Church Planting, Thermometers, and Thermostats

*My post here was originally published on May 7, 2015 in Christianity Today.

Midnightcomm – Flickr

Isn’t it easier to point out the wrongdoings of others and tell people what to do, rather than be a part of the solution?

My wife and I have noticed this in our children—they love playing the victim. So whenever there’s conflict, instead of figuring it out themselves, they come to us crying out “injustice!”

I wonder where they learned that from? I knew I never should’ve let them watch Sesame Street…

In order to fix this attitude, a few days ago, my wife began teaching them the difference between being bossy and being a leader. Here’s the difference:

  • Bossy people point out the wrongdoings of others, expect others to fix their issues, and are never wrong.
  • Leaders take responsibility for situations, don’t dwell on problems, focus on solutions, and make change happen.

As I was reflecting on this new paradigm of parenting (my wife is amazing by the way), I couldn’t help but notice the similarities that it had with thermometers and thermostats. Let me explain:

  • Thermometers point out what currently is, expect others to do something with that information, and they provide us with the standard—they are never wrong. Thermometers are indicators.
  • Thermostats, on the other hand, take the information from the thermometer and do something about it. Thermometers take responsibility for the environment and focus on solutions. Thermostats are change agents.

Can you see the similarities that bossy people have with thermometers and leaders have with thermostats?

So what are you? Are you more of a thermometer or a thermostat? This is an important question as it affects the posture that you will subconsciously take in planting and leading a church.

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Help Me Write Planting Missional Churches (3rd Ed)

planting missional churches
This next year, I have the privilege of writing the 3rd edition of Planting Missional Churches with Ed Stetzer! It’s been 10 years since the last edition, so we are wanting to do a major overhaul on stories, statistics, and content.

This is where you come in.

As a part of the update, we are wanting to rewrite the church planting stories that are in every chapter of the book, and we want your stories.

So please share your church planting story by filling out this form, and we’ll pick the most relevant stories and incorporate them into the 3rd edition of Planting Missional Churches.

If we incorporate your story into the book, we’ll send you a signed copy of the book, and a few other limited edition items as well!


Two Ways to Overcome Your Weaknesses

Doug88888 – Flickr

There was a time in my life where I dreaded the thought of meeting new people. It’s not that I was a germaphobe or had anthropophobia (the fear of people), it was just that I preferred to spend time with people I knew, rather than do the small talk mingling thing.

This first came to light when I started pastoring. I remember, it was a weekday morning and I needed coffee (and no, I don’t have an addiction). I was at the office and could’ve easily walked a few steps into the kitchen and made my own pot, but I soon realized that it was the day that all the mom’s met in the basement of the church for fellowship. That only meant one thing: free coffee + cream puffs + ton of desserts.

Knowing that there would be a lot of mom’s and young children, I plotted my strategy as I made my way to the basement:

  • Rule #1: Keep moving
  • Rule #2: Smile and say hi, but focus on walking into the kitchen
  • Rule #3: Never stop moving

When I opened the basement doors, there were over 50+ women and young children mingling, in what looked like, absolute chaos (at the time I was newly married without kids). In a cold sweat, I immediately made my way towards the kitchen remembering to never stop moving. As I turned the corner to walk into the kitchen, I soon discovered that there were another 40+ women and children hiding around the bend. So staying true to my rules, I never stopped moving. I just shifted directions and went straight back upstairs into the office kitchen, where I forewent the cream puffs, and made my own coffee.

As I was making my own coffee, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What’s wrong with me? Why did I act that way? Why was I in such a nervous cold sweat when I saw all those moms and kids?” As a new pastor, I knew this was a glaring weakness. I knew how important it was to be able to meet new people, remember their names, and minister to them.

Was it that I didn’t like moms and children? Well, considering the fact that I didn’t have children at that time, perhaps I just didn’t know what to do with them, and let’s face it, mothers can be intimidating at times. But I didn’t think that was quite it. So what was it?

As I continued to reflect on my behavior and this apparent weakness of mine, I began reflecting on other situations that mimicked this one – situations where I was in a sea of new and unfamiliar faces. The only other parallel that came to mind was when I was attending a conference, teaching a class, or preaching a sermon. Oddly enough, in each of those situations, I was a completely different person – I loved meeting new people and I would even remember their names, most of the time!

So what was wrong with me? Why was I acting like Jekyll and Hyde?

Through the journey of discovering my strengths (click here for a post where I explain this), the one thing that I knew about myself was that I was a Developer. I loved helping people grow and I loved helping things develop. In other words, I loved everything about development. So when I compared both situations in light of my strengths, a lightbulb came on! In conferences and when I’m teaching or preaching, my posture is towards development – so I don’t mind meeting new people – in fact, I welcome and pursue it! However, to that group of moms and kids, my purpose was not to develop any of them – it was merely to get coffee and cream puffs.

So if I wanted to overcome my glaring weakness of meeting new people, all I had to do was shift my perspective and reframe the situation. Instead of viewing others as strangers, I needed to view them through my developer lens. So that means every stranger is an individual that I can either develop, or an individual who can develop me.

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Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling for Pastors

shattered glass
GabPRR – Flickr

What do you do when your church is growing and your responsibilities are increasing?

There are only two options: You either hire another staff member, or get better at distributing your work. If you don’t do either, then there will be a glass ceiling that will forever haunt you. I answered the former solution in an earlier post, so today we’ll look at the importance of distributing your work.

I love this quote by Sun Tzu from The Art of War:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

To paraphrase, if you know your enemy, you’ll win 50% of the time, but if you know yourself, you’ll win the other half.

How often do we spend all our time reading the latest strategies and methods for leadership and ministry, while neglecting the important task of learning what kind of leader God has made us to be? This reminds me of that old Hebraic tale of Rabbi Zusya and Moses: When he was an old man, Zusya said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”

The reason we would rather live someone else’s story, than discover our own, is because introspection is hard work.

However, unless you discover how God has uniquely wired you, then you’ll never know your unique kingdom contribution, and that glass ceiling will follow you everywhere.

So let’s get back to that original question, what do you do when your church is growing and your responsibilities are increasing?

Well, first of all, you better not take it all on yourself! That only leads to burnout. So you need to get better at delegation.

There’s a fork in the road at this point. There are some who believe that you need to surround yourself with a team and let them choose what they want to do, while you get the scraps. While this may sound servant-like and altruistic, it’s actually foolish. Play this out for a bit. If you keep on giving away the things that you do best and the things that give you life, where do you think you’ll end up? That’s right. Burnout. Again.

Instead, you actually need to ask yourself two questions: What are the leadership responsibilities unique to my role? And how do my strengths line up with those tasks? Answering both questions will take a lot of time, but the first question is pretty straightforward since you just need to write out all of your responsibilities and tasks, and then systematically cross out the ones that others can do. You will then be left with a list of responsibilities and tasks that you and only you can uniquely do. Answering the second question is much harder work though, since it requires introspection. However, once you discover your strengths and how they line up with your responsibilities and tasks, you will have essentially carved out a role for yourself that plays to your strengths, while managing your weaknesses. The beauty of this rationale is that your weaknesses are actually going to be someone else’s strengths.

So how do you discover your strengths? How do you discover the way that God has uniquely wired you? How do you determine the unique kingdom contribution that you have been designed to make?

First of all, take a moment and do some introspection by answering these questions:

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Crowdfunding, Kickstarter, and The Future of Training Church Planters

 *My post here was originally published on April 9, 2015 in Christianity Today.

What if there was a more effective way to train church planters? A way that focused on developing competencies and skills rather than the memorization of steps?

church planting program spectrum

Every church planting program falls somewhere along this spectrum between a heavy emphasis on the classroom or field experience. Both are necessary, but there are weaknesses with an either/or approach. On the one hand, an over-emphasis on the classroom assesses one on their knowledge, rather than their ability to actually put their knowledge to action. On the other hand, an over-emphasis on field experience tends to be isolated to one particular method of doing ministry in a contextualized context, which may or may not guarantee success when the context of ministry changes.

As much as most church planting programs recognize the necessity for a both/and approach, most are just simply requiring both classroom and field experience time, rather than discovering a way to integrate them together.

Enter: Crowdfunding.

By now, crowdfunding, Kickstarter and Indiegogo are household names. Since 2009, over 8.3 million people have pledged $1.6 billion to 82,000 projects on Kickstarter. Also, over 15 million people from 224 countries visit Indiegogo a month. The most well known crowdfunded initiatives are arguably the Pebble smart watchOculus Rift and Hoverboards (yes, I did say hoverboards). Each of these initiatives started as an idea, and as a result of crowdfunding, they turned into reality. Crowdfunding touched a soft spot in my heart when LeVar Burton brought Reading Rainbow back to the world when over 100,000 people pledged $5+ million to it.

What if this was a part of their core curriculum? After all, where else would a potential planter have the real life opportunity to innovate, collaborate, cast vision, create momentum, and raise funds before they planted a church and had to actually innovate, collaborate, cast vision, create momentum, and raise funds for their church? Crowdfunding would be the perfect way to mix classroom and field experience time for a church planter. Essentially, by requiring the church planter to crowdfund an idea, you would be cross-training them in many of the same areas required to plant and lead a church. (Obviously there’s more to planting and leading a church than the skills required in crowdfunding, but there are many overlapping areas.)

Imagine if crowdfunding was part of the training ground and litmus test to see if an individual had the core competencies to plant and lead a church?

Not only would you be able to identify actual strength and growth areas in the planter, by which you could create a plan of development around, but with successful crowdfunded initiatives, you would also be creating an additional revenue stream that could be used to further fuel and fund church planting efforts.

When researching successful crowdfunded initiatives, I discovered five common traits: [Read more…]