God Is Up to Something

Last Sunday I got to celebrate a birthday.

Every year, the Sunday following Easter is the anniversary of 801South’s launch. At the party this past weekend, many people shared a “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulations” with me throughout the morning. I got a sense that there is still a genuine excitement as 801South has grown into itself and as we are still discovering who we really are.

Prior to launching, I thought that 801South would be many things and, honestly, these past three years have been a rollercoaster with lots of highs and lows. As I told the staff at Matthews UMC in staff worship several months ago, I knew leading this new community would be hard work, but I had no idea how painful it would be. Many people have come and gone. They have expressed their affection for the environments of 801South, but ultimately chose not to engage in the mission. That hurts.

Dealing with the disappointments has been formative for my faith and leadership. At the same time, the encouragement has far outweighed the frustration. For every moment of disappointment or negative word, there have been multiple comments such as, “We’re so proud of you and your team” or “You all are doing such great work.” Many times these comments have come from people who have no idea if we are doing great work or not, nor would they actually have any reason to be proud. Perhaps some of them were just being nice. Whatever their motivation for expressing encouragement, these comments mean more than they could know and I thank God for them.

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This past Sunday we were celebrating the anniversary of 801South as a movement of people committed to inviting others into the story of Jesus and there could not have been a more perfect illustration of God’s faithfulness during the party. I had the incredible opportunity to baptize my friend, Morgan, who recently professed faith in Jesus. Don’t miss the weight of this moment. There we were, celebrating another birthday of this movement, through an event that perfectly exemplifies the vision and motivation for the effort in the first place!

There have been very difficult moments of little faith, and even doubt, over the past three years. However, after all of the passion, time, energy, and hard work people have poured out over that time, there was no way we could walk away before reaping the harvest. Here’s what I believe about God: His intention will come to pass and way more often than not, His will is done through people. When you stop short, God does not. There is not retribution, but you do miss out on the blessing.

Of course the journey of 801South has been different than what I expected. The funny thing is this was the first time any of us have tried something new like this. It was silly to have any expectations at all…except one: that God has been, is, and will be faithful.

God has been at work from the beginning…there are numerous stories of people finding community and growing into the character and competency of Jesus. I am always grateful for these stories of life change, however, this current season is different and people can feel it. There is a new momentum. We are entering a season of reaping and harvesting.

I can’t wait to see what God does next as we commit to be a people pouring out!

Writing a Web-Worthy Story

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I graduated from seminary in 2006 and was shortly thereafter appointed to my first church as the Minister of Business and Administration. (I bet you didn’t even know that business and administration had to be ministered to!) Seriously, how fancy does that title sound? At 24 years of age, I was really into titles. I have since learned that titles aren’t nearly as important as I originally thought. These days, rather than being cute and silly with titles, I prefer to just stick with the basics. Banker. Doctor. Pastor.

Overseeing the website was one of the responsibilities I inherited in my first role as a pastor. This church kinda had a website. You remember when businesses and institutions kinda had a website? The internet (and our ability to communicate over it) has come a long way over the past 11 years.

The tools for online communication are always changing. Fads have come and gone. Having an app for your church was a fad that continues to limp along. Now many of these mobile “apps” are simply a portal to a mobile-friendly website. Various social media platforms rise and fall in popularity. It can become overwhelming as you attempt to effectively share your story online.

The need for a well designed website is one piece that has not changed.

At Pro Church Tools, Brady Shearer shares that nearly half of all people say a website’s design is their number one criterion for determining the credibility of an organization. Wow! The website is the cover by which your book is judged these days. Similarly, 94% of people cite poor web design as the reason they mistrusted or rejected a website.

For local churches specifically, 46% of church attenders said that a church’s website was important in choosing a church to visit. Therefore, the number one goal for a local church in developing a web presence has to be making it intriguing and compelling for the visitor. Technology gives our society the opportunity to immediately “check out” whoever and whatever we want at any time.

I would even say that nearly all people who are looking for a church will look at the website before ever thinking about showing up in person. This might not apply to friends, neighbors, or co-workers who are invited and actually attend with a regular church goer. When people are looking for a church, however, the web is the first place they turn.

At 801South, we recently redesigned our website. I say “we” but the truth is that our incredibly dedicated volunteer, Kim McGee, has given hundreds of hours serving as the 801South web developer. Kim (along with Ryan Devenney, the 801South Music and Media Director) has given tremendous thought to the potential impact our site can have on people who are not yet a part of the 801South community. I am so grateful for her efforts! Kim carefully considers how she can design the site to make it more compelling, intriguing, and helpful to all who visit the site. She’s a pro!

The site Kim has put together is an incredibly useful platform that serves the purpose of being a front door to people who come across it. Like all of our online efforts, the new site will always be a work in process. Check out the latest iteration for yourself at 801south.org.

Pouring Out

We all carry an innate desire to be part of a purpose bigger than ourselves.

Even if we don’t have the language to verbalize it, nor the self-awareness to realize that our deepest struggles are the search to fulfill this desire, we long to be part of a movement that is making a difference in this world. The fight with your spouse, the argument with your children, the frustration with your supervisor. These moments are the unseen longing being projected onto the seen.

I recently wrote about the value of vision, as well as the current vision for the 801South community. I am convinced now more than ever that the abundant life is experienced by pouring out in order to fill those around you. When we find a never-ending source that continually fills us up, we can be free to focus only on filling others. Imagine the ways that this message can change the world for those who fully embrace it. How do we get this message out to people?

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Producing a video that creatively communicates this vision is one vehicle to get this message out. We recently had the privilege of working with a growing media production company here in Matthews. Silent Images is a great story. This group of videographers, photographers, and editors are a nonprofit committed to telling stories well. Go to 801south.org to see the amazing video produced by Silent Images.

Sunday, April 23rd, will be another opportunity for us to be a people who pour out. To celebrate the 3-year anniversary of launching 801South as a community whose mission is inviting people into the story of Jesus, we are partnering with an incredible organization here in in our local community.

Bright Blessings is a non-profit organization serving the greater Charlotte region whose programs will bring joy, care, and hope to more than 8,000 homeless and impoverished children in our community this year. 801South is very excited to help support their efforts and we are scheduled to serve at a Bless-a-Birthday party where Bright Blessings provides a full birthday party experience to put a child in the spotlight and provide a positive sense of self in the near future. For many of these children, it will be the first time they have ever experienced a birthday party.

As you view the short vision video, my hope is that you will be compelled to be a part of seeing this vision become reality and, ultimately, be a part of God’s mission to redeem the world He loves.

Happy Easter!

The End of White Christian America

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This is not a post on politics. This is not a post on race. Nor is this a post on right and wrong. If your reaction as you read below is, “Well that’s not how it should be,” then you are missing the point entirely and this world is going to leave you in its dust.

This is a post on change or, more specifically, the rapid change occurring in American culture.

I recently posted a picture of a book I’m reading to my social media feeds; which received a lot of interaction. The book is titled, “The End of White Christian America,” and was written by Robert P. Jones. Jones is the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute and I recently had the opportunity to hear him present the data from the book along with his perspective on what the research is showing us about our culture at an event here in Charlotte.

Perhaps the single most telling data point that best portrays the rapid change in public opinion is that of the same-sex marriage debate. Again, this is not a post about same-sex marriage. These are just the numbers. Resist your urge to internally opine, whatever your personal stance, and consequently miss the big picture.

In 2004, 59% of the American population was White Christian and 32% of the population were favorable to same-sex marriage. In 2016, those figures were almost exactly inverse of each other. Last year, the American population was 43% White Christian and 59% of the population was favorable to same-sex marriage. These percentages almost flip-flopped in just 12 years!

As you can see from this blurry picture of a slide I snapped during Jones’ presentation, as of late, the number of Americans who are White Christian is falling by 2% each year.

White Christian Percentage

During the third year of Obama’s presidency, the percentage of White Christians fell below 50%; which means that White Christians are now a minority for the first time in the history of the USA. Fewer whites identify as Christian and fewer Christians are white. This is a shift of which we should all take note, especially those of us who are on the same mission no matter what the statistics tell us.

Although our mission as the church never changes, perhaps these figures and narratives should cause us to rethink, as well as help shape, our methods.

This data has to be contextualized according to each region. For example, I live in the Bible belt. All of my immediate neighbors are white and almost all of them would at least identify as Christian even if they are not active in a local church. Therefore, the influence of White Christian America is still prevalent in much of the demographic that makes up my local community. However, this is changing rapidly. More than likely, there is a similar shift in your community.

Jones provides a fascinating historical narrative detailing the relationship between religious movements and political movements over time here in America. He also touches on how even our cities’ architecture illustrates the shift in public understanding of religion and the marketplace. For example, in telling how the erection of marketplace edifices began to tower over the church steeples already in place during the late 1800’s, Jones writes, “Instead of market transactions happening under the watchful eye of the church, these exchanges literally take place over its head and beyond its reach.” He also creatively opens the book with an obituary for White Christian America and concludes with a eulogy.

I suggest you pick up a copy of The End of White Christian America. Jones’ writing will open your eyes to the changes occurring in how people in our country view the world around us.

Continuing a Commitment to Excellent Worship

Screenshot 2017-03-31 09.38.51I am very grateful for the addition of two staff members to the team I get to lead. Last month, Ryan Devenney joined the team as the Director of Music and Media. He continues to kill it in the areas of graphic design, leading serve teams, and providing overall direction to the future of 801South. Also, Nick Hunter joined our team as the Worship Director earlier this month.

The story of how Nick was led to 801South is fantastic!

We had been contracting worship leaders from around the area for about six months while without a worship director on staff. Prior to contracting each worship leader, I would view some form of an online portfolio for him or her, because I would not allow just anyone with a guitar to lead our crowd in worship. I had to be confident that each leader had a certain level of competency and would do an excellent job leading worship.

There was one person, however, who I did not audition. Instead, I went off of a recommendation from another pastor on staff.

Pastor Chuck Wilson officiated a funeral for a longterm member of Matthews United Methodist Church last fall. The funeral featured a solo by the newly married grandson-in-law of the church member whose life was being celebrated. Following the service, Pastor Chuck asked him for his contact information and later passed the info to me suggesting that I get in touch with him.

I met Nick for coffee one afternoon and loved hearing his story, as well as learning his heart for people. His experience in leading worship and his love for reaching people convinced me to take a chance. Without ever hearing him sing or play a note, I scheduled him to lead worship on an upcoming Sunday.

I’ll never forget the morning when Nick first led worship at 801South. He came in early, got to know the rest of the volunteers serving on the music team that morning, and plugged in so that rehearsal could begin. I was speaking to one of the volunteers serving on the production team as the band started rehearsing their first song. At hearing the first note out of his mouth, I stopped the conversation and immediately turned my head to make sure that what I was hearing was actually coming from the platform. I could not believe the quality of the tone and the pitch of the voice I was hearing. I was in awe.

Over the weeks and months that followed, we moved from contracting Nick once a month to twice a month. Every time Nick would lead worship, at least one person would say something to the effect of, “I don’t know if I get a vote, but if I do, I vote for him!” Eventually I was convinced that God had led Nick to 801South and I was compelled to offer him a position on staff. It has turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made yet.

Not only has Nick been a great addition to the team, but we get a double blessing with his wife, Alex. She has an incredibly sweet demeanor, exhibiting both a servants heart and a passion for people similar to Nick. Alex’s parents, Stan and Debbie, also join us in worship on most Sundays and even help with tearing down the equipment.

Nick’s servant leadership as well as his ability to provide direction and constructive correction to the music team is incredible. The way that he is able to relate with every person on the production team and make others feel included inspires me.

If you have not had the chance to see and hear Nick in action, I invite you to come experience worship on a Sunday in the near future. You won’t be disappointed!

The Excellence of Elevation

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Being a teaching pastor who preaches most every Sunday, I rarely have the opportunity to attend worship experiences at other churches without stealing time from my family. About seven years ago, however, I decided to attend a worship experience at Elevation Church. I was living in Denver, NC and Elevation announced they were having an impromptu Good Friday worship experience in the middle of the day at their Matthews campus.

Being my day off, I hopped in the car and drove down from Lake Norman to finally experience this new church about whom I had heard so much. The music and the message that afternoon led me to experience God through worship in an entirely new way. I was hooked. I’ve been a big fan of Elevation Church and the movement of God that it continues to be today ever since.

This week I had the opportunity to attend their Inside Elevation event and see how this growing organization operates on a deeper level. As we learned more about the culture they have developed over the past decade, I had a reaction to the experience that I was not expecting.

It was painful.

As a staff member from one of their two Roanoke, VA campuses was giving us a tour, I found myself holding back tears. The pain came from a place of agreement with the culture of Elevation Church. With each explanation, I learned of systems and processes that are so similar to those that I would love to see created in my own setting. Every decision is made with intention in order to serve a crystal clear mission and vision; to which everyone in the organization is committed. What a beautiful site to behold.

I choose to be inspired and encouraged by what Elevation is able to accomplish. Their ability to thrive, even in the face of adversity, cannot be denied. I’m convinced that the leadership of Elevation Church has learned from the failures and successes of other ministries over the years and put processes in place to protect their platform.

During the first main stage session titled “Win from Within;” which Pastor Steven admitted he stole from a Gatorade commercial and not the Bible, we were charged with naming those areas in which we are called to win. I was very convicted by this charge and when my team had the chance to discuss this question, I started with an apology.

As we continued to discern where we want to win, one area to which I am making a commitment is that of quality control. One of the greatest motivations for an endeavor like 801South is to create a culture where no one is satisfied with anything less than their best effort. I’m committed to developing a culture in which the excellence laying dormant within people will be called out and I’m convinced that it matters to people…especially to the people who we are trying to reach with the saving message of Jesus Christ.

It matters.

I’m thinking of the young woman who came to me in tears following a worship experience recently and explained that God had spoken to her through the experience.

I’m thinking of the family who can’t seem to communicate with each other without fighting, because they are a bundle of personal agendas struggling through the day and no one has told them that they would be happier if instead they worked to bring honor to each other in how they acted and spoke to one another.

God is so good and I refuse to believe that He would not honor and bless any movement led by a group of people committed to seeking Him through an organization committed to excellence.

Proving Passion for the Purpose

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Several weeks ago I was having coffee with a friend who was trying to think through how to best lead a direct report on his leadership team. As he shared his situation and asked if I had any experience that might be helpful to him, I was reminded of a lesson I have learned the hard way. This lesson revolves around one word: passion. So before we dove into any of the details, I asked my friend if his team member demonstrated a passion for the mission of his organization.

You know what it is like to work with someone who has no passion for the shared cause. Whether it is a paid staff position or an unpaid volunteer role, passion is the number one determiner of where someone should fall in the organizational structure. The reason is simple. You don’t have to motivate someone who is passionate for the mission, because passion itself is the greatest motivator. The inverse is true as well. If someone is not passionate about the mission, there is very little you can do to motivate him or her. No amount of money or recognition will cause someone to give of himself to a mission like passion will.

When I consider the shared mission of the community I have the honor of leading, the level of leadership is determined by the level of passion for inviting people into the story of Jesus. If someone is not passionate about inviting people into the story of Jesus, then he or she will always feel disconnected. One of the greatest mistakes I can make (and have made) is to elevate someone to a position of leadership who does not possess a strong passion for this specific mission.

What’s the other option?

People today feel less and less obligated to do anything and who wants someone to do something out of obligation? Do you want your wife to love you because she feels obligated? Do you want your children to tell you about their day because they feel obligated? Of course not. Obligation makes us nauseous.

Instead, you want your wife to express her love for you, because she is passionate about your relationship. You want your children to come to you for advice, because they have no doubt that you are passionate about their success and wellbeing.

As you are consider your own teammates and direct reports, are they serving the mission of the organization out of a passion for the mission or are they doing the bare minimum to keep a job? Sometimes, if passion is not the motivator, entitlement is what keeps them coming back. After all, their great, great grandfather founded this organization. If obligation makes us nauseous, entitlement makes us crazy.

Almost everyone thinks that he or she is passionate about the mission, but it’s up to the leader to judge passion. Obligation, entitlement, and general zealousness can be mistaken for passion. I’ve fallen for this too many times. Sometimes I read someones general zealousness as passion for a specific mission, but it turns out that he or she was not concerned with the mission at all. Instead he had an axe to grind or she was using her role as therapy to deal with her own baggage so every idea was out of left field, rather than emerging from the mission and values. Personal agendas can be masked as passion for the mission for a season.

Just as it motivates people to excel beyond doing only the bare minimum, passion will also get you through the difficult slumps. The slumps test the depth of your passion for the mission. When the preferred future is not becoming current reality, are you going to give up on your dream? Passion will remind you of the original vision and motivate you to reposition in order to move forward.

Now it’s time for some self-reflection.

If you are not passionate about the mission of your organization, do you know why? What could lead you to being more passionate? If, after some serious introspection, you know that you will never be passionate about the mission, then I suggest you find a mission about which you can be and give yourself fully to that organization! You have too much to offer and you won’t regret finding the best role to offer all of it.