll be leading us in these songs on Sunday. Come sing.

Battling Entitlement

Do you know the names of your neighbors?

Are you concerned for the wellbeing of those who live around you?

I was recently invited to attend an event here in south Charlotte called A Gathering For The City. A couple dozen local pastors filled the backroom of a trendy breakfast spot as we listened to an author named Eric Swanson speak about his greatest passion.

According to his website, Swanson “has a passion for engaging churches worldwide in the needs and dreams of their communities toward the end of spiritual and societal transformation.” He is a professor at Denver Seminary and has co-authored several books including, The Externally Focused Church, The Externally Focused Life, The Externally Focused Quest, and To Transform a City.

In his presentation, Eric focused on a text from the book of Jeremiah (one of the major prophets to the Israelites while exiled in a nation called Babylon—700 miles from their home in Judah). God’s instructions to his people at this time, through Jeremiah, is to “build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.”

As I understand Jeremiah’s words, God is telling his people to settle down, take care of yourself and your family, and actively demonstrate concern for your neighbors. The future of the Israelites depended on the welfare of those is the city in which they resided.

What if we all believed that our future is dependent on the welfare of our neighbors?

Our concern for our city’s welfare can be made tangible through many different initiatives, but perhaps it starts where our individual properties end. Who are your neighbors? Who lives in closest proximity to you? What are you doing to promote their welfare? (All of them, not just those with which you have “good chemistry.”)

These concepts are the basis for our 801South Neighbors campaign. We will always be a gathering of people who are focused on promoting the welfare of our neighbors. One way we are trying to promote the welfare of our city is through prayer. Our Small Groups also partner with other organizations in the community to promote our city’s welfare in other ways, such as landscaping community centers or mentoring unwed pregnant teenagers.

Perhaps the greatest byproduct of focusing on the welfare of our city is that doing so also combats our own entitlement. There may be no stronger hindrance to advancing the work of God in our world than to think that we, as His people, are in some way entitled to any part of what we have. We are His people because He has given us grace. Therefore, we are compelled to be always grateful, always serving, and always extending His grace to others. Sometimes we expect to be served or to receive thanks for doing God a favor by showing up—in essence getting it all backward.

So the best part of promoting the welfare of our city by caring for our neighbors is to see God’s Kingdom becoming tangible on earth. A close second is to see the entitlement of us who claim the name of Jesus slough off as we focus on those around us. Our future depends on it.

Learn more about Eric Swanson and his efforts to lead churches in transforming their cities by visiting his website.



Are You A Future-Thinker? (801South NEXT)

My experience and research has led me to believe that those who think about the future the most are also those who are able to create a desired future the best. The daily whirlwind quickly and stealthily consumes our time and energy that could be spent on discerning a preferred future. At 801South, we try (although we are not always successful) to be intentional at continually carving out the space and time to be future-thinkers.

This past Sunday, we invited all who have been serving through 801South to attend a gathering and hear what our leadership is discerning about where God is calling us NEXT. We titled it, creatively, 801South NEXT.

So what’s NEXT for 801South?

We are most excited about our Community Launch on Sunday, September 7th. All of our expectations were exceeded with the Invitational Launch on April 27th of this year so it is with great expectation that we prepare for extending our reach and opening our doors wider early next month!

My prayer for this season is that our current crowd, which has averaged over 250 people each week, will continue to be ridiculously invitational and hospitable. I expect those who have been a part of the growth will be using a phrase regularly between now and early next month.

What’s the phrase? It’s easy. “Come and see.” That’s it. A simple invitation to those who you know are disconnected: family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, teammates. Hey, why don’t you “come and see” this new thing with me.

And what has our growth looked like in 801South? In a snapshot, over these past nine months, 801South has grown from zero—to a group of ~50 interested individuals—to a launch team of over 80 teammates—to now a regular crowd of ~250 each week. And then there are the continually reproducing small groups. More on these in a minute.

As part of the NEXT level, we welcome Erik Langston as our first worship leader.


If it weren’t breaking my own rules, Erik might even fill the role of my newest man-crush! That’s how excited we are for him to join the Band and Creative Teams! Erik will be here this Sunday.

We have also been diligently engaging our local community and beyond with various channels of external marketing. You can hear or see 801South on multiple radio stations, print publications, online banners, and through other marketing avenues such as SEO (search engine optimization).

Take a look at some of the incredible promotional work spearheaded by our Communications Director:

Radio Spot for 91.9 New Life:


Radio Spot for Channel 96.1:


Promotional Video for All Pro Sound and Church Production Magazine


Charlotte Parent Magazine:


We are also in the middle of creating marketing material that will be featured in Creative Loafing, including their Best Of Charlotte edition.

I’ve also had the honor to apprentice our newest 801South servant as the first Small Groups Coach. Tracy has a very high capacity to serve in this ministry as a leader of leaders. She’s already put some effective systems in place and will be much better serving as a small groups coach than I have been. We love having Tracy, her husband, Matt, and their two sons on the 801South team.

We will engage in a big push for new small groups in September with these new groups launching in the first week of October. We can’t wait for you to see the new options and choose one of these intentional communities for yourself!

Sound like a solid NEXT level for 801South???

Whatever the NEXT level looks like, I can make some guarantees as we prepare:

We will ask for more.

We will engage people in community on a deeper level.

We will pray harder.

We will serve stronger.

We will resource other communities of faith to do the work of the local church.

We will continue to make an even greater impact in the lives of people in our community and beyond.

All in the name of Jesus and His Kingdom here on earth.

Generational Degeneration (Part Two)

Should the focus of the local church be different for different age groups? If so, how does it change over the stages of life? What are the opportunities for people of different ages to interact if the focus changes between different age segments? When we decide the focus should be different for people in different stages of life, the natural trend is toward programs and event, so we then shift our efforts away from discipling students from a young age to providing activities in which they participate. Perhaps the assumption has always been that discipleship would occur in the home so the local church needs to provide social opportunities for students who are learning to live like Jesus at home. I would agree that the greatest discipling relationships are those into which we are born. God perfectly designed us to naturally live into relationships where we would disciple each new generation. I firmly believe that I will be held accountable for how well my children are discipled—not the staff at my local church. Somewhere along the way, however, the work of discipling was passed from the home to the local church for many “Christians.” In 801South, we focus on making disciples; which we define as a person who chooses to learn from Jesus and apply what he or she learns to his or her life. That’s it. Fairly simple I think. We do this mainly through coming together for communal worship, reading the Bible, praying, and listening to other disciples. If the great commission is to make disciples of Jesus, I suppose I’m fairly unconvinced that this mission requires a lot of programs and events. Instead, I think we need more relationships. Programs and events might be helpful as a means to an end, as a tool toward developing new relationships, but programs and events cannot be the end themselves. Another area where we are seeing intergenerational ministry is in our children’s ministry. Our children’s team servants are working hard to train teenagers (and even some preteens) who are active in discipling younger children. This naturally provides an ownership of teenagers in the ministry and is one dynamic about which I am super excited when I look to see where God is taking us next! So in 801South, we will continue to use events as we feel they are beneficial in the mission, but we refuse to let them become expected traditions. We want to equip each generation to be a discipling generation, rather than a generation who participates as long as events are being planned for them to attend. One of the events we are planning for the near future is an 801South Summer Serve; an opportunity for those involved in 801South to serve our local community over the summer. This event is being inspired by the passion of a 10 year old who attends 801South and I can’t wait for you to hear her story. So how can the church be intentional to showcase multigenerational ministries that equip each other to be and make disciples?

Generational Degeneration (Part One)

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve taken the time to sit down and craft a new blog post. I don’t have any good excuses, but I do have some less than satisfactory reasons. They include writer’s block, a lack of energy, focusing attention on seemingly more pressing matters, working to bring a full-time worship leader on the staff team, and others.

But now I’m back and committed to posting at least once a week. I have seen a benefit in being able to connect through this blog with those who I may not see on a regular basis otherwise. It also makes a great vehicle for continuing to tell our story as it unfolds.

Now to the topic of today’s post, which is one that will surely elicit a strong response from some readers. This post will actually be split into two parts. I will post the conclusion next week.


Has your experience in church included working alongside mainly people your own age or has your work cut across many generations? (Sitting in the same room with people of different ages on Sunday mornings does not count.)

Seeing multiple generations working alongside each other toward a common goal is one of the greatest components of 801South. In fact, one of the original goals was to create environments where people of all different ages could actually serve together and we have seen that happen in the early stages of 801South. There are a handful of environments where we are setting up multigenerational ministries.

Hands Up Band Cropped DSC_0143

The 801South Band Team, Setup Team, Tech Team, Hospitality Team, Small Groups Team, and others include individuals as young as 15 years old up to those beyond 50 years of age serving together.

Some of our first small groups have included individuals who were empty nesters sitting next to young singles sitting next to high school students—all in the same room. Another area where we see multiple generations serving together is on the Band Team. We’ve had musicians and vocalists as young as 15 and as old as…well we won’t go there. It’s been very cool to see them come together around a common interest and ministry; rather than seeing people only serving (or being served) in siloed-by-age ministry compartments.

Through my interaction with some of the middle and high school students in 801South and in reflecting on my years serving as a student (youth) ministry director, I have come to understand that the traditional church has done a great job of setting up expectations for students to experience particular programs and events. Students tend to be most passionate about the upcoming events in which they have seen older students participate with great anticipation.

But perhaps there has not been the same emphasis placed on discipleship of students in the traditional church.

Parents can sometimes fall into the same trap. I remember a mother telling me, “My daughter and her friends are excited. Way to go!” following a big event we held for hundreds of middle and high school students. So if your children have a good time and are excited about an event, then that is your win?

We talk about the percentage of students who leave the church when they leave the home. This is a complicated issue and there are several layers, but perhaps part of the problem is that there’s no one planning events any longer.

(To be continued next week, but feel free to comment on Part 1.)

Welcome To The Jungle

Not having a worship leader on the staff team for 801South has been a bummer in many ways. The burden of scheduling and arranging other typical logistics that would be easily handled by an experienced worship leader fall primarily on our tech director (and somewhat on myself). This redirects our energy, time, and focus away from further developing the Tech team. Handling these needs also hinder our ability to live into a rhythm in which we are dreaming about the creative potential of the 801South worship experience. We are hustling every single day to find the one who will serve God and lead us as the 801South worship leader.

But there has been one incredibly enriching benefit to this added burden. Related to my post a couple weeks ago, the opportunity to meet and join in ministry with incredibly talented and passionate worship leaders from the local (and beyond) community has been an unforeseen fortune. One of these talented and passionate leaders is Colin Mukri. You can actually check him out on our website and see his beautiful gifts for yourself.

Colin brings a very unique story to us here in suburban America. He was born and reared in Malaysia. The worship leader program at Liberty University brought Colin to America and he has been living in the USA ever since. His family, his friends, and most things familiar remains in Malaysia.

The church in Malaysia provided a beautiful environment and fertile soil for Colin’s upbringing. His father is actually a pastor of a church and continues to minister today. When I was spending some time with Colin last week, I asked him if he had spoken to his father recently and inquired how he is doing. His answer, just like his story, piqued my interest. He told me that his father is doing well and enjoying the church where he serves, but he has a “real heart for the jungle.” As I dug deeper, I discovered that Colin’s father spends much of his time and energy on leading trips into remote areas of the country to spread the message of Jesus Christ and care for those living in the surrounding jungle.

So when was the last time you were in the jungle? What images does your mind conjure up when you think about the jungle? Giant green vegetation and machetes? Dark-skinned native in loin cloths? A big blue sloth bear named Baloo teaching his new friend Mowgli the rules?

If these images are closer to the jungle (except for Mowgli) where Colin’s father travels to reach people, what are the jungles of our culture into which we could travel for the same purpose? What are the seemingly dangerous, unknown, and difficult places we could enter to reach a people who live without the purpose and peace of being in relationship with their Creator?

Of course the easiest action to take is no action at all. Honestly, it can be very easy and comfortable to be in ministry in our culture. I can speak about reaching new people, but then spend most of my time in very comfortable settings–like the church. But we have to stop and ask ourselves, “What behavioral patterns am I living into for reaching people who are hurting and in need?”

Having a worship leader on the team will be a great opportunity to proclaim the message within. Unfortunately, if we do not spend our time, energy, and prayers going into less than comfortable places or conversations, then we might find ourselves proclaiming the message to only ourselves.

As a pastor, I can only hope that my sons one day respond to someone asking about me with, “He likes being a minister, but he really has a heart for the people of the jungle.”

Manifest The Concept

Up until this past weekend, a worship experience (called 801South) in a new modern venue on the campus of Matthews United Methodist Church was nothing more than an abstract thought in the minds of a few individuals. Today, however, the concept that began as a vision on paper is now a tangible experience.

So how does one move from an ethereal idea to something people can touch, taste, and feel?

One word: movement.

Just keep moving. When a challenge, issue, or problem is presented, remind yourself why the original idea first came to your mind, then take a step. Each step might not be perfectly in line with the path you had hoped, but I promise you’ll still be closer to where you want to be than if you had stood still. Unforeseen bumps in the road will knock you off course. There is always time and opportunity to correct along the way. Don’t stop.

The answer is not superior intelligence, luck, money, or knowing the right people–although all of these factors play a role. The answer, however, is movement. Some days, when starting something new, you simply adopt the well known tagline made famous by Nike: “Just Do It.”

The whole journey over the past 10 months has been a blast and I can’t wait to see where God leads us as we continue to put one foot in front of the other. I am so humbled and honored to be working with incredibly passionate leaders who desire to serve Jesus through serving people. I have already seen evidence of life change and transformation through this process; which will only grow more abundant through the 801South environments in the future.

Here are some pictures of what can happen when a group of generous people commit to a vision and “Just Do It”:





Tight Shot




Wide Room

Remember, this is just the beginning. We are incredibly excited to share our story as it continues to unfold and resource others to “Just Do It” as well.

Would you like to come alongside for the journey?

Seeing Life Thematically

My buddy, Brian Zehr, talks about seeing life thematically. Sometimes it’s the songs that come on the radio, the books we read, or the shows we watch on television. We have seasons in life during which the world around us is centered around a particular theme.

I feel this way right now. Whether it’s a book someone recommends or even the new album from my favorite singer/songwriter, there seems to be a theme. The current theme I’m experiencing in life is simple: don’t give up. Very interesting that I’m in the middle of launching a new ministry and the theme I feel is not giving up.

The truth is that if doing what we are trying to do through 801South was easy, then lots and lots of people would do it regularly. But it’s not easy. In fact, the other day Ken Lyon (senior pastor at Matthews UMC) and I had the chance to share with a group of pastors about our experience in starting a new ministry. We were asked the question, “What have been some of the challenges you’ve experienced so far?” My answer is everything. The whole endeavor is one big challenge. And I think it’s fun to meet the challenge. Most days I’m having a blast figuring this out, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, and watching other leaders thrive as we move toward launch.

But there are some days that I might not describe as “fun.” These are the rare days that I have to overcome listening to the voices in my mind telling me that failure is imminent. These are the days that require the most courage. So, again, it’s interesting that what I’m reading and hearing these days has to do with overcoming voices and being courageous.

Here are a couple examples:

John Mark McMillan, whose music speaks to my soul more so than that of anyone else, writes in his new song about not being able to do life alone when times get hard. He sings,

“Where the bombs break/
Right outside my door/
And I can’t shake the onset of my wars/
When the stakes are raised/
We hold the hand we’ve drawn/
You’re what I’m counting on”

I have stated from the beginning that if left up to our own intelligence, skills, and intellect, then 801South has no chance of being the movement we all hope to see. We have to be continually open to God’s direction and guidance as we allow Him to lead us through this vision.

In his latest book, David and Goliath, Malcom Gladwell writes, “Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.” Gladwell affirms that courage is something earned from putting one foot in front of the other and knowing that the end result is not going to be as bad as the voices tell you. We are definitely earning our courage these days.

These are just some of the ways the world seems to be speaking to me today. How about you? Do you ever see life thematically? Do all the incoming messages seem to share a particular message as you journey through life? If you’ve never stopped to consider listening for a theme, you might just find it helpful.

What Are You Trying To Prove?

Several weeks ago I was asked a great question from a very smart guy. “One year from now, what are your goals?” he said. Then the followup question: “What would you like to see in the lives of the people you are shepherding?”

See, I told you he is smart. What a great way to think about what we’re doing, because what we hope to see in a year should determine the decisions we make now.

I could simply copy and paste the table of metrics we have developed and used when applying for grants, which would show you our goals for the number of people in worship, small groups, and in service to the community. But I chose to take his questions a little differently and perhaps a little deeper. I interpreted this guy’s questions as, “What are you trying to prove?”

What are we trying to prove through this whole 801South initiative? There are several different ways to approach this question and a lot of the answer can be summed up by our five key values. But rather than pointing people to a spreadsheet with numbers or going through the story of how we arrived at our key values, I decided to give this question more thought.

What am I personally trying to prove? Am I trying to prove that I am cool and capable as a leader? I hope not. I’ve never been particularly cool in the past so I’m not going to try now. As far as being a capable leader, the only thing I try to do is surround myself with the smartest and most passionate people I can find. And then I give them permission to dream. So far this strategy is working well. If it comes across as capable leadership, that’s another win.

So I’m not really trying to prove that I can be cool or a capable leader. Instead, I think about the people whose lives will be transformed through the environments of 801South. I suppose I’m trying to prove two things. First of all, I want to be a part of an environment that is created around (unapologetically) introducing people to a life in Jesus Christ. The settings for worship and small groups are designed around easily inviting people to enter into this relationship, which provides more peace and purpose than any other relationship in life.

Secondly, I would love to see people who have already chosen to follow Jesus to also reflect their created-ness in being more intentional and thoughtful about their rhythms.
I continue to see people in our society today, myself included, who can too easily float, exist, and even thrive according to the world’s standards without making much space for thoughtfulness. Too much is left to the notion of fate or chance. I would love to see families make decisions based on what is best for them and their relationships, rather than just filling schedules with all that is available and affordable. What if families said “no” to more of the stuff in this world—even the really good stuff—so that they can say “yes” to one another. This has a lot to do with the simplicity of 801South: worship, small group, and service. That’s it.

Is it all a utopia? Maybe. But it’s what continues to fuel our vision and ultimately it is what I’m trying to prove.