Making Babies Breeds Change

Merry Christmas, everyone! As you celebrate this holiday with people you love, take a minute to consider this question: Do my traditions look the same every year?

Do I always go to the same relative’s home? Is there a routine that we follow year in and year out?

As I sit in expectation of the Holy Spirit’s work at tonight’s Christmas Eve worship experiences, I also think about how different my holiday season is today than when I was younger. For almost 25 years, my Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years celebrations were basically identical. And I loved it.

So why is it different now than for so many years in the past? Every year, I waited in great anticipation of the familiar routines that my stable family afforded us as children. Our plans allowed space to spend time with essentially every relative every year. It was awesome. But then something happened:

Babies started having babies.

My cousins and I reproduced—literally. We started convincing unsuspecting victims to spend the rest of their lives hitched to our clan and then we mated with them. Naturally, things got complicated. Grandmothers and grandfathers became great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers. Mothers and fathers became grandmothers and grandfathers. Sons and daughters became fathers and mothers. Brothers and sisters became uncles and aunts. With all of these people moving into new roles, the previous schedules and travel plans no longer met the needs of everyone involved. So we changed them to accommodate the new family.

Reproduction is a major value and driver in 801South. Some think we should change the term to “multiplication,” because people will think we value making actual babies. Personally, I think baby making is a lot of fun (fun also happens to be one of the key values). But we really want to make spiritual babies. Our apprenticeship model in every aspect of the ministry is an intentional pattern to provide a deep one-on-one discipling relationship through which people will learn to follow Jesus in new ways. They will also be developed as leaders.

When these new spiritual babies grows up, they will then be a part of leading the spiritual baby making process. With all of these spiritual children running around and people moving into new roles, our systems will be in constant flux, because we will always be reproducing. The result will be a culture of change. Hopefully the words, “we’ve always done it like that” will never have the chance to be uttered.

So if you want routines and patterns to stay exactly the same forever, then never reproduce. However, if you would prefer to operate within a culture of change, then never stop reproducing. When we reproduce, change is required. We outgrow the previous systems, procedures, and structures. It might be easier to always keep things the same. But baby making is way more fun.


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?

The Three I’s Of Launching

The launch team of 801South experienced a great event this week as we gathered to eat, pray, talk, and laugh (a lot!). The food was awesome and the energy was high. Special thanks to Beth Marshall and the Williamson family for their hard work to make the night such a big success!

We played games and focused on the importance of hospitality and evangelical urgency through role playing a few potential “critical moments” that may occur in the ministry of 801South. Members of the launch team gave their best effort at winning the coveted Turkey (rather than Oscar) from the named Academy (made up of other launch team members who judged each role play for the most impressive actor or actress). We laughed hard and everyone gave a great effort to convey the importance of understanding the vision for 801South.

Brian Zehr, my personal coach and consultant to Matthews United Methodist Church, was in town and able to attend the launch team party. He shared the importance of the three I’s on which every launch team member must focus in order to see 801South be at its best: Invitational, Inclusive, and Intense.

Every person on the launch team must be intentionally Invitational. We all know people who are disconnected from God and from church. We work, we live, and we even participate in recreational activities with these people who are not at peace. Those of us who make up the launch team must model what it looks like to extend the invitation to these neighbors, coworkers, and other acquaintances. We have to make a shift in the way we think from floating through life to always having the question, “Who can I invite?” in the front of our minds. It is a transition from an internal focus to external focus.

We are Inclusive with exactly those people with whom we want to be inclusive. The shift we must make is to be inclusive with those who are not already a part of our clique. Ridiculous hospitality is one of the most important aspects to creating the culture of inclusion necessary to reach those who are currently disconnected.

Finally, the notion of Intensity centers around our ability to focus. As Brian said, we can only focus on a limited number of aspirations at one time. We can intensely focus on even fewer. The launch of 801South will require intense focus, therefore, how can we shift our limited focus onto this new initiative? Perhaps we will have to make some changes to our current commitments, schedule, and priorities.

In my opinion, the coolest concept that Brian shared with us is the idea that we will never grow more spiritually than in this season when we focus entirely on the growth of others. How counterintuitive is that?? We would assume that to grow, we have to focus on our own growth. But the truth is that when we focus on meeting the spiritual needs of others, serving people who are disconnected, and leading ministry in new ways, we actually grow exponentially more so than if we were focused on ourselves.

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.

801South Values: Fun


I explained a primary value of reproduction through relational apprenticing in my message this past Sunday. I look forward to sharing more values this coming Sunday as we talk about the need to offer fresh expressions of the Gospel.

Shannon Cotton, the Communications Director at Matthews UMC, says that I need to add pictures to my blog and she’s the expert so you can thank her for the photograph. The smiling preschooler is my oldest son, Stephen “Caleb;” who is laughing after running through a suburban geyser at the local splash pad. The joy he was experiencing in that moment warmed the hearts of his parents and his 16-month-old brother was very intrigued so he quickly joined in the fun as well. Fun is contagious.

Fun is almost always a driving value for children. I’m not sure at what point in our lives we allow play to move down the list of priorities, nor am I sure of all the factors influencing us to stop pursuing fun. I remember watching Kevin Carroll address this issue at a leadership conference several years ago. He explained that at some point we no longer incorporate play into our everyday lives; which becomes very detrimental to us as adults. This lack of play can be fatal to the soul. So I refuse NOT to have fun. There are those intense moments that demand a more serious posture, such as a tough diagnosis or a loss of life, but for the other 99% of our time here, fun should be a big pursuit. As is the case with maintaining simplicity and external focus, however, the natural drift is toward strictly business; which is no fun.

There are times when I look at people who are miserable and not having fun at all, especially in their jobs, and I want to tell them to quit and do something fun. The typical response is that we all have to eat so we need a job-even if that employment is killing us. (I think play and fun–or lack thereof–are more telling of ones personality than external influence, such as a boring job.) I would rather starve while having a blast, than experience a halfhearted existence on a full stomach.

Fun as a value for 801South will unfold as lots of laughter and play. We will create environments in which people actually enjoy being around each other as we work together on the same mission and crave that relational space when away. After all, aren’t we working to make known the One who came to provide abundant life? I hope that when I get bogged down in the day-to-day drudgery someone will hold me accountable to the value of fun, at which point we will stop, go out for cupcakes, and return for a game of Pictionary.

801South Values: Exiles

A couple years back, I had the opportunity to attend David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me Live event at National Community Church in Washington DC. Everyone who attended the event received a free copy of Kinnaman’s latest work You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith. As I quickly read through the book following the event, I discovered the perfect language to describe my feelings toward the established church. The key metaphor Kinnaman uses is the Babylonian exile of which we read in Scripture. The fourth chapter of the book is titled Exiles. I was so excited about coming across this metaphor that I photocopied the entire chapter and emailed it to the leadership of our denomination. I was essentially saying, “This! This explains my predicament (and others like me) perfectly!”

I don’t want to leave the established church, but there is a strong temptation and the establishment is making it more and more difficult to stay. Therefore, I am torn between two worlds. I am part of a disconnected world who clings tightly to methods and nonessential convictions that are driving it further away from those on the outside. At the same time, I see God moving outside of this disconnected world and I am drawn to be a part of his movement. Rather than leave, I want to be a part of bridging this gap.

Kinnaman defines an Exile as “those who grew up in the church and are now physically or emotionally disconnected in some way, but who also remain energized to pursue God-honoring lives.” Later in the chapter, he writes that Exiles are, “trying on new ways of Christ-following that make sense to their communities and careers.” These ways of Christ-following, however, may not make sense to the established mainline church. Kinnaman also shares that Exiles are, “caught between the church as it is and what they believe it is called to be.”

Part of my dream that has led me to develop a ministry like 801South is providing a safe space into which Exiles can bring people about whom they care. The established church needs entry points that allow for a friendly reception–not simply superficial smiles and coffee, but also for ideas that are very different from (and even counter to) what has been accepted as “normal” in our current context. My hope is that all three focuses of 801South–worship, discipleship, and service–will provide that safe space so people who yearn to live a life of Christ-following are not apprehensive in including people from their own spheres of influence.

801South Values: Simplicity

Simplicity is one of the greatest values driving decision making for 801South. We live in a very complicated culture here in suburban America. I see a hunger for a simpler way to do life, but there are few organizations who focus on providing the necessary steps.

The reason for striving for simplicity is the need to be reproducible. The more complicated an organization, the more of its own resources are required to feed the machine, rather than reproduce itself. As a local church reaches people, sees lives changed, and, consequently, receives more financial support, is it best to use that financial support to continue reaching people or to build more space for the people who have been reached? The people who were reached were done so despite the lack of space, but there is a natural drift toward being inwardly focused. Being inwardly focused naturally leads to complication.

One aspect of simplicity is the worship + 2 concept in that a modern disciple of Jesus makes attending worship a priority, participates faithfully in small group discipleship, and serves in one opportunity to display the love of Christ to those in need. That’s it. Simple, huh? As complicated as our lives have become, the local church should be asking how to simplify life, not add to the complexity.

Simplicity allows an organization to reproduce and multiply much more easily as it pursues its mission. Every aspect of the organization–facilities, leadership structure, programming, etc.–must strive to maintain its simplicity. The question, “How is this simple?” must be asked over and over and over to combat the tendency of growing complicated.

801South Values: Relationships Drive

As I continue to try and help people understand some of the values that 801South will hope to exhibit, the value which may be of most importance is that of relationships driving the ministry. You have heard me say (many times) that life is about people and people are about relationships.

One of the most brilliant concepts I have learned from Brian Zehr goes like this:

Relationships Drive.

Structure Supports.

Programs are Tools.

These three simple statements are very helpful in developing a model for ministry, especially one in which you hope to reach young adults between the ages of 16 and 40. I am fully convinced that those labeled as Millennials–or Mosaics–(who, by the way, hate to be labeled) are desperate for deep, meaningful relationship. There may be several reasons for this hunger. Perhaps they have seen relationships around them crumble throughout their lives.

I know that young people love to be entertained, but we are not fooled by Hollywood. We understand entertainment as the glossy fantasy that it is and when we turn to the real world, we hope to witness and experience deep relationships, unlike those on the big screen. Unfortunately, for many in this generational category, many of us have failed to find these relationships around us. Parents are divorced, friends are self-indulgent and too busy, family is squabbling and disconnected.

So where do we turn? Those forums that offer the most genuine and deepest opportunity to be in relationship will win. There are, however, some things that we must sacrifice for the sake of relationship. The first thing that we must push past is our desire to be right. If our goal is to be right, then we will have that opportunity and, at the end of the day, we will be right AND alone. Sometimes we have to sacrifice being right for the sake of relationship.

Not making sure that we are right is a tough pill for the church to swallow, because we often see ourselves as the keeper of right. We must learn to let go of this self-appointment. We do not own truth. We may know truth, but we do not own it. Truth is truth. For example, what if a person comes into our midst and claims, “God does not exist.” Does one stating this claim make it so? Of course not. God is God no matter what you or I say. So we have to learn how to not be offended at worst, uncomfortable as best, when young people’s views differ from the norm with which we have become comfortable. There will be time to focus on truth, but we have to start with relationship; which then provides the fertile soil for truth to be planted.

Another key sacrifice to be made so that relationships drive is the “if we build it, they will come” mentality. There is no place for field of dreams in today’s culture. Someone has already built it better, cooler, faster, louder, and brighter, and everyone has access to it in their front pocket. Whatever you offer is automatically compared to the best in the world, rather than what is down the street, thanks to the internet. Rather than focusing on brick and mortar (which is important and should be done with well informed inspiration) or new programs/ events (which are important and should be done with well informed inspiration) the focus should be on opportunities for relationships to be initiated, developed, cultivated, and matured.

801South will focus on relationship–vertical and horizontal–to drive the ministries. The best model for relationship is that of small groups, but the key is to create systems that allow small groups to multiply AND remain small. This will be an exciting opportunity within 801South: for us to develop new modes of building relationships and then tweaking these modes as we move forward.

I am so excited to see how relationships continue to form–both vertical when people become (re)connected with their Creator and horizontal as we are intentional about people connecting with each other.

I am also excited about hearing how you hope 801South will allow relationships to drive. What are your ideas for how we can best develop new relationships and be intentional to experience a maturation of relationships? If you have thoughts, especially as a young person, please leave a comment/reply under this post or find another way to get it touch with me. I will be happy to buy you lunch or a cup of coffee so I can hear your ideas.

801South Values: Culture of Intentional Investment

Over the next couple weeks, I will be writing a series of articles detailing some of the key values that will be drivers of the 801South movement. If you are a reader who sees yourself as potentially playing a role in 801South, hopefully these posts will help you to further discern that potential. If you are just a casual reader, I hope these values will help you to understand the future of the established institutional church.

Today’s topic is intentional investment.

What does it mean to invest in someone? Investment is all about utilizing current resources for the sake of receiving a future profit through appreciating the value of those current resources. When I deduct 20% of my gross salary each pay period and invest it in my retirement fund, I am utilizing my current assets to levy an interest so that it will be of higher value at some point in the future.

Keeping one eye on the present and one eye on the future is vital to successful investment. One must understand the value of her current resources as well as how to best raise the value of those resources for the future. When I put both eyes (all of my attention, focus) on the current resources alone, I miss the opportunity for growth in the future. In the established church, this is often the case, because although every local church is technically built for those outside of the building, our human nature influences us to make decisions with an inward focus. On the other hand, when we focus only on those who are outside (and potential future opportunity), we neglect the value of our current resources. Therefore, rather than appreciating (growing in value), people in whom no one is investing depreciate. The current resource is eventually depleted. Maintaining this balance is very important.

So what does it mean to invest in someone? Take a look at the work of Jesus the man. Jesus taught large groups, Jesus healed individuals, Jesus walked (What’s up, Kanye?). Jesus used these tools (teaching, healing, travel) to attribute value to his current resources as he revealed God and God’s plan. His closest relationships, however, were relationships of investment. He spent most of his time investing in a select group of individuals.

In the church, we use a big word to describe all forms of teaching; discipleship. When we use the word discipleship in 801South, it refers to a forum and detailed process of mentoring/apprenticing for the sake of appreciating the value of our greatest resource: people. We want people to be better people. If your father did not intentionally mentor you on how to be a faithful husband or father, I want someone who has been mentored in that role, to fill that void in your life so that your relationships can be as healthy as possible. Your wife, your children, and others will appreciate the effort. You will be of a higher value to them. And if I personally get that opportunity, it might take the form of teaching you how to lead a small group Bible study, but through that process, I will make myself vulnerable in allowing you to see my struggles and relational blemishes so that ultimately you can learn what it looks like to desire to follow Jesus with everything God has given you. Other 801South leaders will do the same.

Growing people through maintaining a culture of intentional investment is a driving value for 801South. The process has yet to be solidified and it will be tweaked as we move forward with this movement. We will, however, make it simple for people to invest in people, because, quite simply, life is about people and people are about relationships. There will be comfort for those entering this movement in that they will be named as one in whom a leader is investing from the very beginning. The current resource will know their value through providing guidance to those who will one day take their place. The process will, therefore, value the current and increase the value of the future.

The return on our investments will be changed lives, more meaningful relationships, and greater focus on making decisions for the sake of the eternal. Just like my retirement fund will not return a profit accidentally, the relational investment of people into people through 801South will require continual intentionality.