Centered Set Values: A Better Way

Are you a leader? Rarely do leaders actually feel like leaders. People think of someone as a leader when he or she starts leading, despite how he or she feels about leadership ability. The truth is all of you are leaders… or at least have the opportunity and even responsibility to lead.

If you’re married, it’s your spouse. If you have children, they are who you should be leading. If you’re a student, there are classmates you can lead. If you’re employed, there are coworkers you have the opportunity to lead. Leadership is vital in every environment!

Therefore, a lot rides on how we choose to lead the people and the organizations in our circles of influence.

The way I lead is heavily informed and influenced by the way Jesus led. Something that has recently occurred to me about the teachings of Jesus and the way he led people is that Jesus only drew hard lines against those who drew hard lines. With the broken and hurting people he encountered, I see him extending a lot of invitation. However, with the religious leaders who were drawing hard lines for Jesus and others, I see Jesus drawing hard (if not, harsh) lines.

So what can we learn from this, especially if you are attempting to follow Jesus?

Well, there is a bit of digging we have to do, but after we uncover some concepts and language around them, I think we’ll all be on better footing to lead people than we were before.

Check this out:

Back in the 1970’s a cultural anthropologist named Paul Hiebert wrote a book in which he discussed the concept of “Bounded Set” vs. “Centered Set”. His theory is that people tend to organize, or group, in one of two ways.

7Centered Set (left side): A flag representing a set of values is figuratively staked in the center. People then self-select (through their behavior) their proximity to center. People act in ways that reflect the stated values and move closer to center or their decisions demonstrate movement away from center. The key indicators of an individual’s relation to an organization are both proximity and direction.

You have probably experienced this in your own family, for example. If a child is not exhibiting a stated value of the family, such as forgiving a sibling who has hurt him or her, that child is not told to pack her bags every time she chooses not to forgive (in a healthy family). Rather, she is coached/disciplined in a way that encourages her to exhibit forgiveness; which moves her closer to center.

The determining factor is behavior. When it comes to the stated values at the center, a person can ascend mentally and acknowledge vocally, but unless acting in accordance with the values, there is no movement.

Bounded Set (right side): A list of behavioral patterns or criteria is created and you must meet all criteria to be in. If not, you’re out. The bounded set is well-defined and simple to delineate. A potential example of this is the job description. Many descriptions have a list of tasks that need to be completed. If a person in the role accomplishes these tasks within the timeframe and manner instructed, then he keeps his job. If he doesn’t, he is fired.

Another way the bounded set is applied is through labels, such as membership. If an individual does what is required to earn membership within an organization, then she is in, and she enjoys all the privileges that accompany her membership.

What does this have to do with leadership??

The other pastor at Multiply Church (Pastor Casey) and I have chosen to approach our leadership within the community of Multiply Church through Centered Set values vs. a Bounded Set. We have a stated set of values and behavioral patterns that are Biblical and healthy. At the same time, we have no membership to speak of. Therefore, there is no official IN or OUT.

This is messy stuff, but we think it’s what Jesus modeled so bear with us!

The dangers of this approach are numerous. If someone believes himself to be close to center, but his behavior demonstrates otherwise, there is a risk of misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the community. Also, if someone is proving to be close to center, there is the danger that she might feel a sense of hierarchy or entitlement. And if center itself isn’t clearly understood, then NO ONE knows what’s going on or what’s expected!

You starting to pick up on the messiness?

Even with all the potential pitfalls, there are still some great and Godly things happening. First of all, entitlement has no place, because there is no “in or out”. Secondly, there is no opportunity for lack of ownership. If behavioral patterns alone indicate your proximity to center, then no one can rely on someone else’s behavior and claim it as their own. No longer can we say things like, “Our church does _____” or “I love how our church serves _____,” because if the individual is NOT doing it, it doesn’t really count for him or for her, does it?

How do the implications of this approach strike you? I hope you take the time to consider them as you lead in your…

  • local church
  • neighborhood
  • office
  • family
  • circle of friends

Do your behaviors and actions demonstrate close proximity to center? Are you moving closer or further away?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this leadership concept and if you would like to see more evidence for this being the method Jesus used, comment below!

Contending for Contentment

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At Multiply Church, we have been putting the forgotten discipline of fasting into practice as a community through a 40 day fast beginning on January 1st. At the beginning of this effort, we began sensing a call to contend. A leader from within our community felt further confirmation as the Lord led him to the book of Jude during his fast; which reads, “I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.”

So what does it mean to contend?

This is not a word we use in our everyday vocabulary. Actually it means to struggle in opposition. Fasting is the current tactic we as Multiply Church are using to contend—to struggle in opposition against anything that would to come against us living into the life God has set before us. We are denying ourselves to seek God and fight for more of His Kingdom here on earth.

As we talk about all this struggling and hungering and thirsting and increasing our desperation for God, a new tension presents itself:

How do we balance all this longing with being content?

Contentment is always a struggle for me. There are times when I’m riding around the city and, more importantly, looking around at what others have, only to think to myself, “What am I doing wrong?” Just look at all there is to acquire in this world and then, suddenly, what you have doesn’t feel like enough.

Do you struggle with contentment too, or is it just me? Do you ever wonder if your marriage, your spouse, your finances and material possessions, your fitness level, or your career path is enough? Have you ever had this thought: “I always thought I’d be further along than I am at this point in my life!”?

One of the greatest schemes of the enemy and one behavior that will surely keep us from ever being content is comparison. Never before has humanity had more opportunities to compare ourselves to others than we do now. Every advertisement, all 5,000 per day, is really just a comparison. Your life to the one being presented, or worse, sold. Of course social media is a huge opportunity for us to be discontent. We’re comparing everyone else’s highlights to our entire lives.

So what’s a brother to do??

Well, the apostle Paul has an idea and we find it in a passage that includes one of the most popular, and most taken out of context, Bible verses. Paul tells the believers in Philippi that he has learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

Then he says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Notice that it is all this and not all things.

He did it! He figured it out. Paul knows how to find contentment. But how??

I think his contentment is found in his contending. What did Paul spending his life doing? He spent his life contending for the Kingdom of God.

So here’s how it works: Contending for our kingdom leads to comparison. Contending for the Kingdom leads to contentment.

When we are contending for our kingdom—striving for more until we have enough—we tend to be driven by greed, we operate out of fear, and we maintain a mindset of scarcity.

On the other side of the cross, when we contend for the Kingdom, we are driven by generosity, we operate out of faith, and, best of all, we experience freedom from greed, fear, and scarcity!

Greed says, “I don’t have enough” and fear says, “I might need this one day.”

Generosity says, “This isn’t mine anyway…I have it to share with those in need” and faith says, “Here you go.”

Could this be the reward and the abundant life of which Jesus speaks? I think so. We find life when we experience freedom, joy, and purpose.

When we shift from contending for our kingdom to contending for the Kingdom, we come alive like never before. Suddenly our marriages, our finances, our careers, and every other aspect of our existence is no longer something to be compared, but instead an opportunity to participate in “on earth as it is in Heaven.”

What is one shift you can make in order to contend for the Kingdom and, as a reward, find contentment?

Living Life on Mission

Each week, Multiply Church posts a recap of the message from The Gathering on Sunday mornings; which is posted to the Multiply website. I had the opportunity to deliver the message this past week and am reposting the recap here.


Are you living your life on mission? What are the other options? To live your life off mission? Sure, there are those floating through without much thought as to purpose and intent. The majority, however, are probably living on one mission or another.

So what is yours?

At Multiply Church, one of our vision statements is equipping believers to live life on mission.

But what does that mean? No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative! JK!! We’re learning what it means as we take big steps of faith.

Also, at Multiply Church, we define a disciple of Jesus as anyone who receives Jesus as Savior, worships Jesus as King, and obeys Jesus as Lord. As the church in America, we do okay with receiving and worshipping. But we have a big problem with obedience.

A few weeks ago, Pastor Casey did a fantastic job of connecting a life on mission with a life of obedience. He continued to put handles on a large theological concept when we know, grow, and go!

The words of Jesus are really important. Afterall, we have to know the words of Jesus before we can grow and go in the ways of Jesus. Some words of Jesus that Matthew recorded gives me great pause as a follower of Jesus. In a teaching to his apostles and a larger crowd that had gathered, he asks, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but don’t do what I say?”

Ouch. Jesus…come on, bro! I thought we were boys!

But isn’t this what we do in the church all the time?? Attendance and participation in “church” certainly do not guarantee we are doing what Jesus told his followers (i.e. Christians) to do. Actually we as the church have created a framework and language we use to keep ourselves from doing what Jesus says.

Let me introduce you to three people:23Person 1 is all about “sharing his faith.” He uses the word “gospel” a lot. He also quotes Bible verses like “Jesus came to seek and save the lost” and “How will they know if we don’t tell them?” We have a big word that carries a lot of baggage to describe the efforts of Person 1: Evangelism. Person 1 thinks that evangelism should be priority #1 for the church!

Person 2 is all about “being the hands and feet of Christ.” She quotes Bible verses like “faith without works is dead.” The word we use to describe all the works of Person 2 is missions. She thinks that missions or outreach should be priority #1 for the church!

Finally, Person 3 is all about reading and studying the Bible. He goes around telling people how “God’s word is a lamp to your feet and a light to your path” and telling stories about how God met him through one particular Bible study this one time. What’s the word we use for the category in which Person 3 fits?? That’s right…discipleship! Therefore, he says Bible studies and small group curriculum should be priority #1 for the church, especially the prepackaged Bible study in which God met him!

So now we have three lanes into which people must choose to move. This model inevitably creates competition and confusion in the church. “Well, real Christians do ___________.” So which lane do we choose??

How about the one you’re called to?? And there’s the language to support the framework! Calling.

“I’m just not called to missions.”

“I’m just not called to share my faith.”

So instead, I stay in my lane to which I’ve conveniently been called.

Here’s the thing…you’re right! You are not called. You are commanded!

Yep, Jesus doesn’t call his followers to these individual baseline efforts. Instead, he commands us to do them. Sure, there are specific callings that must be discerned through means such as prayer, fasting, assessment, and community, but we need to look at what Jesus commands all those who take his name, make an adjective of it, and apply it to themselves.

We need to merge these lanes. We must marry these identities we’ve created in the local church. In fact, there is only one lane: discipleship. Discipleship is not a lane. It is the lane. As one believer pours the ways of Jesus into another, the output is a life on mission. There will be behavioral patterns that look like missions to some. There will be patterns that look like evangelism. There will be patterns that look like what the traditional local church model calls discipleship.26

As I consider how many days I have left on this earth, there are no guarantees, but I can look at the average age of a male in our society and get a general idea. Whatever that number ends up being – 1 or 14,965 – I want my days to be about encouraging people (and being encouraged by others) to do what Jesus says to do. In my experience, it is in obedience to Jesus’ commands where the greatest transformation occurs for the human heart. Lives are changed and people come to life as they know, grow, and go…not in one single lane, but in full obedience.

Who do you have in your life leading you to obey Jesus as Lord?

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

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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.