What do you use to filter your decisions? How do you determine the “right” (or at least the best) idea from an abundance of really good ideas? The answer is values. Whether we acknowledge this phenomenon or not, we use our values to filter our ideas and determine what motivates action in all areas of life. As far as the local church goes, we tend to talk about vision, mission, and beliefs. Although all of these are beneficial and should be stated, none of them are as helpful as values when filtering ideas. Sometimes these values are stated and there is a formal process through which ideas are filtered. Many times, there are “ghost values;” which go undocumented and unspoken, but are fully understood by those who make decisions. For example, an organization can have a stated mission and vision, but everyone understands that “keeping the right people happy” is the ghost vision driving the way decisions are made.

We made sure to repeat our five key values this past Sunday at our second 801South Launch Team Party:


As we make decisions, we ask ourselves questions, such as, “How does this connect people in relationships?” Or we might ask, “Is this too complicated? Is there a way we can make this simpler?” One of the more difficult questions we will ask is, “Does this program or event really just provide something to do for people who are already connected in church?” We will make some decisions that might cause tension within churched people, because we value reaching those who are currently disconnected above providing for those who are already connected. For example, we might sponsor an event at a local bar, rather than hosting it at a church. Will church people have an issue with this? Yes. Do I as a pastor struggle with the fact that it might look like we are promoting the use of alcohol? Yes. But we value being in an environment with those who are more likely to be disconnected more than we value the pastor being comfortable with every decision made. It’s a little dangerous and definitely messy.

We also shared the initial 801South leadership structure:


We believe this structure will give us the greatest opportunity to create a culture that continually reproduces leaders from the beginning. As we evaluate according to effectiveness moving forward, we will tweak the structure as needed. Notice that this is mostly a servant-led structure. There is very little room for paid staff in this initial model. The plan is for future staff to move up the structure organically-from servant to apprentice to leader to coach to staff.

Lastly, we shared what’s next as we near the public worship experience launch in April of 2014:


Those who have been trained and equipped as small group leaders will be launching new small groups in January. Also, I am asking for a nine month commitment from the launch team. This allows for people who jump on board and focus intensely on getting 801South off the ground, but then desire to drift back toward their current environments and commitments to do so after nine months without any hard feelings.

So what questions do you have?

What are the stated and the “ghost” values that drive decision making within your organization?

Do you see yourself being led into the movement and structure of 801South?

Two Continuing Trends

Do you spend time wondering if you are on track with all your efforts in life? Are you moving forward and making a difference or just chugging along doing the same ol’ thing? Is it time for a course correction?

If you’re like me, then you spend lots of time on this train of thought. (That’s two train metaphors already; which is what happens when you’re the father of two young boys.) One way that I check my current thoughts and actions is to keep an eye on what others are doing–not everyone–but a chosen group of people who appear to be thriving.

As to my role as a leader in the local church, I follow a few organizations to see if there are any particular trends that might demonstrate how God is at work in our world today. Recently, I took advantage of the opportunity to quickly survey almost 100 churches and faith-based organizations through an event called The Nines. While listening to how these other leaders are working to advance the mission of the church, I was able to discern two continuing trends that have been around for awhile. (I suppose they’ve actually been around forever in one form or another.) These two continuing trends are “leadership development” and “missional living.”

The local mainline church in America has fallen into a routine of training (or begging) people to fill volunteer slots according to pre-determined programs. There is a recent course correction toward developing the individual person for a leadership role according to his or her own particular skill set and passions. This is really just an intentional form of small group, or even one-on-one, discipleship. Mike Breen of 3DM Ministries uses Jesus’ own words to remind us that we are commanded to grow people and then let him grow the church, rather than simply trying to grow the church. “If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you build the church, you will rarely get disciples,” he often says. “Leadership development” is the current buzzword language for more intentional, focused, and personal discipleship. Build the person as a follower of Jesus. Don’t build the organized institution.

The concept of “missional living” breaks down the classic model of mission as a program. Instead, every follower of Jesus is continually in mission within her or his own context. I am in mission in my own household. I am in mission in my own neighborhood. I am in mission in my own workplace. Always. What does that mean for how I speak and what actions I take toward others in those spheres of my influence? A missional disciple is always looking for opportunity to serve others and share his or her story. He or she is always inviting used-to-be-strangers into his or her life, house, etc. At the same time, we do not dismiss the more typical modes of mission; such as short term mission trips and community partnerships. This is very much a both/and scenario.

I am encouraged to see that these trends are continuing as an illustration of how God is at work in the world. I think we are on track with both of these trends. Actually, we will soon have the reverse problem than that of most ministries. Rather than a surplus of volunteer positions and a deficit of people to fill those roles, 801South will feature more trained and discipled leaders than there are opportunities for them to actually lead. What an awesome problem to have! As we continue to push the reproducing culture through apprenticing, this will be a longstanding problem for the ministry.

So how do you try to spot current trends in the world?

Do you agree that these are two current trends within the innovative local church today?

Who Cares?

First of all, Happy Halloween to all my ghost and goblin loving peeps! I have been so impressed (and also rather disturbed) by my neighbors’ love of halloween being displayed through their “decorations.” It has provided for some very interesting questions and conversations with every trip in and out of the neighborhood, especially as we pass the yard fully transformed into a graveyard complete with an impaled baby doll.

On to the point of this post:

One misconception that many of us hold while of serving on a large church staff is the assumption that people care. I came to the realization several years ago that no one outside of the room will care nearly as much as those around the table. So we sometimes get our feelings hurt, because we have poured so much of ourselves into planning only to have people we love reject the best laid plan (in our minds anyway).

Here’s the reason why sometimes people seem not to care: people actually have real lives. You know, as in spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, children, jobs, sports, hobbies, deadlines, etc.; all of which take precedence over my “great idea” for ministry. My biggest fear is that we will spend a disproportionate amount of our time and energy discussing the details of a service, program, or event about which no one else really cares.

So how do we plan as the local church in a way that does not compete with the real lives of those who we serve. Here are a few questions to consider:

Who else can be around the table? Those of us in “professional ministry” need to have as many people with real lives and real jobs around the table to make sure that what we are planning is helpful. We are not in ministry TO the rest of the church. We are in ministry WITH the rest of the church TO the world. When the only minds around the table are church staff, we can come up with some really wack ideas. (Of course we also develop some of the most beautiful ideas at the same time.)

Is what we are planning actually being helpful to everyone or causing more stress for the sake of just doing something? Many of the things we plan compete with the regular rhythms of life in our particular context and culture. (Sometimes they even compete with other ministries within the same church that target the same group of people!) This just adds unnecessary burden and stress on people who may feel guilty about not being able to participate.

Are we being cute, rather than competent? Our ideas are our babies and, although everybody thinks their baby is the cutest, not all babies are so adorable. Too often, we feel the need to come up with clever names and acronyms, but we end up just being confusing and adding a space that outsiders must traverse just to be involved.

As we continue to develop 801South (this post was meant to be an update on everything we have going on within the new ministry, but has devolved into a rant—a hopefully helpful rant) these are questions that we need to consider for the sake of simplicity and providing the most helpful use of time for everyone involved—those on the inside and on the outside.

In what ways do you sometimes see the church being more cute than competent and how can we work to plan ministry that is helpful to those outside of the room?

801South Values: Unchurched

Established churches are great at saying that we want to reach unchurched people and then doing absolutely nothing toward that goal. Honestly I don’t think churches know what we are saying when we state we want to reach unchurched people. We are obviously well trained to satisfy church people. This is our sweet spot. This is in our wheel house. What does it even look like to create a church that is entirely for people who are not even there? First of all, the people that are there probably won’t like it.

I am currently reading an incredible book by Andy Stanley, titled Deep and Wide. The subtitle for the book is Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. I have read several of Andy’s books and they have all had an impact on my faith and my approach to ministry. This book, however, is my favorite. This may sound arrogant, but Andy puts pen to paper for many of the thoughts that have swimming around in my head for the past several years. Here are just a couple:

“The moment a church, or even a group of leaders within a church, catches a vision for capturing the hearts and imaginations of those who consider themselves unchurched or dechurched, environments take on new significance.” If you were to ask leaders in my previous appointments, they will tell you that I have preached over and over about the need to create environments into which people actually want to enter as they walk into our churches. Not programs, not spaces, not events, not services, but environments. In fact, just this past Sunday, prior to reading Deep and Wide, I spoke to the congregation here at Matthews UMC about the church providing Experiences through Environments that Encourage relationships. Through 801South, rather than begging people to come be a part of what we are doing for ourselves, we hope to create environments into which unchurched people will actually want to enter.

In explaining providential relationships as one of the five key faith catalysts; which North Point Community Church has always used to develop their ministries, Andy writes, “While it’s beyond our ability to manufacture any type of relationship, much less one characterized as providential, what we can do is create environments that are conducive to the development of these types of relationships.” (I promise that I did not read this statement before delivering the message this past weekend.) The problem with creating environments in which unchurched people would want to participate is that you have to think like someone who is unchurched. Apparently, when the Holy Spirit takes residence withus us, his (or her or whatever) first action is to disconnect the unchurched brain through which we previously interpreted the world. This hurts us as we try to reach those whom at one time we were just like.

It will be important for those who sign on to be a part of the launch team for 801South to understand that many of the decisions we make will not make sense to church people. In fact, many of the ways we try to reach, teach, praise, and serve could potentially be interpreted as offensive to good church people. But 801South is not for churched people.

Andy Stanley, through the written word, is inspiring and solidifying my vision for the rare opportunity we have through 801South. Despite the constant tension and natural drift to become an institution for those already in the church, my hope is to provide more than lip-service toward the mission.

Your Authenticity Relies On Your Community

Your community matters. Those with whom you socialize, work, live, and play are key to your decisions. They are, however, even more important to your follow through on those decisions. In the typical day-to-day of life, we do not even realize the role our people huddles play in the accountability of our decisions (especially the decisions we communicate to them).

In 1964, over 1,000 college students from northern universities applied to be a part of a program named Freedom Summer. These students would spend their summer registering black voters in southern states, such as Mississippi. Of the many students who were accepted and invited to participate in Freedom Summer, several hundred decided to back out of the program. Two decades later, a sociologist at the University of Arizona, Doug McAdam, wanted to know why. Why did these students decide to not get on the bus when it was time to head south?

McAdam had several hypotheses on why students would opt out of their commitment, especially considering the political climate of the country in the mid 1960’s. He supposed that there was a correlation between students declining the invitation (despite the lengthy application process) and family obligations or perhaps religious convictions. However, in his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that, “when McAdam looked at applicants with religious orientations–students who cited a ‘Christian duty to help those in need’ as their motivation for applying, for instance, he found mixed levels of participation.” This finding is particularly discouraging for someone like me who spends a good deal of time encouraging people to act out of their “religious convictions.” I would hope that those who claim a motivation of faith would be the very ones who follow through to action, but McAdam found that it is not the belief itself that truly motivates people to hold to their conviction. Duhigg continues, “However, among those applicants who mentioned a religious orientation and belonged to a religious organization, McAdam found that every single one made the trip to Mississippi. Once their communities knew they had been accepted into Freedom Summer, it was impossible for them to withdraw.”

Not only is the company with which you surround yourself important, but even more vital are the expectations of that company. Do they expect you to keep your word? Do they expect you to exhibit a bias for action when you are describing your passions? Does your company already have in place certain behavioral patterns in which you currently participate to demonstrate your stated values?

Or does your community know that you simply share your perspective on what is wrong with the world today about which you have no real intention of actually pursuing a behavior to address the problem?

There are lots of groups with whom we associate throughout our lives who sit around and talk about what should be done. My desire, however, is to be a part of leading people who expect you to follow through. When the local church is a place of high expectations and strong accountability, we begin to see the world around us change, because action (not word) is the only indication of true conviction.

Follow The Trickle

In leadership, when we begin to investigate the cause of a problem, many times we fail to dig deep enough. We tend to point at a cause that is only one layer, perhaps two, beneath the surface. But sometimes the well of causation is much deeper. We are busy and we know people are expecting a fix; which is part of our job. As leaders, we are fixers. So we often recommend a solution that seems obvious to most onlookers when it is offered.

But we should resist.

In his book, The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg describes the career of Paul O’Neill. Prior to being hired as the CEO of Alcoa (where he catalyzed in increase in company revenue from $1.5 billion to $23 billion by simply focusing on the keystone habit of making Aluminum smelting plants safer) O’Neill served as the deputy director of the United States Office of Management and Budget. One job with which he was tasked in this role was analyzing federal spending on health care so America’s high infant mortality rate at that time was of particular interest to him. When one would suggest an answer to this problem, however, O’Neill was not satisfied with the solution. Duhigg writes, “Whenever someone came into O’Neill’s office with some discovery, O’Neill would start interrogating them with new inquiries. He drove people crazy with his never-ending push to learn more, to understand what was really going on.”

In terms of high infant mortality rates, one would think that medical facilities or personnel would be to blame and, therefore, the solution would arise from that same arena. Simply upgrade the facilities or improve the education of medical personnel and there you have it. Problem solved. Not so fast though for Paul O’Neill.

Premature births was one of the biggest causes behind infant mortality. The premature births were caused by malnourishment of mothers prior to pregnancy. Malnourishment of mothers prior to pregnancy was caused by a lack of knowledge when it came to nutrition. As you can see, the government discovered a need for women to be educated about proper nutrition prior to becoming sexually active. However, O’Neill also discovered that high school faculty were not educated well enough on basic biology to be able to teach proper nutrition. Duhigg explains, “In the case of premature deaths, changing collegiate curriculums for teachers started a chain reaction that eventually trickled down to how girls were educated in rural areas, and whether they were sufficiently nourished when they became pregnant.” And voila, better education of future high school biology teachers is the solution to the high infant mortality rate. Who would have put those two together at the begging of the probe into America’s high infant mortality rate?

However, in the institutional church, we quite often jump to solutions without adequately exploring the trail of causation. For example, we assume that people in leadership simply need more education. Rather than digging deep to understand the root cause of the issue at hand (whatever it may be), we assume that if the leadership were better educated, then these types of problems could be avoided. So we have a lot of PhD’s (please note that I believe quality education is vital and it should always remain a high priority for all people) but yet the mainline church continues to lose traction.

This notion also plays out through other “easy” solutions such as updated technology (again, a good and useful tool), more contemporary music (also necessary in many contexts), a snazzier color of carpet, different flavors of ice cream, and so on. But perhaps, rather than simply piling on formal education, updating technology, or blindly jumping onboard with the current trends, the church would reap a greater benefit from more people who are willing to follow the trickle.

So did tweaking the collegiate curriculum work? Today the infant mortality rate in America is 68% lower than it was prior to O’Neill’s initiative.


How have you seen organizations choose the quick, or even presupposed, fix? What would it have looked like to, instead, “follow the trickle?”