The American Church’s Dirtiest Little Secret

It has been my privilege to lead churches since I was 18 years old.  I have watched both movements and movers move on and off the scene.  The American church landscape has been painted, erased and painted over many times, yet in all these years and in the passing of all that time, I’ve heard almost nothing about what I consider to be the American church’s dirtiest little secret.

The church’s dirtiest little secret is not the scandal of flock-fleecing pastors jetting around at their church’s expense.  Nor is it the outrageous salaries or even the oft expected and oft over-enjoyed sex scandal and subsequent fall from grace of a once revered leader.

No, the real scandal of the American church is something much deeper, and more pernicious than any of those tragic, isolated events. And I do mean isolated, because they are a very small percentage of what really goes on day in and day out, week in and week out in the hundreds of thousands of Christian churches all across this country.

The real dirty little secret in the American church is that we regularly, relentlessly, and without mercy beat-up, chew-up and spit-out our leaders.

You’d have to be blind, deaf, and stupid not to notice the long line of once effective and admired leaders limping toward the exits.  It was Peter Drucker who once said the four hardest jobs in America — not necessarily in this order — are President of the United States, a university president, a hospital CEO and a pastor.  Amen, but for those called to it, we at least don’t expect to be shot in the back by our own team.

Why isn’t anyone talking about this?  Maybe it’s because those who talk about church leadership, no matter whether they’re founding pastors or high-ranking staff members, have one thing in common: we’re all employees of our churches–leading without real power.  Pastors have the responsibility to lead their church to growth with none of the power to actually do so.

Churches, in our society are designated “non-profits.”  The “ownership” of these organizations is held in trust by the men and women who fill leadership positions whether elders, deacons, or board members.   So the naked truth is that pastors and staff don’t carry the ultimate decision or have enough legitimate power to affect much change.

We are so obsessed with the abuses of the few, that we have cut off our leaders at the knees.  As a result, the American church is being crippled by mean, petty, power-hungry bullies whose abuse of power is the great scandal  no one wants to address.

What does this abuse look like?  Here are the 5 most lethal ways we kill off leaders we don’t like:

  1. We starve them. Because of the abuses of a few, we think that paying our pastors and staff members a livable wage, a fair wage, will somehow corrupt them.  So without money to cover the bare necessities, some have to divide their time between the sacred calling, and keeping their family fed and clothed.  How tragic that while some abuse money, the vast majority simply don’t have enough.
  2. We have outrageously unreasonable expectations of our leaders. We expect them to work seven days a week, to be on call all the time, to have all the answers, and to be able to fix all our problems.  And while these expectations can be understandable, they are totally, outrageously unreasonable, and just more evidence that we don’t listen to the teaching of Scriptures or take them seriously.
  3. We strip them of power. Again, we are so afraid power will corrupt them, we strip them of it while holding them accountable for the success of the church.  As a result, our leaders have very little real power to make the strategic changes essential for the church’s future.
  4. We let pretend leaders bully them. Call them elders, deacons, or whatever, too many “lay-leaders” come to their positions puffed up with pride and an overestimation of their own spirituality.  Rather than leading along side their pastors in creative collaboration, too many, too often exercise their power by crushing the heart and spirit of the very people they are supposed to be helping and empowering.  As a result, a shocking large percentage of the American church is in the hands of spirit-crushing bullies, who love keeping the preacher humble and in line!
  5. We leave them in financial peril.  How many times have I answered an email or phone call and how many times have I sat across from a young pastor who thought everything was going well and within a seven-day period, they’ve lost everything?  Their salary, their reputation, and their future all at risk because of the capricious desire of a small group of people who feel called to protect the status quo.  Only in the American church can a pastor  be fired with nothing but a lie or salacious innuendo.  And a fired leader has no safety-net, no appeal, and no future in the ministry.

Whether you agree with my assessment or not, the results are all around us.  Pastors and staff are leaving the ministry at record rates.  They are tired, debt-ridden, disrespected, burnt-out, and in many cases, bitter.

If we really want to do something to turn the American church around, if we really want to see our churches flourish, we’re going to have to find a way to love, respect, honor, promote, protect, and care for our leaders.  Here are 5 ways you can start where you are;

  1. Let’s pay them a livable wage. Let’s stop being afraid of the abuses of a few and realize that with their dedication and training our leaders deserve a livable wage.  By that I mean, livable where you live.  Can they buy their own home, put down roots, send their children to school, take vacations, plan for retirement, and have a reasonable shot at living debt-free?
  2. Encourage them.  When was the last time you actually took your pastor, associate pastor, or other church staff member and just encouraged them?  Sent them a note or card, sent them a gift card to a local restaurant, took them out for dinner and paid for it?  Some constant, consistent act of encouragement lets them know that their work is not in vain.
  3. Give them time off for vacation, for training, for restoration. Why is it that in the American church the unspoken expectation is that you are always going to be there,  or when you step away for training, rest, recreation that’s a luxury that you really don’t need?
  4. Stop the complaints you hear about them at their source. If you entertain gossip, you are a gossip whether you originated it or not.  If you’re going to  help protect your leader, make sure they know you have their back.
  5. Give them a safety net. By that I mean just let them know that if something happens, we’re not just going to throw them away, kick them to the curb, and leave them penniless and destitute.  Yes, leadership transitions do need to happen, but the vast majority are not for failure, moral or otherwise.  Let’s let our leaders lead knowing that they won’t be out in the cold for one bad decision, or at the whim of some crazy elder, or board-member.

The church’s dirty little secret has to grieve the heart of God.  For how do we say we’re churches who love Jesus, respect God, and believe His Word, and treat His leaders so badly? If we want to set the example to the world around us of what Christians ought to look like, can we really do that and continue to fire, malign, and starve out God’s called leaders?

I, for one, am thankful for those who have loved me, taken care of me, supported me, and carried me; those who have come to my aid and watched my back.  Because I’ve gotten the love and support I’ve needed, I’ve been able to not only sustain my ministry for 38 years, I can say that I am more excited and have more vision for the future than ever before.

Love your leaders!  Those who serve you and lead you are worthy of double honor!  Think about it, if your church’s leaders are growing up in Christ and flourishing in their faith, won’t your church do the same?

Shut Up, Unless You Care

Have you ever noticed a lot of people doing a lot of talking and oftentimes what they say has the opposite result?  Instead of moving, influencing, inspiring or gaining compliance, people bow up and resist them at all odds.

Have you ever wondered why sometimes people simply won’t listen to you?  Maybe what you said or how you said it, or the tone in which you said it conveys that you don’t care.

Here is the truth: we don’t listen to people who don’t care about us. If you care more about your agenda, getting your way, or moving your project forward than the people you work around; if you come home and scream at people or just simply give them the cold shoulder, when you speak you’ll most likely get the opposite result you’re looking for.

Remember that in every relationship no matter if it’s at work or at home, you are leading without power.  All you have is influence.  How do you gain influence? Convince people that you care about them, that you have their best interest at heart, that you will against all odds, practice WWONDA – Win/Win, Or No Deal, Always.

The Right Tool for the Job

Imagine my dismay while on my Monday morning run, I saw this huge machine in a field chopping up a tree from the top down, with a huge rotary blade.  It’s kind of like a weed-whacker on steroids. The first thought in my mind was, “Man, that would be fun!”  My second thought was, “That’s the right tool for the job.”

That’s a leadership idea: the right tool for the job.  In leadership, it’s not about power and control, rather inspire and influence.  They’re always the right tools for the job.

We think that leadership is about being “over people,” sitting at the top of the heap occupying the highest place on the Org. Pyramid.  The truth is, leadership is not about pulling out the big guns and making people do what you want.  Leadership is about inspiring people to reach a common goal, to achieve a mission that you all agree desperately needs to be done and needs to be done well.

Next time you find yourself in a tough leadership spot – maybe it’s to make a decision on personnel or procedure – remember, there is a right tool for this job.  And command and control is probably not it.

Momentum: Building the Kingdom of God, Debt-Free

Last week, Paula and I attended a Momentum conference in Nashville.  If you don’t know what that is, I’ll be glad to explain and tell you why you ought to go too.

First of all, I love the word momentum.  It just creates a lot of good energy and feelings.  It’s that thing that once you have it, you look better than you really are.  And when you lose it, you can actually die as a group, an organization, and even as a person before you get it back.  So, enough said.

Momentum is a crusade that comes from Dave Ramsey and his amazing army of gifted and creative men and women who have bought into the mission that winning with money is critical and essential to winning at life.

Momentum is a 3-day conference for church leaders to come in and rally around a process by which we can fully-fund all of our ministry and vision needs with cash.  That includes our buildings.

Now before you read that and think, “now isn’t that sweet,” remember what a radical idea this is.  This is flying in the face of convention.  If I didn’t know better, I would think these people are renegades.  Oh, yeah, I do know better and they are.  They are trying to change a dangerous trend.  And that is, American churches in bondage to financial institutions.

We have all heard the verse that the borrower is a slave to the lender.  But in American church leadership, those verses have been used more to encourage people to tithe and give more to the Sunday offering, than a bigger vision of leading the church forward with more than enough resources to accomplish all of our dreams, visions, and hopes.

Here is my take on the conference.

  • Everything is done with excellence. The printing, the material, the settings were not over-the-top lavish, but done in a very professional way that made me feel like Ramsey and his army are taking this very seriously.
  • There weren’t just one or two people leading this group. There was an army of people leading, talking, and facilitating that made the experience far less intimidating.
  • The content of the material isn’t anything particularly new, but it’s brilliance is that it has been put in a process. I hate to say “program.”  I’m certainly not going to call it a “system.”  But it is a process that allows for us to put up structure and the effort to teach people to win at all of life with money.
  • Included in the conference fee were accommodations. They were first-class and really lifted the experience.
  • Since we had to leave the Financial Peace Conference Center to go eat, we were taken in nice buses with friendly people.
  • The food was great.
  • There were snacks and breaks which facilitated talking and sharing and meeting new people.
  • I walked away with a better understanding of how to put all the pieces together into a bigger picture.
  • Most of all, my big take-away, finally someone has noticed what those of us in leadership for a long time have seen: we can no longer afford “business as usual.”

On my hand I can count five growing churches within the Nashville area that together have a cumulative debt of over $36,000,000. Think of that. That’s crippling debt. That means that everything these ministries do must always go up and to the right.  No hiccup, no scandal, no one leaving the church over hurt feelings, no young, up-and-coming associate taking five or six hundred people and moving down the road and building a cooler, hipper version of what they have now.

What conclusions do I come to?  One, I sure am glad I am not one of those churches.  Though I respect them and love them and thank God for them, I fear for what is just ahead.  Two, I beg you.  You’ve read this far. Come and be a part of the momentum conference. I’m not getting paid for this. I get no kick-backs. I’m just a believer in someone who’s finally decided to stand up and put a tool in our hands that will allow us not only to build a building for bragging rights, but help us truly help good people grow great lives and win at life with money.

A Turkey With No Exit Strategy

On my six-mile run today I was interrupted by a turkey trying to cross the road.  Here is a picture of the fence he was trying to climb. Not only was there a bank that was five feet tall, the fence was totally intact. The turkey had come from a clear field onto the road without thinking about how he was going to exit.

The turkey was in a panic, running up and down the side of the road, even at times in the middle of the road, and finally going back from whence he came.  And I thought, “I know a lot of people just like that.  They’ve gotten into something for which they have no exit strategy.”

Here’s what I’ve learned: All good things come to an end. The best of things come to an end.  Even if they are productive and healthy for a long period of time, they will indeed come to an end.

The question before the house is, “When things are going badly, and you see the end, do you have an exit strategy? Or are you going to wait like this turkey and just run out into the middle of the road, hoping to climb whatever bank and fence stares you in the face only to have to run up and down the middle of a highway in danger of being run over?

Here’s what I’ve learned:  It’s better to heed the warning signs and exit early, than to wait and die.

Do Today What You’ll be Glad You Did

It’s no secret I am a big fan of Dave Ramsey.  It’s not just because I like his stuff, but I know the man and have a great deal of admiration for him.  So I listen to what he has to say more carefully than I do most other public figures.

Of all the things that I’ve ever heard Dave say, and one that sticks in my brain most is, “Today I will live like no one else, so tomorrow I can live like no one else.”  And I can say that Dave practices what he preaches.

It can also be said another way. That is, “do today what you’ll be glad you did tomorrow.”

I hate to tell you that’s the definition of discipline, because most of you will run as fast as you can.  You see discipline as some hard, difficult, terrible, nasty thing.  Today’s twenty and thirty-somethings act as though the words “delayed gratification” are curse words or archaic ideas of a Victorian age, thankfully long gone.

So say it this way, “Do what you don’t want to do today.” I’m talking about the things that you know you should do, like exercise, eat with some degree of self-restraint, study, pray, engage; get up off the couch and work hard.  You know those things.  It’s called self-discipline.  You might want to call it self-mastery; that I tell myself what to do.  I don’t let my body and my emotions run my life.  It is through my mind and my spirit that I demand that my body and emotions fall in line.

We do indeed reap what we sow.  And it’s almost always not convenient to do the hard, smart thing in the moment.  But when you can get up, suit up, show up, and do the next right thing, tomorrow is a bright future for you. If you can’t, not only are you going to be stuck, but tomorrow is a sad stream of stories that make you a cautionary tale, rather than someone we write books and make movies about.

The High Price of Dishonor

I met Tony Steward at a conference we both participated in as presenters, and since then I have been following his blog.  A couple weeks ago he put up a post that got my attention and just simply won’t leave my consciousness, so I thought I’d introduce you to the concept.

The title of the blog was, “No Honor, No Faith: A Young Leader’s Mourning.” Here are the first two paragraphs of this stellar post:

“I’ve treated my leaders as ordinary. I’ve thought I knew better and complained about it to others. In my past I’ve been agreeable to a leader’s face and then discounted them with others. I’ve rolled my eyes when others honor my leader. I’ve seen others who honor my leader on the same team as ‘koolaide’ drinkers and extended the dishonor to them.

For the past ten years, as a young leader, I’ve often done everything but really lead. This lack of faith, probably is in all sorts of things, but mostly is in God’s vision for me in the long term. And because of that lack of faith, and the obvious end of my ability, its easiest to lash out at the biggest target – often the leader over me.”

As I read this post by Tony, it reminded me of myself.  Yes, I have been guilty of exactly what Tony is confessing.  I wish I’d known.  I wish that all of my youthful zeal and understanding could have been informed by the wisdom of this post, that I would honor the leaders ahead of me, above me; not always because I thought they knew more than I did, or even that they were wise, but because it was the right thing to do.

Beware of the attitude that says, “I am justified in my disrespect – even in my betrayal – of a senior leader just because I think I know better, or I am smarter, or even more virtuous.”

Here is the point.  It will come back to haunt you. All of us have been betrayed by young people that we’ve brought around us to help us succeed: people we believed in, even people that we wanted to promote.  But somehow, through the flattery of others, or just the unwillingness to wait and earn their place of leadership, they use your platform to promote their agenda to get ahead; not to earn their way ahead, but to bully their way ahead with their smiles and their back-stabbing ways.

Before you dismiss this as a post by someone who is bitter, think again.  I understand how the world works.  I even sometimes understand how God works, in mysterious ways.  All of this is just simply a warning.  Honor those in leadership. Respect them.  If you can’t, then get out.  Go do your own thing, on your own terms; not by hijacking, or splitting, or causing dissent in the one you’re in now.

If you’d like to read the whole post, click on this link to Tony’s web site and enjoy.

You Can Have 32 Degrees and Still be Freezing and Failing

I’m hearing more and more these days of excuses why people can’t live the life of their dreams.  “It’s the economy.  It’s my wife.  It’s my background.”  And one of the most expansive excuses I continually hear is, “I don’t have a degree.”

Let me tell you a little story.  With a dream and a vision of what that dream looked like, my wife Paula and I moved to Nashville 21 years ago.  Our dream was to plant our lives in one place for the rest of our lives, in order to grow really great people through building a church.

What’s so unique about that?  There are churches everywhere.  Our dream was to build a church for people who didn’t want to go to church. And there are a lot more people who don’t want to go, than go each week.  And you can prove that by the statistics.  I am absolutely amazed by the number of people who don’t realize that people don’t accidentally not go to church.  They do not go for very specific reasons.

So this vision to build a church for people who didn’t want to go to church, for people who had given up on religion but not necessarily on God, was so big and spectacular and the need was so great, it was obvious to me there were more people like me who found religion and church-going boring, binding, and restrictive.  And yet when we launched this amazing new church, hardly anyone showed up.

We started with a handful of people who had been here trying to start a little Baptist church.  They’d been so discouraged that when they met me, they said, “If you don’t help us we’re going to give up and go back to our inner-city church.”

I realized that these sweet Baptist people probably wouldn’t make the whole journey and I was absolutely right.  But I knew they were good people with good hearts and could help us get started.  Here’s the challenge.  Even with good people to help us, and a great dream, the people didn’t show up by the hundreds and thousands like I had envisioned.

I wondered what was wrong.  I realized I had experience, I’d grown churches before.  As a matter of fact, every church I had served had done well.  I had just come from East Tennessee where I had a great experience with a church called Towering Oaks Baptist Church.  But it seemed in this new town, this town of creativity and spontaneity, of energy and enthusiasm, I was like a pariah. You know what my problem was? Well, that’s for another day and another post.  But let me tell you what my problem wasn’t.   It wasn’t for lack of degrees.

I have degrees.  I love my degrees.  I spent a lot of money on my degrees.  I love the schools I have my degrees from.  But the truth of the matter is, no one was impressed with my degrees. No one was impressed with my dissertation because it was on the shelves of a seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.  And even if it were bound and distributed no one would read it because it was, after all, an academic work that no one really cared about, except the people who required it to give me, yes, my degree.

Now the story is basically this.  The church of our dreams was created and realized; one of the happiest times of my life.  But it wasn’t because I had degrees.  As a matter of fact, that I had degrees when nothing was happening was more discouraging than if I didn’t have degrees.  But I am absolutely sure that if I didn’t have degrees I would have laid the blame of the slow growth of the realization of my dream on the fact that I didn’t have degrees. So you’re screwed either way, right?  You either have degrees and nothing happens (which is embarrassing) or you don’t have degrees and nothing happens (which is discouraging).

So let me just set you free.  You don’t need to put yourself into mind-numbing debt in order to go get a degree. Do the work.  Know what you’re doing, do the work, do it with passion, do it with excellence, do it over time, don’t give up because nothing happens fast.  There is no short-cut to any place you want to go and is worth going once you get there.  Just do the work. Do the work, do the work, do the work, do the work.

You Don’t Need a System; You Need a Process

As I survey the leadership culture of today’s organizations – all organizations – I see a renewed interest in systems, and somehow that our problems are in our systems.  If we had better systems populated with obedient people, our churches and our companies and even our government would right their courses and move on a path of growth.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  It’s our toxic, broken systems that have contributed a great part into where we are today.  Remember this.  After systems exist more than a couple of years, they exist only to survive.

Systems take on a life of their own because they are populated with people who are protecting their turf, their positions, and ultimately their livelihoods.  And you know like I do, someone protecting their family from financial ruin can get rough quick.  And who blames them?

We don’t need systems.  We need processes.  Maybe we needed systems back in the days before the Internet and ease of movement and the democratization of access.

But the truth is, today we need great processes.  A process is a pathway to a purpose, to a benefit, to a blessing.

Take Zappos for example.  They have great processes that are led forward by great, happy people.  If their process is unscalable, they simply change the process.

Look at Amazon.  They have a simple process to find what you want, get you where you want to go, buy what you want, find out all the details, check out, and get your stuff.  Isn’t that what we’re all after?

So instead of worrying about your systems, think about your process.  Focus on that, because the process creates a pathway for people to do business with you, to come to your church and feel wanted and welcomed without being snubbed.

My daughter has had her Nissan truck repaired at the same place since she owned it.  She loves it.  And she’s gotten great service.  But now the dealership has been sold.  And under the new ownership, with the old systems, the service sucks.  Guess what?  We’re leaving.  We won’t be back; not for service, and not to replace her Nissan when she needs a new one.  We’ll go somewhere where we’re treated with respect and where the process allows the people to serve their customers with joy, enthusiasm, and with the end goal of creating happy, repeat customers. Think about it.  How’s your system?  Probably stinks.  Think about replacing it with a process.

Who Do You Call Professor?

I love learning.  I think it’s a result of my radical conversion as an 18 year-old kid.  It wasn’t a conversion to The Beatles, or to marijuana, or a political party.  It was a radical revolution in my heart, started and continued to this very day by the real, live person called Jesus Christ.

I abhor religion.  Let me say it one more time.  I abhor religion. I am a renegade for God.  That’s exactly what Jesus was.  When I looked up the definition of  the word, one time, it read “someone who pushes back against conventional wisdom.” And I realized that was me.  That was why I loved Jesus.  He was a renegade.  He challenged conventional wisdom.  He believed people should be free, happy, filled with joy and inner peace.  He believed that loving people and helping people was the way to change the world and to create the world God had in mind when He created the world.

Sorry, that was a little tirade.  I’m a preacher, after all. So because I’ve loved learning, I’ve loved preparing to do my lifelong vocation: speaking for God.  Yup, that’s it.  That’s what I’ve done since I was actually 18 years old.

I’ve passed on this love of learning to my three children.
My three daughters all have multiple degrees.  My youngest daughter will be finishing her first degree soon. But I have a bone to pick.  I’ve sent these beautiful, smart women to universities to learn, and to love learning; to fall in love with lifelong learning.  And I think they have that.  But what angers me is that they’ve found that love of learning in spite of their many professors.

Who are these people that we call “professor?”  Think of the word itself: professor.  What do you profess?  What do you have to profess?  Let’s look at our institutions filled with academics who talk about academics all day long, to other academics.  People who, a long time ago, forgot what it was like to love to learn, and to love to inspire other people to learn and discover, to be curious, to ask questions.  Now all we do is give lectures and administer tests.  How sick, how sad.  And I’m angry.

So let me challenge you, for those who are professors or teachers:  Love it or get out. Have a revival in your soul for the love of learning.  Look into the eyes of these students.  They’re not just our future.  They’re our present.  They are the young men and women of America who are coming to you for virtue, for values, for learning, for knowledge and how to apply it in the real world.  How do they take what we have handed to them and make something beautiful and majestic out of it?  How are they going to learn how to do that if you don’t teach them?

If you hate your job and you are a teacher, I invite you to muster up the courage of a gnat and quit.
Get out and go do something that can fill you and the rest of the world full of joy.  There’s got to be something.  You’re smart, you’re good, you know how to pass a test, you know how to do this thing.  I give you permission to be set free.

Let excited, energetic, enthusiastic lovers of knowledge and truth enter into our high schools  and our universities and raise up a brand new generation of men and women who know what it’s like to not only dream and have visions, but to bring old standards and new applications to create the world that will solve the problems that are so big we often think they are insurmountable.  They’re not.  They can be solved.  But not by boring professors teaching boring kids, who are trying to get out to get a boring job, in order to drive a boring car, buy a boring house, marry a boring woman or man, have boring kids and be boring until we all bore each other to death.

4 Things We Can Do to Save Our Country Without a Government Mandate

One of the most frustrating things about being a pastor, writer, counselor, teacher, educator, whatever it is I am these days, is the widening gap between belief and behavior in this country.

We continue to hear from bad-news Barna and other sources that there is little difference between those who claim to be Christian and have faith, and those who claim no allegiance to God or higher power or however you want to define it.

That gap is seen in the fact that millions and millions of people in our country attend church every Sunday morning and then leave without any visual or measurable effect on their behavior day-to-day.

For me, I have decided not to curse the darkness, but to try to do something about it.  As I’ve thought about it, read, researched, and come to some conclusions for myself, I am convinced there are four things that we Americans, religious or not, could do to save our country and turn her around within one generation.  And we don’t even need a government bill or law to be passed.

Here are my big four:

Big idea #1: The minute we start keeping our promises and building and growing great relationships at home and in the workplace, our country will turn around.  Think about it. Money, government, the family, church; all institutions populated by carbon-based life forms, run on the virtue and integrity of the members of those groups.  If we simply committed ourselves to keep our promises when we get married, pay our bills when we sign contracts, and to give grace, love, and generosity to everyone within our circle of influence, our country would begin to turn around within one generation.

Big idea #2: If we simply stopped listening to the advertisements that promise us something for nothing, that take our money and rip us off; if we stopped looking at money the way we have been taught over the past generations by Hollywood and Madison Avenue, we would have more money to do the things that would help turn our families around.

We’d have money to send our kids to good state schools without leveraging their future by going into 40, 50, 70, 100 thousand dollars worth of debt.  We would help the environment by not buying new cars that break down every three or four years, consuming our discretionary income on interest and penalties.  Bottom line: earn money, spend it wisely, give some, and save some. It seems simple, doesn’t it?

Big idea #3: Start doing work that we have a sustainable passion for, and adds meaning to our lives and those we serve.  There is a revolution going on in our country that I am 100% for.  And that is, we’re raising up a generation who simply will not sit in long traffic jams to and from work, spending 3 to 4 hours of every day of their life going to office buildings to sit in cubicles to get paid to do meaningless (or at least it seems to be meaningless) work. I am seeing more and more smart, gifted men and women who are willing to become entrepreneurs and work for themselves, even if they work within a large institution.

My father spent 45 years of his life working at a job he hated, retired, and died six years later.  That’s not going to be me, and t’s not going to be this next generation. If we all did work that we have a sustainable passion for, that brought meaning to our lives and those that we serve, not only would we make a whole you-know-what pot of money, we’d all be happier and better-served.

Big idea #4: This one is one you might expect.  Don’t dismiss it. If the American church and those responsible for her leadership style and well-being would stop being so obsessed on leadership for leadership’s sake, would stop being so obsessed with being cool and slick and hip; if pastors would stop worrying about what kind of untucked shirt they wore for the camera, or what mousse they have in their hair to make them look like the religious version of the Goo Goo Dolls, and start really loving and caring for people more, we’d all be better off.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love the church.  It is the Bride of Christ, but as such our focus is on confronting, caring, and engaging people at the point of their pain, not at the point of our need for more leaders!

The Single Biggest Negative Trend Overtaking the American Church

Let me say, I love the church.  It is what Jesus died for.  If you don’t believe that, read the book.

I am afraid and ashamed that I have done my share of church-bashing.  My intention has always been to focus my comments toward that which obscures, redefines and robs the gospel of its amazing, life-changing, movement-shaping power.

That having been said, I’ve been committed to the American church since I was 18 years old. Through college, seminary, and graduate school, I have been a pastor with an unbroken stream for all of these years.  The church has saved me, loved me, transformed me, taken care of me in every way.  I am a happy pastor.  So this is not said with animosity or resentment toward anyone.  But there is a trend growing among the American church that if left unchecked, is unhealthy as any we’ve faced.

This trend is the deification of the concept of leadership and leaders.

Leadership is critically important.  Leaders are plentiful.  We have leaders everywhere; more leaders than we need, I’m sure.  But, as with almost everything else in life, really great leaders are rare.

That’s why when you see committed, visionary, sacrificial, uniquely-gifted leaders, they usually have gathered people around them.  And that’s a good thing.  God creates, calls and anoints His  man/woman, and empowers them to set the world ablaze.  The long list of those ordinary people who have done great things in God’s power is long.  If we knew the power of one life to change the world, the list would overwhelm us.

But what I see happening today is beyond the cult of personality.  It is leadership for leadership’s sake.  I’m getting all kinds of promotional material from pastors, leaders across the country about their latest book.  And with that book come CD’s, DVD’s, wristbands, perfume, chocolate, all kinds of cool stuff that convince me how cool and hip they are; none of which says much about the content.

Lest you think I am jealous (maybe I am) and resent the success of others (I don’t want to, though sometimes I do), this is much bigger than me and them.

Leadership is a tool. It is not a centric idea.  The gospel is the centric idea, the central theme.  The brokenness of humanity, huge concepts like redemption, reconciliation, and restoration are the epic movements that God has set loose on the world.

And what are we doing in America?  Trying to capture through a cool web site, Twitter, or any number of great, amazing tools available today in communication.  And let me be the first to say, I am all for communication.  But what are we communicating? Are we communicating the gospel?  Are we resonating with the broken hearts of people?  Are people coming and being fed, loved, healed, well-served?  Or are they coming and being made a part of our machine?  We need more people because we need a bigger machine, more systems, a bigger organization, a bigger platform.  You know the story.

Here’s the bottom line.  Leadership is a good thing. It is a God thing until it’s blown out of proportion and it becomes a disease.  Leadership is about serving; first serving Christ, second serving the gospel, and third serving others. Period.  Those who are motivated by money, crowds, or popularity are not new among us, but their voices seem to be incredibly loud.  Shout out to those of you who are in love with Jesus, the gospel, and broken people; who are willing to sacrifice everything to take the good news to those here in our country.  We are a great place to live, but a painful place as well.  We need the healing touch of Jesus delivered by the humble, healing touch of those He’s delivered

A Word of Warning to Pastors and Church Leaders in America About the Dangerous People Hiding in Your Organization

Churches, organizations, businesses, anyplace where there is a mission and a passion to extend that mission and its influence, are places populated by people, at first, just a few true believers.  And as the mission takes hold, and as you grow larger and larger, more and more people begin to populate the organization.

There are two kinds of people that hide in every church in America that will ultimately take you down. One, the bad person; two, the bored person.

There are bored people in all organizations.  These people really don’t know what to do, except they do know what they want.  They want credit.  They want attention.  They want power.  But they don’t know how to get it.  They can’t perform.  They don’t add anything to the organization.  The problem with them is they look good, sound good, smell good, and they interview great.  If you’ve got bored people in your organization, get them out now, today, tonight. They will try to overthrow you.  I know.  I’ve had it done, and it’s painful.

The truth is bored people are easy to identify.  Every bored person in one of my organizations that has ultimately hurt me I could have identified and dealt with. But I didn’t because I didn’t want to be viewed as a bad guy.  And ultimately, that’s exactly what I was viewed as, because bored people have to justify their behavior by demonizing the leader.

The hard person to identify in your organization is the bad person. For those of us who are Christians, it is hard to find it in our heart that there are really any bad people.  I am not talking about people who are lousy at what they do.  I am talking about people who are corrupt at their heart.  They have no motives.  They are not motivated by power or recognition.  They are just bad.  And the only thing they care about is tearing things down and sowing discord, distrust, and dissension.

You probably have some bad people in your organization, at least one.  If it’s a large one, maybe several.  You need to guard yourself against them because they are like a cancer. They spread and they infect other people who are otherwise happy, excited, and on mission.

This is a call to my pastor brothers and leaders of America.  Please don’t be naive.  Be at the wheel, diligent and alert. For just as much as the Sunday morning service is your responsibility, so is the well-being of the organization, and weeding out those who would harm it.  At the end of the day, it is not about the leader. It’s about the people; providing a place where they can find God, grow, and reach their full, God-ordained, God-blessed, God-given redemptive potential.

Putting The Jerk on a Leash

Ok, I’m not a jerk.  Or at least I don’t think I am.   But I am absolutely sure that there is a little jerk that lives somewhere inside of me because it so easily comes out.  I need to put that thing on a leash.  Let me tell you why.

I walked into a meeting with a good friend the other day: a young pastor who has been doing great things and had asked me to mentor and walk alongside him.  On the table set a book whose title I knew and whose author I knew all too well.  He looked at me with a smile, pointed to the book, and said, “Have you seen this book?”  And my little inner jerk took over from there and without a pause said, “Yeah I know this book and I know the jerk who wrote it.  I know exactly what kind of person he is and I have no respect for him or the book.”  I could see the smile and the air go out of my buddy.

I walked on in and got my coffee and came back out and the book was gone.  As we continued our conversation about our designated agenda I asked, “What are you going to do with the book?”  And he said, “Take it back.”  I said, “No, no, don’t do that.  You may love it. Don’t let my contrariness… and I explained why I held the opinion that I do, and did, and probably will for awhile.”   He explained that he had bought the book for me and his dilemma was that he signed it.  Well, guess how tall I felt.  Pretty small.

I finally convinced him to give me the book, apologized for my outburst, for letting my little jerk off it’s leash, and I learned a valuable lesson.  Each one of us can wound someone who, in the effort to honor us and love us feels like they have failed.  When someone tries to do something nice for you, no matter what it is, whether you want the gift or you think it has any value, make it a big deal. Put your little jerk on a leash and make your friend feel appreciated.

This is a Message to All Church Planters, Young Pastors, and All the Rest of You Bemoaning That You Have a Crappy Building

I was among a group of businessmen this morning, taking on the conversation about the economy.  One of the guys in the group of 13 asked, “How much church debt is represented in this room?”  And as each of these men, who are heavily involved in their churches and also very generous givers, tallied up the amount, it exceeded 55 million dollars.

Let me say that one more time.  In a group of 13 businessmen, they are attending churches that have in excess of 55 million dollars in debt. Does anyone but me see this as precarious?

In the interest of full disclosure, let me also say that I have built buildings, raised money, and yes, I have led the church to incur debt.  It has been my position in the past (though that is in a state of flux at the moment) that debt to build a building that appreciates and increases in value, and allows you to reach more people could be considered an investment.

That argument aside, let me say to all the young pastors and church planters out there meeting in schools, theaters, rented facilities, lodges, bars, don’t be so quick to think that if you had a really cool building financed at 9% by the local bank for thirty years, all of a sudden the answer to your problems would have arrived.

In the movie, Field of Dreams, the famous saying has worked its way into our cultural mindset.  And it goes this way, “Build it and they will come.”

Trust me, as a guy who’s been at this for awhile.  Buildings only matter to pastors, staff, and those of us who feel like we need buildings to validate our worth.

I’ll be quick to say, that I’m not sure all church debt is bad.  I know many godly men who have built beautiful facilities and I don’t question their judgment for one second.  But I will say, I do firmly believe that what has been normative in the past will be the exception in the future.

Should we have big buildings?  Absolutely.  Football does, baseball does, and those are trivial matters when you think about the eternal issues we deal with in the American church.  But should we go into so much debt that we are in bondage to institutions that have no interest in our success other than us paying our loan payment?

Before you build think about how to raise the money to build, because the people have it. Maybe I need to cast a more compelling vision.  Maybe, dare I say, I need to be more creative.  Bottom line, I can save you a lot of grief and misery.  At the end of the day a facility is wonderful.  But it is a tool, not a trophy.  It doesn’t validate your ministry.  It doesn’t make you more spiritual.  What we should be measuring rather than the square footage of our buildings and the size and sophistication of our staffs, and the budgets allotted to our video equipment, is life change.

Are people’s lives being radically changed by the good news of Jesus Christ?  Are marriages being put back together?  Are fathers falling in love with their wives with a deep passion equal to that which Christ loved His church? Have we raised enough kids who we are training to be adults to step into society and lead the way to a better place for us all?

If right now you are thinking about building, and you’ve called one of those fund-raising companies, think about it.  Push pause. Hey, call me. Email me.  I’d be willing to share my experience.