Invitation Beats Inspiration Every Time

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Think about the last time you tried something new. Maybe you tried a new hobby like rock climbing or cycling or scrapbooking (my personal favorite). Maybe you recently tried out a restaurant for the first time or got into a new show on Netflix.

Have you thought of your new thing?

Now that you have thought about something you tried for the first time recently, I want you to consider why you tried it. I would guess that you tried this new thing because someone you know either invited you to join them in the new thing or recommended it to you.

Was I right?

Chances are that whatever the thing is, you were not inspired to try it. Maybe you were inspired through a commercial to watch a new show one time or eat at a new restaurant, but these are more superficial or require no longterm commitment. The more a new thing requires, the less likely inspiration will motivate us to try it.

The issue becomes glaringly apparent when people are not necessarily looking for something new to do. Yes, on one level this is a matter of personality, but it holds true for seasons of life in general. If you consider young professionals, who may be new to a life of working full time and are most often in a new location, they are much more likely to set out looking for something new to fill the void that work does not. Therefore, they will want to try out the new hot spot in town or try out a church for the first time. They are more likely to go looking for a place to hang and make friends and build community. Man, those were the days!

But what about the rest of us?

I am in my mid-thirties, married, and have three children. I’m not out looking for the new hot spot, for a place to hang, nor to make new friends. Ain’t nobody got time fo dat! You need to bring the new thing to my attention and invite me into it.

What the heck does this have to do with church or leadership? 

Too often, leaders in the nonprofit world are waiting for others to be inspired to engage. The problem is that most people are waiting to be invited!

Rarely will people do something new because they are “supposed to” or “feel called to.” This is a very good thing. Even the hint of legalism will send the next generation running in the opposite direction. Many pastors may disagree, but I’m thrilled that people are no longer motived by guilt or projected obligation. Take this and combine it with how little people are willing to commit themselves to an institution, and “supposed to” is almost a thing of the past.

For these reasons and more, we must create a culture of invitation now more than ever. We cannot rely on people to be inspired to step into something new. Rarely are any of us inspiring enough to motivate another person to action. But we can all personally invite someone into a new opportunity to engage and to serve the shared mission.

Often times when we see an organization that is growing and thriving, we assume everyone who got onboard was inspired to do so. When you dig a little deeper, however, you discover the systems, the structures, and the processes that perpetuate a culture of invitation; which is what actually led to the growth in the first place.

Who can you invite to come alongside in serving a greater purpose and making a difference?

Move Toward The Mess

I hate mess.

My parents love to tell stories from my childhood of times when I would go to great lengths for the sake of avoiding a mess. I never ate sauce on my spaghetti noodles, because it was messy. I didn’t eat buffalo wings until I was in my 20’s, because you have to touch them with your fingers. A spot on a clean shirt will ruin my mood for the rest of the day. Even today, although I (carefully) eat sauce on my noodles and buffalo wings, I still run when my children are playing in the mud or with paint.

Unfortunately, this apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I see a similar disposition manifesting in my children’s behavior as well. When my oldest son was in preschool, his teachers would say that he never needed to be cleaned up after mealtime. When teachers were scrubbing smeared banana and ketchup from his classmates’ faces, they were also questioning if he was served any food at all. That’s my boy!

Although I try my hardest (much to the frustration of my wife and others) messes cannot be avoided. To avoid messes would mean to avoid people entirely…even myself! There is no such thing as a non-messy person. Messy is our only option. As much as we try to deny it, avoid it, or cover it up, we’re all a mess…perhaps even a hot mess.

We make decisions that lead to mess…in our schedules, in our careers, and in our relationships. Any effort to deny, avoid, cover up our mess always leads to being messed up in the head! There is a better option. This seems counterintuitive at first glance, but moving toward a mess outside of ourselves is always energy better spent than trying to paint a cover over our own mess.

This coming Sunday, we will begin a new series at 801South at Matthews, titled “Move Toward The Mess.” This concept comes from a book by the same name and the series will feature highlights from our Global Impact efforts across the world. There are two goals to this series. The first is to tell our story well. The second is to consider how serving others is a posture rather than a program.

Those who attend over the coming three weeks or catch it online will hear incredible stories of how moving toward the mess has completely changed the hearts and lives of those who have done just that…they have moved toward the mess. Moving toward the mess has given people a much greater understanding of life and perspective on their own messes.

Moving toward the mess is difficult and, well, messy. But there’s no better (nor more authentic) way to live. There is a life undiscovered on the other side of the mess that cannot be explained. This abundant life can only be experienced. Let’s move toward the mess…together.

Selling The Best Life

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So January’s over. That went quickly, huh?

As we enter month two of 2017, one point of emphasis for 801South at Matthews (the modern worship venue I have the great privilege to lead) is how to best tell our story. Just to clarify…in the church world, we have to use the language of storytelling. The business world may be more familiar with the language of marketing. Those of us in the church world are not allowed to use this term, because it feels dirty. It might be helpful, however, to go ahead and claim the fact that, in a way, we are selling a product to the world…and it’s the best product available.

In my context, I am very fortunate to have many high-level executives whose careers are in the area of business, including marketing and advertising. Getting the chance to gather around the table with these professionals and learn how the local church can utilize some best practices from within the industry is a huge blessing! These men and women are incredibly intelligent and the local church benefits as an organized institution when their passion for Jesus manifests through contributing to how the local church can tell its story.

That last sentence is a long one. Go back and read it again.

As we dive into this endeavor, the first part of refocusing our efforts to reach people with the story of our local church is to better focus our target demographic. If you say that you are trying to reach everyone, then you will more than likely reach no one. Although all are welcome, I believe that every individual expression of the larger church is suited to target a particular group of people.

Once we have determined our target demographic, the next step is to develop a clear and concise message that addresses a tension experienced by the target demographic. I am so excited about the message that is rising up within our community that I think will resonate in the hearts of those we are trying to reach.

The driving concept of this “first message” revolves around the concept of pouring out. I don’t have it completely honed, but when I think about the demographic of our community and with whom I most identify, I think about the concept of being full. Our houses are full of stuff. Our calendars are filled with appointments. You would think that with all of this stuff and all of these places to be, we would be living the dream. However, despite our houses being full of stuff and our time being filled with events, we are not fulfilled.

Why are we not fulfilled? Because we’ve bought into a lie. We live our lives as if fulfillment will come from being filled up. We do because we can. Our culture has the opportunity to fill our house with stuff and to stuff our calendars with activity. So we do. But true life, the abundant life, is found in pouring out, rather than filling up. I suppose Jesus’ words prove true after all…it is more blessed to give than to receive.

The message is so simple, but so extremely counterculture and difficult to live into. When we develop rhythms and patterns of pouring out, we come alive! My dream is to lead a community of people committed to pouring out…pouring out forgiveness, pouring out joy, pouring out compassion, pouring out financial resources, pouring out time for the sake of others.

Imagine the difference God will make in this world through that group of people.

Moving People from Stranger to Acquaintance

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I have the incredible opportunity to travel several times each year. My travel is sometimes related to mission and outreach opportunities. Other times, I travel for continuing education and leadership development. Although I hate being away from my family for any amount of time, and almost equally dislike all aspects of traveling by air, I love being in airports.

Weird, right? Here’s why…

There are always so many different kinds of people in airports and I am so curious of their individual stories as I watch all the “ants marching.” Every single person has a story and one of my favorite activities in life is learning people’s stories as they move from stranger to acquaintance in my life. The airport and airplane becomes a great context for striking up a conversation with someone who is seemingly random until I discover a connection. I just love it.

I was recently waiting in a crowded terminal and, feeling a bit like cattle must feel just prior to a milking, I noticed that some of the other passengers were forced to sit on the floor. Along with always being curious of people’s stories, I also try to keep an eye out for opportunities to relieve an immediate burden for someone around me; which many times opens the door to the opportunity of moving someone from stranger to acquaintance. Seeing such an opportunity, I got up and offered my seat to a women who was sitting on the floor.

Although she declined my offer, I remained standing and eventually she struck up a conversation with me. She asked why I was traveling. My answer led to other questions; which I and answered and then returned. Soon enough we were learning parts of each other’s story.

This wife and mother-of-two was traveling to assist her father in providing post-surgery care for her mother. We continued to chat while waiting for the premium platinum gold first-class fancy ticket holders to board and she began telling me about her two children…a 4th grader and a 6th grader. After sharing in some lighthearted conversations about rearing children and joking about the battle of wills that occurs between parent and child, she told me about an experience that raised a new fear in her life.

Her heart was recently troubled, because a group of parents in her children’s school and in their church had recently viewed a short film detailing the drug epidemic in our town’s schools. Interestingly enough, we recently covered this topic in a teaching series at 801South where we try to speak to relevant topics already on the hearts and minds of people, especially those  people who are in the demographic we feel called to reach.

Often times people will ask me how I determine the topics on which we should be teaching and preaching. Well, this is it! The act of listening to people’s stories without any hidden agenda gives me one of the best opportunities to understand what God might want us to address with  a message of hope. There was a pain within this woman that I could hear in her voice. This struggle was on her heart at a level so deep that she shared it in an initial conversation with a stranger. I believe it was a gift to have a glimpse into her heart while she strives to make the best decisions as a faithful wife and mother.

I encourage my leadership team to keep an ear out and make note of the conversations they are having at work, at the ballfields, in the neighborhood, and at the gym. I ask them to join me in being intentional to listen to the struggles, pains, and joys of those around us. This listening has led to some of the most fruitful moments in our large and small group environments.

How can you be more aware to relieve a burden of someone around you…and maybe have the opportunity to move that someone from stranger to acquaintance?

Vision Is Vital: What I Learned from the Election

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I can’t believe I’m even getting into this.

There are some who would love for me, as a pastor, to lay out my personal perspective on American politics for all to see and hear. I rarely do and certainly never for a crowd (online or otherwise). There are several reasons why I choose not to. Similarly, you will never see me wear a piece of collegiate apparel in front of a large crowd. Rocking a snapback featuring my alma mater (or spilling my guts on American politics) would be a great method for rallying those who are already fans of the school (or political persuasion). It is equally as effective at pushing aways those are not “on my side.” Being in the business of bringing people together, my Atlantic Coast Conference affiliations and political views tend to do the opposite so you have to know me pretty well before I’ll get into either with you (but then it’s fun when we do).

I have been slow to speak and slow to post about the 2016 elections. Our system of governance is extremely important and I encourage everyone to have a high, well-informed level of participation. However, the way this participation plays out during an election season appears to be more and more divisive with this last episode resembling a scene from Mean Girls more so than civil discourse. The language being used is continuing to write an us vs. them narrative. Although I fail again and again, I strive to live a life and work in a career that illustrate a narrative of we. There are always times when we disagree and should do so with passion though the purpose of debate should always be for the sake of the whole, rather than just a winning side or personal agenda.

Perhaps it is the millennial in me, but I can give less and less of my passion to American politics. Each one of us only has a limited capacity of time, attention, and energy. I prefer to give more of my personal resources to causes outside of the political arena and I understand that some of you will disagree with that decision. It’s probably not the first time and certainly won’t be the last that I disappoint you. However, the ways that the political debate is currently rooted in attacking another individual saddens me and there is enough of people tearing each other down already in day to day life.

All that said, I do love the response portrayed recently by one of my favorite sitcoms, Blackish; which presented a very tangible sentiment in the hearts of many Americans during and after the election season. As I contemplate this response, I can’t even begin to compete with the ways in which many have presented healthy responses, but perhaps there is a leadership principle hidden among the murky swamp that is American politics.

There is much to learn as we detox from this previous election season and perhaps the most important lesson is one of vision-casting. Again, putting political views aside, I refuse to believe that Donald Trump was elected on his character. His words certainly struck a cord among many in our country, but I want to believe that most people had to overlook his language and his demeanor in order to pull that lever next to the Republican ticket. Instead, I choose to believe that those who made that decision did so because they were compelled by a vision that Donald Trump was casting for the future of America, specifically on the economy and employment.

Vision is vital.

I would never suggest that someone jeopardize his or her character for the sake of victory. After all, at the end of the day, character is the one thing that cannot be taken from you. We can, however, better understand the need to cast a vision of a preferred future when we are attempting to lead others in particular direction.

So learn a lesson from this recent election and go cast a compelling vision, leaders. And then do the hard work of developing and implementing strategy to get those who follow you from here to there…together.

Owning My Time (Part 2)

This post is the second in a two part series. Read the first part if you have not done so already.

So now on to the process.

I carry a Bullet Journal and I tried to use it as intended, but I’m just too digital to fit into an analog system. If you hand me a hard copy, I’m sure to lose it before it reaches its intended audience! The primary motivator for my digital world, however, is immediate access. I may or may not have my journal on me. I may or may not have my computer close by. I will, however, almost always, have my phone within reach. Therefore, I want everything to be accessible on my phone…every document, note, appointment, contact, receipt, and anything else I could possibly need, without delay.

The process of creating an ideal week begins in my journal. The key is that every single second of every single day is claimed. I draw a one week calendar and allow space for 30 minute intervals within each 24 hour day. Then, I start with the highest priority items. For me, those items are my wife, my children, sleep, working out, prayer, Bible study, leadership development, future planning, and message prep. Here’s the thing…almost no one is not going to approach me about making sure that I am spending adequate time on each of these priorities. I know that I am at my best and healthiest when I make them priority over the ways that others would prefer I use my time. Ultimately, it’s up to me to make sure my priorities are prioritized on my calendar!

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Once my ideal week is on paper; which changes with different seasons of life, I then enter each block of time as an appointment into an online calendar named “Ideal.” I use multiple Google calendars that my wife, Emily, and I keep synced to all of our devices. My phone, or other device, notifies me when it is time to move on to the next “appointment.”

Now comes the hard part.

The most difficult part of this whole process is staying on schedule! This means that I have to say no (or at least not now) a lot; which is super tough for us pastors and other people pleasers. It also means that I have to be disciplined to turn off Netflix and close Instagram when my phone tells me that it’s time to go to sleep.

Another piece of this process is an (almost) nightly personal planning meeting. I spend five minutes looking over the ideal schedule for the next day, inserting meetings and individual tasks into the various categories that have been scheduled, and also checking with Emily to make sure I’m not missing anything as far as her schedule or the family is concerned. This way, I have a full plan for how to accomplish what I hope to get done.

This process of stewarding my time has been an evolution. The next step, into which I have yet to venture, is to track my energy. Tracking my energy requires having a measurement system through which I record and document the times during the day I am at my most productive and when my energy is at its highest along with the times when I am at my lowest energy level. Then I would calendar my priorities in correlation to my energy level throughout the day.

Lastly, I’ll say that there is a reason this is called the “ideal” week, rather than the “inflexible-carved-in-stone-won’t-budge-for-nothing-or-noone” week. The key is being flexible when there is a true need, but also staying disciplined and on schedule when there is not. I celebrate the days that I stick to the schedule and I don’t beat myself (or anyone else) up on those nights where my day wasn’t able to go exactly as I had planned. The world, afterall, does not revolve entirely around me.

I would love to hear how you try to best steward your time. Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!

Owning My Time (Part 1)

With the changes in our culture today, and more importantly, with the speed at which our culture is changing, the church is in dire need of leadership. This is especially the case for traditional and denominational local churches. There was a time, perhaps as recently as 15 years ago, when pastors could do just that: pastor. The role of pastor as “professional Christian” was one of responding to felt needs within the congregation over which he or she pastored. Someone’s sick…go visit. New baby…sprinkle ‘em. A young man and woman in the church fall in love…hitch ’em up! I may be exaggerating a bit, but this is still a pretty solid snapshot according to retired pastors with whom I have spoken.

The needs have changed.

The local church is currently more in need of leadership than pastoring. For too many reasons to name here, people are no longer committed to the local organized institution; which includes the local church. Ultimately, I believe this is a movement of God’s spirit and although many of us are having a hard time pivoting to respond to the movement, God is up to something. Whatever the future holds, the chasm between professional clergy and layperson (i.e. church volunteer) is shrinking rapidly. That’s a good thing!

Today, rather than be a shepherd who responds to the needs of his or her sheep, the pastor must be a proactive leader. The needs that have traditionally been met by a pastor must now be shared across the whole body in order for the church to be at her best. The local church thrives today when its people are passionate about caring for one another and passionate about reaching others with the saving message of Jesus. The role of the pastor, therefore, is one of envisioning environments, systems, and processes that will work to produce and facilitate these passions according to the leading of God’s spirit.

Now to the real reason for this post…

One of the biggest requirements for making this shift revolves around time management. I would guess that time management is one of your greatest struggles as well. Time is set and finite. You cannot make more of it. Time is also a great equalizer. We all have the exact same amount of time.

So how then can we be better stewards of our time in order to improve our productivity and even our overall health?

I have been moving more and more toward owning time before my time owns me. An author and leadership expert named Michael Hyatt has been a big influence on me in this area. I originally used his template to create my first ideal week a couple years ago. Another influence is Kevin Myers of 12Stone Church in Atlanta. I had the opportunity to sit with Kevin as part of a leadership cohort and he laid out how he is able to be most productive through stewarding his time well. The theme of time management continues to be a key focus for the highest capacity leaders I know.

I have put together my own process for stewarding the time God has given me and I’m excited to share it with you…

next week.

One Anothering

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Life is better with one another. I know this because I have a tendency to go at it alone. Every time I find myself on the journey alone, I also find myself not well. Thoughts of insecurity, inadequacy, failure, and an overall victim mentality prevail when I am not intentional to be in healthy community.

In these moments, I feel the need to make up for those thoughts and end up putting on layers to compensate for my feelings of insecurity;  which is exactly what we looked at this past Sunday. (You can watch how a pastor handles himself when a creative illustration fails. I hope you find it as amusing as the volunteers on 801South serve teams who  enjoyed giving me a hard time afterward. Taking yourself less seriously and knowing that you are not your performance is another result of being in healthy community.)

But then I return to genuine community and I am reminded that many of us deal with the same struggles. I had an opportunity to experience genuine community this past week. I was invited to join a small group of pastors from churches around Charlotte who will be meeting regularly to talk and to pray. We spent just over an hour together, but it was one of the most rewarding ways that I spent my time this week. We encouraged one other. We reminded one another that we are not in this alone. We laughed with one another. We were honest with one another.

My heart breaks for those who struggle alone when there is no need to do so. Maybe you are struggling right now and you’re not sure what to do…so you add another layer. Whatever you are trying to accomplish in life, you can’t do it by yourself. We were created for community and I am so excited to see how God is going to provide people with community through small groups this fall. I’d love for you to hear Elizabeth share her story of the support she has received from her small group in the past.

This Sunday, we are concluding our One Anothering series by looking at the patterns of life many of us experience and the way being devoted to intentional community can give purpose to our patterns. God has laid a big revelation on my heart and I am looking forward to sharing it this Sunday.

I hope to see you on Sunday. Invite a stranger. Bring a friend.

Why Would They Do That??

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I am a local church fanatic. Some people have Star Wars (none of which I have ever seen), some have gadgets, others have sports. I am borderline obsessed with studying local churches as organized institutions. This research includes streaming several worship experiences to my iPad in the kitchen while doing dishes or even the bathroom while shaving or brushing my teeth. Fortunately, my wife and children are very accommodating to my fanaticism.

I was recently streaming the worship experience of a local church and was very intrigued by what I saw. Here is the order of segments within this particular experience:

  • To start, a host, dressed as Alex Trebek (complete with wig and fake mustache), led a “Jeparody” segment in which contestants attempted to answer questions relating to pop culture and current events. This very entertaining opener lasted 16 minutes.
  • Next, a different host introduced a video of a married couple sharing their experience of this local church’s small groups.
  • The camera then returned to the host who invited the crowd to attend an upcoming event at which they can learn more about small groups.
  • Then there was an offering…finally something we good church people can relate to…something familiar…25 minutes into the worship experience!
  • The offering time featured the lone song of the experience. What song, you might ask? Jesus Loves Me? If you’re only going to sing one, then that has to be it, right? Nope. It was a song called Believe by those classic hymn writers Mumford & Sons from the band’s third album, Wilder Mind, released in 2015.
  • Following this pop music selection, the pastor began to speak. He spoke for about 40 minutes and get this…no Bible! He quoted from authors and journalists such as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, among others, but did not read from the Bible at all. Heresy!

And that was it. No other songs. No traditional rituals. No altar call.

Why would they do that? This isn’t church! When I go to a local church, I want familiar songs written for the local church. I want to stand up and sit down an average of 4.7 times. I want to hear an average of 6.3 Bible verses read. But…here’s the thing…they don’t care what I want or what I expect. They don’t make decisions in order to meet my (or anyone else’s) expectations.

Instead, the leadership of this local church makes decisions based entirely on their purpose. Meeting expectations don’t even come into the conversation. The purpose or mission of this local church is to create churches that unchurched people love to attend. Every idea is filtered through this purpose. Those who rally around the mission are welcome to get on board. Those who don’t are free to exit.

This particular local church is even willing to cut across their own precedent they have set in order to see their mission fulfilled. For this local church, everything starts with why.

Does that excite you? Does that offend you? Could you imagine being a part of an organization that operated solely out of purpose, rather than expectation and precedent?

You know people who are not interested in church. Some of them are your children or your grandchildren. You yourself might not be interested in church.

Thank God that local churches like this one don’t care what people expect and, instead, are making decisions in order to reach people like your friends, your neighbors, and your children with urgency.

Even if they don’t care about your opinion of what church is supposed to look like, if you follow Jesus, I hope you appreciate local churches who are making decisions in order to effectively reach people with the live-saving and life-giving message of Jesus.

The Struggle Of Surrender

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What holds you back? If you are anything like me, which I’m sure you are, then you have stuff in your life that is holding you back. My natural tendency, however, is to hold on to the stuff. I have thoughts, behaviors, habits, and more that keep me from my preferred future. So just “let it go,” they say. I wish it were that easy.

This concept came to mind recently while listening to a song that has been bringing me to tears lately.  My actual thought was, “Why is it so difficult for me to turn myself over entirely to a God who is entirely good?” Maybe it has to do with a not-entirely-good experience of imperfect people in an imperfect world. I don’t really have a good answer, but I have some thoughts.

We read words like “lose your life,” “cast your anxieties,” “be a living sacrifice” in the Bible. Yet I would rather keep my life (at least parts of it), carry my anxieties, and be a living recipient of everyone else’s sacrifice. What I have found though is that the difference between “letting it go” and surrender is having someone to receive the stuff. This is where I meet God’s grace…right where I am least worthy of it. Jesus is the one who has already taken the stuff on himself. Having someone to whom I can surrender it is what motivates me to do just that.

One way that I keep myself from full surrender is to isolate myself. As I keep my thoughts inside and avoid people, I am actually less likely to turn over the areas of my life where I need God’s grace the most. To be at my best, I need other people. You do to. We need one another more than we even realize. I think this is one of the reasons why the earliest followers of Jesus were able to surrender so much of themselves so quickly, because they were devoted to one another. This is the kind of community that will continue to transform people and motivate us to surrender more of ourselves in order to experience true life.

This coming weekend we are starting a new series at 801South that we are calling One Anothering. To best prepare for our next semester of Small Groups launching in September, we will be looking at how we can best serve one another, care for one another, encourage one another, and grow one another. I hope you can be a part of this series as we struggle to surrender together!

See you Sunday. Bring a friend. Invite a stranger.