Ten Confessions of a Church Planter!

This is the first blog I’ve written since February when we launched LifeBridge Tyler. It has been quite a journey and continues to be the most thrilling, challenging, and yet joyful experience of my life! So, my first confession is to all of you faithful followers who have taken the time to read Reaching Forward: I’ve let you down. I’ve let you down for not writing and encouraging you to keep Reaching Forward in your life. Now let’s continue with today’s content.

I’ve known for 12 years that God has called me to plant a church! I have prayed, read the books and prepared. I reached a point about a year and half ago when I felt God was saying now is the time. I have the vision, I have the passion, I have the degree, I have the experience, I have the training; and now I’m ready! However, what I was not expecting was the experience that is unfolding as we speak. Instead, I’m learning a ton about myself and my relationship with God. Now I confess, but with each confession comes a fresh perspective and direction that God is taking me and I pray you can identify and learn from each one.

1. I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. I’m still learning. Good ideas and proven methods are great and should be sought after, but context and application is everything. In other words, there are no cookie cutters when it comes to walking out your calling and mission with God. 

2. I wasn’t as mature as I thought I was. I’m still growing. I’ll admit it, I’ve lost my cool more than once; with my wife, my children, myself and even God. You will always discover what’s inside you when you get squeezed. Never stop growing. 

3. I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was. God is now my strength. The difference in strength for leaders is level of responsibility. When someone else is responsible it’s easier to be strong in the face of adversity. However, the lesson here is to know what responsibility is yours and what belongs to God. He and I still discuss this regularly! No matter what, I need Him!

4. I wasn’t as close to God as I thought I was. I’m passionately drawing near to Him. God is consistently drawing me nearer and nearer so that I can see things the way He sees them. Not that I’m getting it all, but He’s trying. 

5. I didn’t pray as much as I thought I did. I’m praying more intentionally and more fervently. The only one that ultimately has the wisdom, strength and direction you need is God. As an under-shepherd to Jesus, I’m more drawn to prayer now than ever before! When you think you pray enough, thing again!

6. I didn’t understand what I thought I knew. I’m relearning key lessons from a different perspective. It’s amazing how what you know changes based on your perspective. Knowledge is great, but without personal application it’s pretty much useless. There’s no greater teacher than experience. Oh, and don’t judge others based on knowledge until you’ve been there.

7. I didn’t expect a relationship vacuum. I’m connecting with others more intentionally. We need people around us who care about us, especially when going through the most challenging seasons of life. Don’t be caught short on friends. God will use them to get you through another day.

8. I didn’t expect the unexpected. I’m prepared for surprises. The best way to know this is to measure your immediate response to the unexpected. Is it failure, massive roadblocks, or opportunity for creativity and growth? Don’t let an obstacle stop you – keep going! Find a way and get past it.

9. I don’t have what it takes. I need God and other people. I’m amazed at how much I don’t know how to do! I could tell you but the list is entirely too long for this post. Surround yourself with ALL types of people, not just those like you. Make room at the table for creatives that can’t stay focused and the OCDers that focus too much! Put them at different tables but include them all! 

10. I never knew the joy that’s possible when faced with the impossible. I’m having the time of my life on this journey with God! I never knew the hardest season of my life would also be the most fulfilling. I’m experiencing God, other people, and even myself on a level that is crazy awesome! I wouldn’t change a minute of it! Well, maybe just one! 

Keep REACHING FORWARD even in the difficult realities that life hands you! Embrace your journey and your own confessions, but turn them into opportunities for growth. It’s all about God pruning and shaping you into the amazing person you are and are becoming!

Feel free to share a confession or two of your own!

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Leading From the Middle – Part III

I recently had the opportunity to appear on The Pastor’s Life video blog to discuss the various nuances of leading from the second chair. I quickly realized that I had a lot to say about this subject based on my current position in a local church as well as 21 years in the military where everyone is second chair to someone.

There are many dynamics at work for a person leading from the middle. Direction, leadership style, desires, and personality come down from the top leader, while personnel issues, problems, tensions, questions, and various other factors float up toward the top leader. In the middle is a leader who is attempting to lead, manage, motivate, inspire, and stabilize from both directions. How does a leader in this position learn to lead with confidence and joy rather than hesitation and frustration? To answer that question, I have broken my comments into three parts relative to the relationship between the first and second leader. You can find Part I and II here. Today we look at Part III which discusses a couple of the major tensions that the leader in middle faces.

Think Synergy: two or more things functioning together to produce a result not independently obtainable.

Part III: Tensions to Manage

1. The tension of progression. Most ambitious leaders are always looking to their next level. I’m sure many church leaders in my position have asked the question that I have asked myself time and again: Should I move on to be a Lead Pastor? I have found that this question is better treated as a tension to manage rather than a problem to solve by forcing the decision. If a leader is constantly battling with this decision inside of himself, he will eventually become discontented and at the very least lose focus. Forcing this decision too early could be a detriment for both the organization and the leaders. I’ve found that the best way to look at this is not to ask “should I move on to be a lead pastor”, but rather, “what is God doing right now – in me as well as in the big picture of the organization.” We have to remember that we are only one part in the equation of what God is doing through us. Keeping the big picture in mind while remaining Kingdom focused is how I have learned to manage this tension best. When the time comes to move it will be clear to everyone involved.

2. Differences in leadership style. One of the tensions that leaders at all levels deal with is style of leadership. Some are more directive, some are more participative, some are very involved while others are mostly hands-off. I learned a long time ago that it’s best as a leader to focus on his or her own leadership style within his or her purview. The key for this tension is to be yourself and focus on your own strengths. I believe an organization can be much more effective when there is an environment where the leaders can lead from their own strengths and style. The most important factor that enables this type of environment is trust that is built on shared values and a common vision. We can embrace differences in leadership style when there is mutual trust that we are all moving in the right direction.

Leading from the second seat is not always easy, but it is rewarding given the right attitude and ability to manage the tensions that exist. Keep REACHING FORWARD for God’s best in your life and leadership! Embrace the season that you’re in and enjoy the journey along the way!

Comments welcome.

Leading From the Middle – Part I

I recently had the opportunity to appear on The Pastor’s Life video blog to discuss the various nuances of leading from the second chair. I quickly realized that I had a lot to say about this subject based on my current position in a local church as well as 21 years in the military where everyone is second chair to someone.

There are many dynamics at work for a person leading from the middle. Direction, leadership style, desires, and personality come down from the top leader, while personnel issues, problems, tensions, questions, and various other factors float up toward the top leader. In the middle is a leader who is attempting to lead, manage, motivate, inspire, and stabilize from both directions. How does a leader in this position learn to lead with confidence and joy rather than hesitation and frustration? To answer that question, I have broken my comments into three parts relative to the relationship between the first and second leader.

Think Synergy: two or more things functioning together to produce a result not independently obtainable.

Part I: Shared elements that are necessary

1. Shared Vision – It is vitally important that the first and second leaders share the vision for the church or organization. The leadership provided by these two individuals must point in the same direction. I joined with my Lead Pastor because his heart for ministry and overall vision resonated with me in a profound way. Over the years, we took what was at the core of our hearts and shaped the vision into what it is today. If the person leading from the middle does not own the vision from his or her heart, chances are that person is in the wrong position.

2. Shared Values – It is near impossible for two people to share the exact same values because we all come from different life experiences and backgrounds. However, it is possible and necessary to identify those values that are shared among you. The bottom line here is that values inform and shape a leader’s decision-making. Values steer the ship in the direction that it should go. If leaders are making decisions from different sets of values, then more than likely the ship is being steered in two different directions. We spent months hammering out our shared values and identifying those things that would genuinely guide us as we endeavor to accomplish the vision set before us.

3. Shared Strategy – Strategy is one of those things that is going to morph and evolve until you find what works. At times, different leaders are going to feel more strongly about a particular strategy than others. If there are fundamental differences in ministry philosophy and strategy then forward movement is going to be frustrated. In church world there are various models of discipleship from programs to Sunday school to small groups to a buffet model that includes all of the above. The key point for us in finding what works has been in sharing together in the development of our strategy along the way.

4. Mutual Trust – The most important element that can exist between the first and second leader is trust. Trust is developed over time. If the first and second leaders do not develop a mutual trust for one another, then neither of them will be able to lead effectively. Lack of trust among these two individuals will stall progress and adversely effect the morale of the organization. We have developed a mutual trust because we keep truth in the open. We have given each other permission to communicate openly and share our hearts with one another. The result has been a mutual respect and trust that empowers each of us to lead from our respective seats.

There are other aspects of leadership that must co-exist between the first and second leader; however, I’ve found that these four are essential to setting you on a path of leading with confidence and joy along your day-to-day journey.

Keep REACHING FORWARD to God’s best for  your church or organization. Together we can make a difference and impact our world in positive ways.

Comments welcome.

The Truth About Serving in the Church

One of our small group leaders shared an insight that she discovered while discussing serving among small group members. The discussion revealed that most people want to serve in ministry, but they are plagued and often paralyzed by the following questions: Can God really use me? Does God want to use me after what I’ve done? Am I worthy enough for such an important role? What if I fail? Am I qualified to serve in ministry?

These questions have existed in the hearts and minds of people since ancient times. Moses didn’t think he could speak eloquently enough and Gideon felt unworthy. Solomon felt unqualified to be king of Israel and Elijah once felt all alone. The Apostle Paul once had as his life mission to destroy the movement of Christianity, yet ended up as one of the greatest missionaries of all time and wrote over half of the New Testament.

The point is this: God doesn’t choose the qualified, the worthy, the social elite or the super gifted and talented;

Serving God is the natural response of our relationship with Him.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Eph 2:10).

The more we grow in our relationship with God the more we want others to experience His love and goodness. It is out of our relationship with Him that we realize the results of our serving lie in His hands. The answers are clear: of course we’re not qualified, worthy or fully equipped…in our own strength and wisdom. However, God has created each and every one of us to have a place of service in His kingdom (1 Cor 12:7). He has gifted each and every person to do their part in order to make the Body of Christ whole (1 Cor 12:12; Romans 12).

The issue that we really struggle with is fear; fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of rejection, fear of making a mistake, and so on. Like Moses, Gideon and so many others, the reason we struggle with these fears is because our focus is on ourselves. When you and I begin to focus on the power and purposes of God, our fears become smaller and smaller. It’s not to say that we will not always have some level of apprehension when asked to step out in faith and serve, but when our focus is on God and His purposes He will give us the courage we need to step forward.

The purpose for which God has designed you is in the context of fulfilling His purposes in the earth.

I want to encourage you today with the truth that God created you for a specific purpose. He has not designed your purpose to make you someone uniquely special for all the world to see. Rather, He has made you uniquely special so that you can do your part in fulfilling His purposes in the earth. You don’t have to figure it all out to get started.  Trust Him to lead you, guide you, and equip you to do the thing He’s asking you to do. If you are unsure, start somewhere! Trust me when I say this:

You will begin to hear God more clearly when you are serving His purposes.

Just start somewhere and allow Him to lead you! The classroom of serving is where we learn how God has truly gifted us. Jump in and get ready to embark on the greatest journey of your life!

Keep REACHING FORWARD in your relationship with Christ and He will walk with you into your destiny!

Comments welcome!

Four questions new believers are asking that every church leader should know.

In the Army we used to have a saying that was “never forget what it’s like to be a Private.” In other words, smart leaders never forget where they came from and where they started. Wise leaders realize they are here to blaze the path for those following in their footsteps.

I spent some time with a friend of mine who walked into a church this past Easter Sunday for the first time in 25 years. He opened his heart to Christ on Easter and has since shown great courage in getting plugged in to the church. In talking with him, I am reminded of some things that all church leaders need to remember and incorporate into their discipleship strategies.

Four questions new believers are asking

1. Will I fit in? New believers coming into the church are wondering if they can be themselves. They are not sure how to approach people who all seem to fit in. Imagine what it was like as a teenager going to a new school on the first day. Everyone seems to know everyone else, but I know no one. Are people looking at me as the “new” guy? Am I dressed the way I’m supposed to be? What if they find out I really have problems and don’t have it all together? Will I have anything in common with these people?

Church leaders need to teach and model how to engage people and make them feel welcome, especially if they are recognized as a newcomer or seem a little awkward in the room. Church goers should go out of their way to find something in common with a newcomer and communicate to them that they do fit in.

2. Will I be accepted or judged? New believers feel like outsiders coming in and wonder how they are going to be received. Many that I’ve talked with who have had positive experiences report that they were very surprised at how well they were received. They are often wondering what will happen when someone finds out what is really going on in their lives.

Church leaders should emphasize environments where people are loved and accepted because they are loved and accepted by God. Leaders should teach members how to deal with sin in a brother or sister without condemning and driving them away.

3. Will the preaching be relevant to my life? New believers are wondering if God really has answers to the situations that they are facing in life. New believers need to know that the Scriptures are relevant for today and that God cares about what is happening in their lives.

Church leaders ought to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in creative and relevant ways that answers the question: “How can my life be different because of what you are telling me?” “How do I live out this life that you are preaching about?” Our listeners should never leave a sermon wondering ‘how’ or ‘what should I do about what you just said’. Let’s equip them and give them the tools they need to be successful according to God’s word. By the way, this applies to everyone not just new believers.

4. Will the church be relevant to my life? One thing is for sure, new believers who publicly profess their new found faith are going to be teased, ignored, ridiculed, and persecuted by people they thought were their friends. They are wondering if there is a way to meet people who can fill this void and help them change their lives. The thought is this; if the people in the church can’t meet me where I am and actually help me through genuine relationships, then why should I change everything about my life and lose all my friends in the process?

Church leaders need to create opportunities for new believers to meet people. There should be multiple gateways for people to break into the church and begin building relationships. Small groups should be easy to join and the steps should be clearly communicated.

Most of us in the church have good hearts and want to genuinely help people. However, we all need to reflect on what it was like to be a new believer walking in to a church for the first time. We need to remember where we came from and create strategies that facilitate the assimilation and discipleship of new believers. Take a look from their perspective.

Comments welcome.

Why Church is not Enough!

I love my church! We have awesome church services from the worship to the preaching to the coffee in the cafe. Before and after services I get to see my friends and say hello to many people. I even get to have a conversation or two in order to get the three-minute update on what’s happening in someone’s life. As a pastor, I hear about the hurts, the pain, the needs and the prayer requests. I have the privilege of praying with a few. Even though I enjoy church and look forward to each service, church just simply isn’t enough.

Quality of life as a Christian is realized in community with others.

Jesus never intended for his followers to walk the Christian life alone. He sent his disciples out in pairs, met with people in their homes for a meal and discussions, and gathered a small group of people around him. Jesus set an example for us to follow when it comes to walking out the Christian life. The example that he set was that we are to live life in community with others. The early church in the book of Acts understood this. They lived a lifestyle of being in community with other believers. They went to church together, but they also met in homes and had meals together, worshiped and served one another. The result was more and more people came to know Christ, people were cared for, needs were met, they grew in the Apostles’ teaching and their lives were filled with joy!

Throughout the New Testament there are approximately 54 verses that refer to “one another” or “each other.” These verses are there for a reason. They are there to teach us how to be in relationship with one another. If our weekly church service was enough for us to live the Christian life, most of these verses would be unnecessary. God’s desire is for us to be in community with one another so that we do not take this journey alone. Meaningful relationships simply cannot be built on a three-minute conversation in the hallway on Sunday morning.

What happens when we do life together?

In small groups we grow in relationships. Here are just a few things that can occur:

Mark 9:50…we learn to be at peace with one another.

John 13:34…we love one another.

John 13:35…we demonstrate to the world that we are His disciples.

Rom 1:12…we encourage one another with our faith.

Rom 12:5…we are united with one another.

Rom 12:10…we are devoted to one another in brotherly love.

Rom 14:19…we build one another up.

Gal 5:13…we serve one another.

Gal 6:2…we bear one another’s burdens.

Eph 5:21…we are accountable to one another.

1 Thess 5:11…we encourage one another.

Heb 10:24…we have the support to reach our potential and purpose.

I love church and we need to gather together for corporate worship, celebration and hear the word preached. However, quality of life as a Christian comes through the building of relationships beyond the superficial level. When we begin to experience this kind of community with one another, we realize the true meaning of what the love of Christ is really all about.

Keep REACHING FORWARD to the fullness of Christ in your life! You can’t do it alone! Get in community with others!