Emotional Refugees

To come from a sect of Christianity that seems to be at the very least fading is to at some level be an emotional refugee. This is not to make light of the plight of the ACTUAL refugees of the world, for whom there are not just emotional ramifications but physical also. But I hope you’ll give me the chance to explain.

I am realizing more and more that most people live with a community that is theirs for their lives. It can be a geographical area. It might be a religious community. It could be art or sports or … whatever it is that ties a group of people together.

For those of us that grew up as fundamentalists, we mostly attended small Christian schools or were homeschooled, in order to “protect us from the world”. Our social lives were wrapped up almost solely with people who looked like us and thought like us and acted like us. We had our own complete mechanisms for sports, arts, faith, community, etc. While we might cheer for a local sports team we likely didn’t attend many games because they played ‘bad music’ and we might see cheerleaders improperly dressed (causing lust for the boys and improper heroes for the girls).

My experience is relatively normal from what I can tell within the subset of Christianity I grew up in. We were separated from the world. We weren’t quite a cult, but it would not be unusual for it to be confused for one.

So if one chooses to leave this sect of Christianity as an adult after being raised in it for their lifetime; after having gone school in that sect; after having gone to college; after having their whole lives wrapped up in it… if one chooses to leave, they aren’t just leaving a set of beliefs, they are leaving an entire life; a community.

For those of us who left, we entered a world we were not really prepared for and had to in reality start from scratch on learning how to experience life, how to build relationships, how to build a life. We were… we are emotional refugees.

Like all refugees, we didn’t choose who our parents were; we didn’t choose our place in the world of Christianity growing up; we didn’t choose the war that was ultimately fought for our souls. We chose to leave the war but like any refugee, once we woke up to what we believed to be the truth, there was no choice but to leave for our own emotional safety.

As I look back there are times when I wish I could go back and just believe, just shut off the parts of my brain that screamed “THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!” and “THIS ISN’T HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE!” and just stay with the tribe that I came up with.

But my choice was made long before I understood what a tribe meant, nonetheless the importance of that tribe.




I can tell you the moment that I made the decision to become a refugee. It takes some back story, so I hope you’ll pardon my digression here. But I think that at some level my tale of choosing to leave lays groundwork for the overarching theme.

When I was 19-21, I truly wanted to be a good Bob Jones boy. But much of me was a hard sell for the Bob Jones paradigm: I was a smart aleck; I was a questioner; I was seeking real intimacy and authenticity in relationships; I had a problem with what viewed as bad authority; I was a legalist against legalism. But I wanted to really KNOW God and see Him not just in the Scriptures but in the world around me.

The fundamentalist paradigm I grew up in felt like it was meant to squash questions, not foster them. For many families faith felt like a birthright handed down generation to generation and the knowledge of the ‘why’ was treated as though it were passed through the DNA and assumed as truth because it had always been true to those who believed it.

But when I reached young adulthood, I assumed nothing was true. I wanted to be convinced of “truth” not on the merits of those who told me it was true, but on the merits of how it held up against logic and universal truth. I WANTED to believe that what I was told was true, but could no more give that the benefit of the doubt as I could any other outside voice.

So at 18, 19 years old I tried to start from scratch. Knowing what I know now about psychology and brain science, I understand how impossible a proposition this actually was, but it was the goal. I wanted to just learn and understand and make sense of the world from an adult point of view.

I must’ve been really hard to deal with. At my worst I know I can be a demagogue and an iconoclast. I know that I can take the Devil’s advocate position too often just to try to better understand an argument I actually agree with. I know I was likely hard to lead well. I am not taking my own responsibility out of the mix here. But…

I think the job of leadership is to lovingly train and guide. My favorite teachers were the ones who kicked my butt but were fair. I can name off 7-8 teachers that I remember as being this: hard on me because they saw potential, but never unfair (even when I was likely unfair in response).

Then there were those that were ... not fair. And I can remember a clear moment when I knew that this fundamentalist life could not be for me.

In 1997, I had broken all my CCM and pop CDs. For about two years the only music I listened to was BJU-approved music. I was a new music major, I wanted to understand what I was studying and so I soaked it in. Probably the craziest thing I listened to was a CD of showtunes (BJU approved) by Colm Wilkinson or a CD of acapella pop songs (also approved) by the King Singers.

I had started a 10 member, male acapella group my first year at Bob Jones, for which I wrote and arranged. I would take old hymns and arrange in what I hoped were original ways. We would perform in Sunday school classes and Student body events, and finally we got asked to do the crème’ de la crème of performance spots: Vesper’s.

I wrote two songs for this Vespers and my group did another of my arrangements. They went through the approval process and everything got checked. We came to the day of the Vesper’s and my group performed beautifully.

I had come to Bob Jones – a conservatory level music school – with zero music training. I knew nothing about music except that I liked it and I wanted to compose. I had never heard of music theory. And in two + years I had learned to arrange and write music good enough to be featured in the school’s premier service. I had given up pop music. I had given up CCM. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be what they wanted me to be.

Rodeheaver Auditorium – the venue at the time for Vesper’s – did not really have a backstage area. So if your exit was on one side of the Auditorium and your next entrance was on the other, you were forced to go down two levels into the sub-basement, cross through scores of years of old props and set designs from old operas and Shakespeare plays, and then enter a stairwell, head up two flights of stairs up into the green room.

On the day of Vesper’s, during the second of two services, I was crossing over to go to the green room and as I entered the stairwell I heard my name echo down from at least two stories above me. I stopped. I quietly shut the door behind me and listened as two familiar voices – two professors I studied with in the music department – proceeded to eviscerate me and my acapella group as a disgrace to the high standards of Bob Jones University. They talked about my lack of character. They talked about my rebellious heart. They spoke about me as though I were unworthy of the education I was receiving.

Maybe the things they were saying were true. I have admitted my general shortcomings above. I am not free of blame. I can only own my own choices. And some of my choices in my life have been faulty.

But I think you can understand the feeling of betrayal and the utter deflation I felt in that moment. They eventually finished their conversation and left the stairwell, as my heart was rent in two.

I walked up the stairs, and into the green room, where one of the same professors I’d just heard trashing me, stood in front of me and gushed about how incredible what I had accomplished was and how amazing my compositions were and how incredible it was for a student to pull together such an amazing experience.

That was the moment I became a refugee.

Sure, there were other moments of betrayal. There were other heartbreaking experiences. But that was the one that I remember being the end of my trying to fit in this world into which I had been born. I hear people talk about my time at BJ, and the thing that they always say is, “You just never fit.” And it’s probably true.  And they don’t say this with malice, but with what I think is probably compassion and sadness.

But that was my community, my tribe, my people. If I didn’t fit there, where do I fit? And for those of us who don’t fit, where do we go?




The human condition is tribal in nature. At our lowest level, in our lizard brain, we desire to be in community. We are different from other mammals in that we can be in community with a large – but still limited – group of people at once… not only that we CAN be but we SHOULD be in community with a relatively large group of others.

Your childhood and young adulthood likely didn’t look like mine. There aren’t a lot of people whose childhood does. But what we have in common is that we need people – true friends – in order to be emotionally well, and when we don’t have that tribe, we can never live life truly to its fullest.

The human brain plays tricks on us, though, doesn’t it? When we’ve been hurt, it convinces us that the answer is protection; but in reality connection is the cure for all our woes. When we choose emotional connection over hiding – even when it’s painful and scary – we open up and relax parts of our brain that inform how full we believe our lives to be.

I’ll readily admit that while I sought friends beyond leaving my childhood tribe, I didn’t understand the true need for open and true community. Honestly, I don’t know that I had the emotional well-being until the last year to 18 months to actually, truly be in communion, in true emotional connection with others. I lived life with the appearance of intimacy but still keeping people far enough to not hurt me.

That day in Rodeheaver Auditorium broke a piece of me. I know it did. It was a life-defining moment, in spite of my desire to not let it be. I felt I couldn’t trust authority; I couldn’t really submit to a system; in a strange way in leaving legalism I became legalistic. And while it gave me the sense of emotional survival for most of my adult life, in reality it kept me from what I desired the most: true intimacy within a community of people who loved me and I loved in return.

And my guess is you’ve lived through heartbreak similar to this. Maybe it had nothing to do with faith or religion, maybe it did. Maybe it had nothing to do with being rejected by authorities, but was loved ones or friends instead. Whatever it was, maybe you feel a piece of you is hurting and missing. You desire this intimacy and community but have never quite figured out why you feel this way or who that community can and should be.

First off, I hope that this piece has helped you understand that you are not alone.

Secondly, I’d encourage you to get help emotionally. I have been in therapy now for nearly 5 years, and it has legitimately changed my life, revolutionized my worldview, allowed me to heal and forgive my past, and become more of the man I know God has called me to be. Good therapy/counseling is life-changing. You must be dedicated to honesty and humility – honesty so that you can admit where you’re truly at so an outside voice can suggest how there might be better ways to look at the world and humility that is willing to admit failures and to fix them.

Thirdly, search within yourself and find the desire for a tribe, for community. Once you see it, figure out what emotions – negative or otherwise – surround that desire. Is it fear? Sadness? Joy? Peace? If you can figure out what emotions drive your lack of community (if there is a lack) it will revolutionize how you can build community.

Finally, build a tribe or join a tribe. Find the group of people you can surround yourself and grow and love and be loved in. We need community. It is in our nature and goes back as long as humans do. Don’t try to shake it to protect yourself, lean into it.

You might be an emotional refugee, but the beauty is that even refugees can find a home and find a new tribe. I know that that is my goal for my life. I hope if you feel like you're lost, that you can find a home. Don't be a refugee.

From Results to Fruits

I turn 40 this year. 

As I move fully into middle age - at least in actual age... I still feel like a kid trying to figure it out - I have begun to think more and more about legacy. Obviously my children are my most obvious legacy. But what will people remember me for? How many people will remember me?

At one point, I believed that I had been put here on earth to build a legacy of great songs and great albums. I was talented and ambitious and was willing to fight for what I felt was owed to me for my talent and ambition. 

But even as God took away - at least for a time - that dream of being an artist whose work would be his legacy, I still relied on the same muscle memory as I went into church work, full time. I knew I had vision. I knew that I could get stuff done and that stuff would be great, if we could just get my vision to tape or video or paper, or whatever form it took. 

I had a version and a vision of excellence that no one else's version or vision could match... at least that is what I believed. And so I fought for that vision. Because it wasn't just a video or a song recording or a spoken word piece or a conference opener. THIS was my legacy. The work. The results. My legacy.

Then a close friend and mentor said to me, off-handed, "Chris excellence isn't a fruit of the Spirit. But love is."

There was more to the conversation than that, but that was the line that has stuck with me for over three years now. 

Excellence is a wonderful thing. Vision is an incredible thing to have and to cultivate. Learning to shepherd your vision to completion is a difficult and important thing in the life of any leader and any creative.

But without love, those things are meaningless.

And here's the kicker... you don't get to decide what love is. I truly believe that the people to whom you give your love decide whether it is truly love by how they receive it.

I would've told you that I loved the people around me, and that getting them to do it my way was love. I knew better. I had experience. I had expertise. If they did it my way, the results would be better. And typically I was right.

But they received my love as bullying, and if not bullying, as a bulldog fighting for his truth, or a bull in a china shop. Either way... they all had the word 'bull' in it. 

And so I went through and I studied the fruit of the Spirit. I began to work towards actively living the Fruit. To live out how Jesus described the kingdom: "where there is righteousness, peace and joy". When there was a discrepancy that felt like someone on my team or someone around me could receive my version of excellence as unloving, I worked to either find a better way to communicate or to budge off my version of good. When there was a question of results vs love, I erred on the side of love. I loved the people around me, as best I could, and I listened and learned.

And here's the funny thing... over the past couple of years, I have seen different results than I would've seen had I bullied my way to what I felt was best. In many ways, I'd even judge them to be better.

But here's the thing. I've come to realize that I dunno that I believe the results to be all that important anymore. Because along with the results, I know this:

1) work with good people and chances are you're gonna get good results. Many times, you'll even get the best results possible.

2) in the meantime, I have built relationships with people that are the most rewarding relationships I think I've had in life, built on mutual respect and freedom, instead of fear or positional power. I have already seen the fruit of those relationships in ways that have honestly helped me through an incredibly tough 2017. 

Results are important, but they aren't my legacy.

The fruit of my relationship is the my legacy now. And I can't even explain how shifting from results to fruit as my focus has revolutionized my life.

What do you think? Does your life "bear good fruit"? If not what can you do to change that?

September 2017 Guitar Set Up

Every now and then I'd like to keep up with my ever-changing guitar collection and pedal-board, for the sake of posterity. It's always fun to look back and see what I was using at any given time.

Current Pedal Board


For the last few months, I have had a handful more pedals on my board than this, but I just set up my board for a camp I'm playing 6 weeks for, and because I'm flying I needed to lose some pedal weight, so 5 pedals came off, and left me with this. "Barebones" for me - definitely gives me the sounds I want to be able to make.

Here's the chain:

I come from my guitar straight into:
1) GoodWood Audio Interfacer
I have been lucky enough at a couple of my churches to be able to run stereo most of the time. In my studio, I run stereo always. However, the times I have to run mono, unplugging cables was always a pain. The Interfacer allows me to sum my stereo to a summed mono signal for one amp, the times when I need to run mono.
2) OneControl Crocodile Tail Looper
This has been an off and on part of my arsenal for a long time. It's a programmable true bypass looper that allows me to send MIDI to my MIDI pedals. So, with the touch of one button, I can change all the effects I want to change AND change delays and reverbs on my Strymon Big Boxes.
3) LOOP 1: Keeley Compressor
Impressive compressor -- not too squishy. The pickup selector is a really great addition and makes moving from single coils to humbuckers more musical.
4) LOOP 2: J.Rockett Archer
I love Klones. This is the best one I've found.
5) LOOP 3: ChuckPedals ZenLike Overdrive
I received this pedal in a trade a coupla years ago and as soon as I plugged it in, I knew it'd be hard for this to ever leave my board. It is the best high gain overdrive I've ever played. It's Dumble-esque and Marshall-esque all at once.
6) LOOP 4: Strymon Sunset
I was as cynical as the next guy about Strymon getting into overdrives. I got the Riverside and didn't really enjoy it. But I plugged into this at a local music store and was blown away. It's a special pedal, and I love having dual overdrives - and choices for each side, btw - at the end of my drive chain.
7) LOOP 5: Ernie Ball Volume Pedal
Turns up... turns down. It's pretty simple.
8) LOOP 6: TCElectronic Afterglow Chorus
The cost vs value of these things is ridiculous. Great chorus pedal for very, very cheap.
9) LOOP 7: Xotic FX EP Booster
A wonderful recreation of the Echoplex Preamp stage. I'm using it here as a lead/solo boost.
10) Loop 8: Walrus Audio ARP-87
Anyone who follows my gear habits, knows I love delay pedals. I've owned WAY too many of them. This is one of my favorites I've ever owned. It's really warm and special. I use it mainly for swells, but it works great as a main delay, too.

I skip Loops 9 & 10 in this setup and come out of the One Control into...

11) Strymon Timeline
It is in my opinion the best-sounding mega delay pedal on the market. Its functionality is unparalleled. I program all my delays here, and control the moving from patch to patch and bank to bank via the OneControl.
12) Strymon Big Sky
I come stereo out of the Timeline, into the Big Sky, which is the best sounding reverb pedal ever, in my opinion. I've owned it 3 different times. But the Cloud and Bloom settings are unparalleled.

And from there I come stereo back to the Interfacer and out to my amp(s).

All of it is powered by the Strymons, Zuma and Ojai.

The Guitars


2008 Gretsch White Falcon 6136-LTV
By far one of the most beautiful guitars ever made. I was lucky enough to get this by trading two guitars I had gotten for very cheap (a Gretsch 6117 I got for $900; and a Gibson Les Paul Traditional Plus I got for $800). The TV Jones Filtertron sound in the Gretsch hollowbody is something truly magnificent. It's one of my favorite guitar sounds. I'm grateful to own this guitar.


1980 Gibson ES-347
About 10 years ago, I went on a quest to find the perfect 335-type guitar. I knew I wanted a Gibson and I have always loved the Custom headstocks over the plain jane Gibson headstock... so as I played I slowly narrowed down my search to upper level 335s, 345s, 355s and 347s. I played this at Gruhn's Guitars here in Nashville and walked out with it the same day. It's a very very cool guitar. The humbuckers have that nice dark rolled off vibe you expect from a vintage Gibson semi-hollowbody, but this guitar gives something else: split coils (the switch on the lower bout splits the coils). And the split coil sound on this guitar is one of my favorite guitar sounds I've ever played. To my ears, it's thinline tele-esque, but with more girth and warmth. It's really nice, and it's the best feeling guitar I've ever played.


2013 Gibson Midtown Custom
I just traded a Custom Jazzmaster I had for this, and I have to say it's one of my favorite guitars I've ever owned. First off, it's a beautiful guitar. Secondly, it feels and plays amazing. Thirdly, the humbuckers are punchy and chimey, and the split coils (via volume pots) give a sound that's very close to my ES-347 split. I may have stumbled upon another "forever" guitar.


1997 Gibson Les Paul Traditional
Another really special guitar I lucked on via trade. I have probably owned 50 Les Pauls, from top to bottom of the range, from Epiphones to Gibson Custom Shops. This is my favorite I've ever played. One, I love the black and cream. Two, it stays in tune better than any Les Paul I've ever played. Three, it feels great. Four, the pickups are the chimiest pickups I've heard on a Les Paul -- I have been told they sounds more Gretschy than Gretsches. Haha. The Bigsby came stock in the Traditionals of '97 and '98, so that gives it a little more mojo.


2016 Sublime Tux-J
Sublime Guitar company is an incredible USA guitar company. They make parts overseas, then assemble the guitars in the USA and they sell them at insane prices, and the quality on these things is unbelievable. This little Les Paul Jr-y thing is ridiculously cool and the Custom-wound P90 sounds amazing.


2017 Sublime J-Hawk
Another Sublime Guitar Company guitar. Gosh, this thing is beautiful - that GreenBurst. The pickups are darn near perfect and it's everything I love about the best tele-type guitars: super spanky but not too bright bridge pickup; a warm but chimy neck pickup. This thing feels and plays great. And the cost to value ratio on these things is seriously unbelievable.


1981 Tokai Silver Star
I have always struggled with Strat-type guitars. They are either too shrill or too tinny or too spanky or too chimy. I have likely owned 35 or 40 Strats through the years, and just could never find a keeper. Until this. It's a Japanese Lawsuit guitar that I bought on a lark off eBay from Japan. Took 3 months to get here and I had to pay customs on it, but in the end, it is my favorite Strat-type I've ever owned. It has the beefiest pickups I've heard in a strat, while still being chimy and bright just like you want from a Strat. Check these things out... they're really special.


So - that's my collection for now. I'm sure it'll change. Feel free to ask any questions!


The Four Stages of Church Growth

Over the past few years, my focus has moved slowly from solely being on creativity within the church, to focusing on trying to see the overarching patterns in the Church world today. And as I’ve studied and asked questions and gotten to know certain ministries down through the years, I’ve come to realize there are 4 numerical growth stages churches go through in typical (if there is such a thing) growth patterns.

Now, obviously – as with most things in life – there are no rules, there are no constants… but I’ve seen this happen enough through the years, with a large enough cross section of churches to understand that this is the norm, not the exception. Now – obviously the numbers here are rough estimates and could happen earlier or later relative to a church’s history and growth pattern. But the basic stages are basically the same, I think.

Typically, a church starts with a small team of people and for whatever reason – dynamic speaker, loving people, programs, etc. – begins to grow. The handful of families involved at the launch slowly (or quickly) grows to roughly 200 people.

Getting over the “hump” of 200-ish people is, for some reason, a hump that a large majority of churches struggle to get over. Most (And by “most” I mean “nearly all”, statistically) churches in America are smaller than 200 people in weekly attendance.

Typically, staffing for churches of this size is minimal: a lead pastor and a whole bunch of volunteers.

To get over the hump over 200-ish, churches typically need to begin to flesh out a greater vision and focus on hiring people to create or build programs (children’s, worship, students, small groups, etc.) A church of this size typically has a full-time lead pastor, some kind of full-time administrator (could be an executive pastor) and a bevy of part-timers and volunteers creating and building the other departments.

Nearly always, as the church continues to grow, these positions are filled with people who were in their positions (part-time or volunteer) before the church reached the hump. They are typically not necessarily the most qualified for their positions – with the exception of the lead pastor and administrator – but they are bought into the ministry and are sold out for the cause of Christ and the church.

The value most churches have in this stage is not skills, but heart: do the people involved buy into the vision wholeheartedly; are they loyal to the leadership; do they inherently understand and get the culture of the church and – likely more importantly – the staff?

It should be noted that I am (hopefully) not making judgements about the good or bad of any of these choices; I am simply reporting what seems to be the “typical” patterns for churches.

The Stage 3 hump is somewhere between 1500-2000. At this point, the staff has filled out into full-time positions leading most departments. Typically, a church of this size has somewhere in the $1.5-2.5m budget and roughly 45% is spent on staff, and at 100-150 congregants per staff member, this means roughly 15-20 full-time staff positions + several part-time positions, on top of the now several hundred volunteers.

Typically, these 15-20 full-time staffers were hired form within, usually hangovers from Stage 2. The worship pastor who was there at 250 people is many times the guy who is there at 2000; same with the Kids’ director; same with students; and on down the line. Many times this means that as the church is ready to get over the next growth hump, they are harboring staff members ill-prepared or improperly-skilled to lead ministries the size they now lead.

At Stage 3, churches typically make tough decisions about which ministries have leaders most ill-prepared and improperly-skilled; or they make decisions about the KIND of church they will be. A church might decide the “front door” is the most important thing, and so the worship pastor since 200 people just isn’t “good enough” anymore, and so they let him/her go and move on to someone who will be better skilled to lead a larger congregation. Or maybe the church decides it will be a ministry for Families… so the old worship pastor makes the cut, but the Kids and Teen ministry is revamped with better, more skilled leaders.

Stage 3 is a difficult stage because churches are typically forced to cut people who are well-loved … and it’s the first Stage in which skill is more valued in certain cases than culture and loyalty (even if the church still values those things).

Many, many, many churches get stuck in the 1500-2000 range for various reasons. It’s an even more difficult hurdle to get over than Stage 2. It takes hard decisions by leadership to let people go and even wiser decisions on how to replace those long-held and loved (but lesser-skilled) leaders. Many churches choose to value longevity, loyalty and seniority over skill and calling, and this is a wonderful thing for the safety of the people who work for these kinds of churches. But many times it also halts growth.

(Again I am not making a judgment as to whether this is right or wrong, it simply is. I am not sure that I personally believe that numerical growth is the only call for churches. And as someone who has been let go from a church, I can tell you that my family and I would have loved to have had the safety of longevity.)

To get past the Stage 3 hump, many tough decisions will be made.

The next hump is at roughly 5000-6000 people weekly. This is rarified air. What, fewer than 100 churches are here? But when you look at Outreach Magazine’s list of the top 100 churches year after year, it really is amazing to see how many churches skyrocket their way to 5-6000 weekly, only to get “stuck” there for years.

This hump is as hard or harder than any of the other humps to get over because Stage 4 is coming to the grips with the reality that every piece of your ministry must be excellent and in line with a clear and concise vison and philosophy of ministry.

Look at every church on the Outreach list that is 7000+ and you’ll find churches that either A) have hired and fired (or to a lesser extent, grew from their leaders from within via either intern programs or leadership development) their way to fewer than a handful (if any) original employees from Stage 1 and 2, and maybe even from 3; and B) a church focused on making sure every single department in the church is run by highly-skilled leaders leading other highly-skilled leaders. At this point, few churches – with a  handful of notable exceptions – are building from within anymore. Most churches at this point are going out and hiring people from outside who are great at their jobs, and can transfer their greatness to people within the organization.

I think the Stage 4 hump is difficult to get over for a wider variety of reasons than the other humps. Every leader has a leadership potential of x amount of people. The better a leader delegates to other good leaders, that number increases exponentially. In my research and experience, leaders stuck in the 5-6000-ish range are leaders who want control and refuse to truly delegate, and in turn limit their leadership potential.

Another reason for the difficulty in getting over the hump is that purging good leaders to replace with great leaders is painful and heartbreaking, and – if done too quickly – can severely damage the health of the staff and, in turn, the church.

In a perfect situation, the staff re-tooling happens fluidly, along the way, as opposed to reaching the Stage 4 hump, realizing there’s a problem and then firing everyone who isn’t “good enough”. But I have seen churches do it that ways. You’d be surprised what happens when a church hits the first numerical growth lull in its history, and the things lead pastors will talk themselves into (or allowed themselves to be talked into).

If the church has found the right “great” leaders to replace the good ones, the new struggle becomes, “How do we keep the culture and heart of the church the same while bringing new people with different leadership experience and different ideas?”


So – what’s the point of this?

Well, in reality, this article is a set up for one to come. As churches in Stages 2-4 begin to hire people from outside their organization for key leadership roles, I believe it is vital for these churches to think about the long-term as well as the short-term. I believe that the culture of the church must be protected and the vision must be cast well, and that doesn’t happen if outsider staff members aren’t indoctrinated well enough to become insiders. And I believe that the onus is not on the outsiders to become insiders… it is on the insiders to know who they are and what their organization is, in order to best bring the outsiders into the fold and create a culture that the outsider can as quickly as possible grow to be an insider.


But again – that is another article that is coming.

For now, though – what do you think? You see the same patterns? Or would you describe the patterns differently than I? Comment and let me know!

Ideas for Owning Several Guitars

Some people like to have several guitars at once. Some don’t. I do. I have just resigned myself to it. There are different reasons for owning several (or many) guitars. I choose to own a few because A) I like having different options for my playing shows and leading worship; and B) I love having different “sounds” for the large amount of recording I do.

So - I’ve been developing a system of thinking about owning several guitars, for a while, and I thought I’d share it.

I figure there are 6 basic types of guitars for what I do (mostly pop/rock and praise & worship). 1) S-Type; 2) T-Type; 3) JM-Type; 4) Gretsch-y semi-hollowbody; 5) Gibson-Scale solidbody; 6) Gibson-Scale semi-hollowbody. A 7th could be Gibson-Style p90s.

Now obviously there are many other kinds of guitars, and even within these 6-7 types, there are TONS of variations. I’ve owned S-types with HSS, HSH, HH, SSS and SSH variations of pickups. T-types can come with just as many variations: SSS, SH, HH, SS. They all go on and on.

For the sake of clarity, I think it’s important to define what I think makes each guitar distinctive for usage. There are obviously no rules for use of guitars, so this is not a comprehensive, “all the ways it can be used” list, but instead the major distinctives. As a side note, I’ll also tell you the guitars I have landed on for my personal use.

DISTINCTIVES: he chime of a single coil neck pickup; the funkiness of the 2nd position. I think it doesn’t really matter if there’s an H or S in the Bridge… but I prefer a single coil, specifically for the balance of the 2nd position.

My current and forever S-Type is a 1982 Tokai Silver Star. It has an SSS combination, and the (original) pickups are beefy, warm and higher output than a normal S-type, and these pickups are my personal favorite of any Strat I’ve ever played, despite its relatively low price tag (these can be picked up for $5-700)

DISTINCTIVES: the bright spank of the bridge pickup; the chime of the middle position. I personally prefer a H in the neck.

My current T-Type is a Sublime Guitar Company J-Hawk with an SH combination (the H being a mini-tron). This is my favorite T-Type I’ve owned specifically for the pickups. The bridge is bright and spanky but has incredibly well-defined bottom end, while the neck pickup is warm but clear. This is another budget guitar (new they run $399) that may end up a “forever” guitar for me.

DISTINCTIVE: JM-Type guitars are bright and clear and have what is called the Rhythm Circuit to roll off some of the high end. Sound-wise I personally am not a fan of the traditional JM-Style guitars. The Jazzmaster pickups – single coils of a different variety than either Strat or Tele (or even p90s) and they have a ping at 2k that just bugs my ear. So – though I’ve owned a handful of these – I have decided not to own a true JM-Type.

I do have a JM body type – which I enjoy the feel of – with TV Jones Classic pickups in it, handcrafted by Logan Custom Guitars here in the USA. These are well-priced “boutique” guitars that I think are worth looking into (a true Custom guitar can be had for under $1500).

Gretsch-y Semi-Hollowbody:
DISTINCTIVE: in order to be “Gretsch-y” in my mind, is to use Tron pickups (i.e., “filtertrons”; I prefer TV Jones Classics over actual Gretsch filtertrons). Some Gretsches use dynasonic-style single coil pickups, but the “sound” your ear hears on your favorite worship recordings, or from the Edge, is nearly always Trons of some sort. The filtertron sound is its own thing, and when put into a semi-hollowbody guitar, it gives warm, chimey, very special results.

This is one of my favorite sounds, and I own a Gretsch 6136-T LTV White Falcon.

Gibson-Scale Solidbody:
DISTINCTIVE: Think Les Paul. Obviously there are TONS of variations of Les Pauls’ pickups… but what we most think of is Jimmy Page or Slash pounding out rock and roll on PAF-style humbuckers. Typically my favorite humbuckers are bright and airy (but ballsy) in the bridge and warm and chimey in the neck.

I have a 1997 Gibson Les Paul Traditional Pro with a Bigsby and it is the chimiest Les Paul-type I’ve ever played.

Gibson-Scale Semi-Hollowbody:
DISTINCTIVE: Think ES-335. There are TONS of options today for this style of guitar, some expensive, some not as expensive. The main thing I think you look for is PAF-style humbuckers, which – in the semi-hollowbody – give you a warmth and rolls off the mid-honk of typical humbuckers.

I played through dozens of this style of guitar back when I was trying to buy one of these and I ended up settling on a 1980 Gibson ES-347, which is a 335 on steroids: gold hardware, mircotuning system in the bridge, and (my favorite addition) split coil switch for the humbuckers. I typically run the split coils and the sounds ends up very much like a warm, thinline telecaster.

A final type of guitar that I personally enjoy is the Gibson-Style p90s, preferably in a solid body. There’s a clarity and spankiness to Gibson-Style p90s, especially in a Les Paul-type body. I own another Sublime Guitar Company model called the Tux-J – it’s a single p90, in a Les Paul, Jr. type body (another budget guitar WELL worth the cost at $399).

So – if you’re interested in owning several guitars here’s some guidelines I have landed on for myself and perhaps it can give you ideas for yourself.

1)      Figure Out Your Jam. Spend Your Money there.

Of the 6, there are 2 I love (Gretsch, 335), 1 I really like (Les Paul), 2 that I don’t necessarily love but are necessary (T & S), and 1 whose “normal” sound I just don’t care for (JM-type) (+ the Gibson-style p90 which I like, but not enough to spend the xtra cash for a more expensive one). If you look at where I’ve spent my money, it’s 65% in the top 2, and 75-80% on the top 3. Figure out what you love and spend the most money on that guitar or those guitars.

2)     Diversify.

In my opinion, having the major food groups (i.e., the 6-7 sounds) in some way or another is really important (if it’s possible) if you are going to record and play at a higher level in church. Believe me, having 1 guitar is GREAT and gets the job done (and there is NO shame in getting the job done), but when a song calls for a Les Paul and you’re playing a tele, or the song calls for a Strat and you have a Gretsch, it ends up not working as well as it could. Again – there is NO shame in having only 1 (or 2) of the major sounds… but if you can, diversify.

3)     Be Willing to Go Cheap.

Finally, don’t be scared of budget guitars. I’ve been collecting guitars for 15 years. At my height, I owned 37 electric guitars. I’ve owned expensive guitars and I’ve owned cheap guitars. If you invest in the guitars that are your favorites or your main guitars, I really truly believe there are viable options out there – especially in the Fender-Style guitars (S-Type, T-Type and JM-Type) – in the budget range for your secondary guitars.

There are vintage (now) 80s Lawsuit guitars MIJ or American companies like Sublime and Michael Kelly that you can find in the $4-700 range. There are GREAT Les Paul-type guitars from companies like Sublime, Michael Kelly and others in the $5-700 range. There are really good 335-style guitars that can be had for $700. And the lower-range 5-series Gretsches (from $6-800) are actually really decent quality (I started with a 5622 and it still is one of my favorite guitars I’ve owned). My point is this: if you have the money, spend it on the guitars you know are going to get a workout. If you have the money for 10 top of the line guitars (or 35), do it. But most of us don’t. So don’t be scared to find great guitars for cheap. A price tag does not define quality.


Anyway, I hope this helps at some level. There are so many great guitars out there! Find the ones that work for you.

The Moment of "What If...?"

My son has trouble eating. If he’s watching TV or he’s distracted in any way, he’ll just pick at his food. So, my wife and I have to keep on him to make sure he finishes what he started. My daughter (3 years older than he), knows this and relishes in helping oversee his eating habits.
            Today, I fixed breakfast for them both, then went up to my studio to do some work. Some time later, Keira comes up and says, “Is it okay for McCartney to be done eating? He hasn’t finished his waffles OR his yoghurt!”
            So I go down and scold McCartney a bit, asking him to please eat. At one point, I said, “Bud, you can’t waste food. You have to finish the food we give you.” And Keira pipes up, “Yeah! I finished my food.” And I ask McCartney to finish and I throw away the top of McCartney’s yoghurt bucket…
            …only to find two of Keira’s three French Toast Sticks in the trash.
           I do a double take. Make sure that what I’m seeing is really what I am seeing.
            And then I confront Keira for her bold-faced lie. After we talked for a moment, I sent her to her room for a time out while I figured out what to do about this.
            Look – it’s French Toast Sticks. Who cares? The point isn’t throwing away the food. What she lied about isn’t really all that important. That she lied is really important. And the why is important, too.
            A few moments later, I went to her room and we talked. I told her how insidious lying is. I explained to her how important the truth is. And then I paused… and I asked myself a question: “What have I done that made her think that lying was going to be better than the truth?” And so I softened a bit in my approach.
            “Baby, do you know daddy loves you?” She nodded. “Did you think that I would be upset with you if you told me the truth?” She nodded. “Did you think that I would think you were more awesome if you told me that you’d finished your food when McCartney didn’t?” She nodded again.
            I went on to explain that nothing she could do would ever make me love her less… nothing. And that nothing she could do could make me think she was more awesome than I already do. So lying would never accomplish anything worthwhile, it only led to pain and punishment.
            She seemed to understand and we moved on with our day.


In the workplace, people do “bad” stuff all the time. They lie. They cheat. They avoid doing work given to them. They challenge their leaders’ authority. They… do bad stuff. Right?
            The first response of most leaders (including me for a large majority of my career) is to address the problem, confront the underlying attitude as you perceive it, make sure the subordinate knows that the way they act isn’t okay, and then – if the problem wasn’t too big – you send them back to work with a black mark hanging above their head because they failed you.
            But I wonder if instead, there shouldn’t be another way to enter into the moment of confrontation – with a moment of “What if…?
            “What if I have created an environment in which lying about a result is easier than dealing with a failure.”
           “What if I have created an environment in which the only way people can get through to me is to challenge my authority?”
           “What if I have created an environment in which I am assigning people work outside of their comfort zone or skill set without helping them understand the vision behind their taking on said work? Or in other words, what if I have created an environment of calling and career frustration?”
             What if…?
            The point is this: I believe that everything is a leadership problem. Everything. Sometimes the leadership problem is I hired the wrong person. That is a leadership problem, for sure. But coming to that conclusion should come after a large amount of “What if…?” being focused on what I’ve done to aid and abet my subordinates in making wrong choices by the environment I’ve created for them to work in.
            Unfortunately, I think too many of us forget to focus the attention on our own possible failures before punishing their subordinates for theirs.


My daughter lying about the food is a problem. She isn’t off the hook for her lying, even if I come to the conclusion that she chose to lie because I am sometimes too harsh in how encourage her and her brother to finish eating, or clean up their messes, or… whatever it is I feel the need to chide them about on any given day.
            In the same way, the employee’s actions don’t just get erased or wiped out because you decide to do some internal investigating. What they did was wrong, and will need to be dealt with. But the net result of you doing internal work before confronting them – and asking them to do internal work in response – will be far greater if you lead by example.
            Here’s some blunt truth about my own failures... In one job I worked in years ago, I created an environment in which security was far less important than the job one did for me. I pushed people hard and demanded results and – even though we accomplished some pretty spectacular things – my team felt like the work they did was more important than they were. And honestly… they were right.
            Later, because of mistakes I’d made, some of my work was called into question by MY boss. And certain team members used this shift in momentum to work in deceitful, subversive and ultimately remarkably ungodly ways to undermine me.
            Their actions were abominable and I believe they should’ve been fired for their part in that. Yet looking back on that time in my leadership, I know that my actions created a work environment in which the choices to move into those actions was easier than the alternative… and more lucrative.
            Does that make sense? My actions long before this situation arose set up a story that allowed my subordinates to believe that their unprofessional and ungodly reactions were okay. It doesn’t take responsibility off of them for their actions. But I have to understand that as their leader I made their actions seem more okay because of the leadership environment I created.
            Here’s a story where my failure led me to a moment of “What if…?” and in turn led to reconciliation instead of more failure.
            I had a situation where a subordinate challenged my authority in a very loud (and toxic) manner in a large team meeting. But as he went into his diatribe, instead of puffing up like I SO wanted to, I forced myself into my “What if…?” space and allowed him to say his piece. Once finished, he obviously felt better and as I gauged the room, I realized that he had hurt himself in that moment, not me. So instead of giving him a response to put him in his place in that moment (as I would have done at every stage of my leadership up to that point), I simply said something to the effect, “I think you’ve made some great points … thank you. Does anyone else have anything else to add?”
            Then after the meeting, I texted him to please come to my office.
            He entered my office with his tail between his legs, scared crapless. He sat down and I started off by saying, “You know, as you were talking today, I realized that I’ve done a bad job of making sure you know how important you are to what we do around here and how important you are to every bit of success I’ve seen in my time here so far. I realized how wrong I was, and I wanted to ask your forgiveness.”
            He blinked and looked shocked. “That wasn’t the response I was expecting.”
            “No, I’m serious. I was wrong. You’re too important to what I do and what we do for me to make that mistake, and I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me and give me the chance to do better?”
            “I mean, of course. And, Chris, I am so sorry for how I acted. I will apologize to everyone.”
            And so I told him, “You can challenge me all you want in private. But what happened today can never happen again.”
            And it didn’t. And our relationship moving forward was incredible.
            I didn’t have to make him own his failures. By owning my own failures, I gave him permission to own his, without judgment. And it all started with a moment of “What if…”


I’m not a great leader. In fact, I’d guess that for every moment of success I’ve seen in leadership, it’s been couched by 10 moments of failure. The point of this is not to point out how great I am, but how my mistakes can help you in abstaining from the same ones.
            I truly believe, and I try to live this out daily, that the first question we ask ourselves when someone we lead has done something “bad”, that our first response should be to search ourselves before we punish or attack.
            Always start with a moment of “What if…?”



7 Things I Needed To Know As a Worship Leader


I began leading worship on the front end of what is now the modern worship movement. I was the first “contemporary” worship leader in more than one church. I had a hand in introducing congregations to Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Charlie Hall, Third Day and many still industry stalwarts to this day. I’m dating myself, but I remember where I was when I heard “Here I Am to Worship” on a sampler CD given away at my local Christian bookstore.

My point is that I’m old. My second point is that I came up in a time when the internet was just starting to become a thing and the idea of there being tons and tons of worship resources available to us worship leaders just wasn’t a reality. I jokingly used to say I got all my lyrics from worshiptogether.com, but the reality was that in 2001, that website had very little on it, and even if it did, my dialup internet would take too long to get to it for my ADHD mind to be willing to wait for.

I truly wish I had someone who’d gone before me, taken the hits and learned the lessons so I didn’t have to make the same mistakes. So, today, I’m writing to me at 23, 16 years ago. And maybe I’m writing to you.

Here are the 7 things I needed to know about being a worship leader:

1.     Study More

If you do worship because you’re a right brained creative and nothing else makes sense, awesome. I am in your boat. I love Jesus. I love music. How awesome I get to combine the two!

But… if you’ve heard me talk about worship the last few years, you’ve heard me talk about the importance of knowledge.

Part of knowledge is knowing how to do your job well. A great part of knowledge is the idea that theology is vital to stepping into the anointing and calling that is leading worship. I think desire is a great place to start as a worship leader. But if that is the sole leading of your ministry, you’ll soon find it’s empty.

I did. And I wish someone had told me how important it is for us as worship leaders to be theologians. Study the Word. Know why we do music in church and why we lead how we lead. Know who you are to God, and who God is to you.

I could write and entire blog post on this (and likely will), but for the sake of brevity, A) buy the book Doxology & Theology by Matt Boswell (and others), consume it and then read it again taking notes, and B) trust me that theology – i.e, the study of God – will revolutionize how you lead people into worship.

2.     People Are the Thing

For far too long I lived with the idea that excellence was the thing. And I was undeniably good at getting results that were excellent. The problem was that along the journey of getting to excellence, I left a trail of a whole lot of broken hearts and hurting people. I was wrong for that, and will spend the rest of my life living with the reality that people are the thing.

Or as I like to say it: the pursuit of excellence is not a fruit of the Spirit.

We are called to love. Lead with love. Choose people over results and – if your experience is anything like mine – your mind will be blown at how the results come.

Here’s a great metaphor my counselor shared with me and it revolutionized my thinking.

When I am dressing my kid (when they’re young), I have 2 choices: 1) I can just force my kid to get dressed. I force his arms through his shirt. I pick him up and just put his legs through the pants. I stand him up and get him dressed quickly. But if he wasn’t in the mood for getting dressed, he likely is unhappy. So I then have to soothe him. Or 2) I can play with him a bit, tickle him then – boop! – I put the shirt over his head. I play with him, tickle him and – boop! – arms through the shirt. And so on and so forth. And in the end, it takes longer to get the result of MY KID IS DRESSED… but if you take into consideration the time it takes to sooth my kid with option 1, ultimately it is far quicker – and peaceful – to simply slip in and out of the agenda (to get him dressed) while playing with him all along.

This is a biological truth: we cannot be in connection with someone when we have an agenda for them. So if our agenda is excellence, and we are working to make people better and to head towards a vision, then if we live in that agenda space, we are unavailable for connection and ultimately – even if we get the results we want – we will leave a trail of broken hearts and hurting people. Like I did.

But when we instead pop in and out of the agenda, allowing ourselves the ability to connect while achieving the goal, we can achieve our goals AND meet the needs of people.

And that is how we bend the results to make people more important. It’s about connection. And the connection is THE thing. Not whatever subjective result we have imposed on ourselves (or has been imposed upon us).

Care about people first and I promise you the results will come. Another good illustration of this is Maxwell’s leadership pyramid.

3.     Being Cool Doesn’t Matter

I tried for too long to be cool. Don’t be like me. Because here’s the truth: the Gospel isn’t cool and neither is worship music. What it is, is vital.

Colossians 3 tells us that corporate worship is a part of the sanctification process (I even wrote a BLOG about that). So that means that our responsibility as worship leaders is engaging people in something vital. There is a gravity and responsibility, a weight to what we do. That weight of responsibility does not make us more important – and I think that this is where cool slips in, because if we’re important we have to somehow outwards exude that importance and ‘cool’ is a clear way to do that – but that weight means there should be a sobriety to how we approach leading others. Sobriety is rarely cool.

Be sober, not cool.

Oh, and when you’re on stage, let your sobriety become freedom and joy!

4.     Performance is Unimportant – Passion is Everything

Speaking of freedom and joy… I work with a lot of church worship teams, helping them take next steps on whatever their journey might be (SEE ABOUT THAT HERE). When I talk about performance, for years people looked at me with what felt like disgust. How can we perform worship?! And I get it. Performance in worship feels kind of gross. And honestly, it is.

Worship should be moments of freedom, of sheer expression of gratitude and praise and joy towards what God has done and is doing. Performance is a façade we put up to attempt to tell a story. Passion say, “I am passionate about what I am singing, and I will show it with my bodily expression.” But not only that… passion says, “While leading, HOW I express my worship – my passion for what God is doing and has done – is an invitation for others to join me in freedom and joy. If I look bored or disinterested or unjoyful, I am not expressing what is in my heart and communicate something different than what is true.”

Performance is unimportant – expression of passion is everything.

5.     Live in Curiosity

I have come to understand (what I believe is) a truth that has revolutionized my life: outside of the less than 1% of the world who are sociopaths and psychopaths, I believe people are basically good and want to do good things and please others at some level. If they are acting differently than that – if they are acting in some negative fashion, then I believe that nearly 100% of the time, it comes from a place of hurt or fear. (And I should likely clarify that I am not talking about our sin nature, but beyond that original fall we want to do good, usually).

If I believe that to be true, then when someone reacts with anger or depression or – name your negative emotion – then it likely came from a space where they were scared or hurt. Or both. And because there is a biological truth that we are, in every moment, in every choice, reacting not just to this moment but every single that that has ever happened to us, then likely that hurt or fear has nothing to do with me.

And so that allows me to be curious. When I see someone act in a way that could be perceived as negative – they lash out at a coworker, they puff up with pride, they seem depressed – I find myself more and more being curious about why that would be. And it causes me to ask questions and listen and find the thing underneath it all that is the originator – at least the relayer – of that hurt or fear.

Another biological truth: it is impossible to be angry/depressed/name your negative emotion while also being curious. In ministry – as in life – you will see people react from that hurt or fear. YOU will react from a place of hurt or fear. When it happens, react with curiosity (even to yourself) and wonder, Hmmm, I wonder why that person (or myself) is acting that way. They must really be having a big feeling. I wonder what that’s about. Ask questions. Dig deeper.

I think you’ll find very quickly how often you A) realize the thing they’re dealing with his little to do with you and B) how often that pulls you into deeper trust and connection with the person you are interacting with. I know I have, and the more I'm able to live in curiosity, the more I am able to live out the fruit of the Spirit. I think you'll find the same thing to be true.

Judgment – like agenda – moves us out of connection. Connection is the thing that allows people to be The Thing.

6.     Mentors Are More Important Than You Think

I wish I had met DR Dickey when I was 23 instead of 35. My ministry would have been better, I would have been a better leader and a more compassionate leader, husband and man. As a mentor, DR was for me a revolution. Our trips to eat Texas BBQ, riding in the car and talking about life and ministry helped me realize how little my ministry resembled Christ’s ministry. And DR never told me that. He simply believed in me and loved me and lovingly cajoled me when I needed it.

While I’m no longer working day in and day out with DR, his affect on my life will go on forever.

Find your DR. I probably had met those guys when I was 23… and 24, and 25 and 26 and so on… but I just didn’t know how important they were. Now I do. And I am telling you, find that person who can make you better and learn everything you can from them. But buy them Texas BBQ as often as possible to make up for what they’re giving you, so it’s not so one-sided.

7.     Honor Is More Important Than You Think, Too

This was perhaps the hardest lesson for me and the one that took the longest. To be perfectly honest, much of the other 6 of these lessons here would have been remedied with this simple one: people are better when they live in honor. Not because of what they give you, but because of what is inside of you.

There’s a story – that I won’t go into here, but I do talk about HERE – where the power of Jesus is muted because of a lack of honor. If you truly desire to see the people around you – your leaders, your team, your volunteers – flourish, then heap honor upon honor. Encourage them. Lift them up in prayer and honor. Brag on them privately and publicly.

I am still learning this lesson, but I can tell you hands down it’s the most important one.


So – what would you tell your younger self? What would you tell younger leaders?

The Question of the "Judgment-Free Church"

Many of you know of my growing up within the confines of a legalistic and extremely strict sect of Christianity. While I came to believe in Christ and have faith in Him, my current faith looks drastically different than it did in my early years. It has been a journey from there to where I sit now - which in my experience is on the progressive end of the Christianity spectrum, though I certainly would not identify as "progressive".

So it's incredibly interesting to me that my thought process and evolution (so to speak) has brought me around to what I am about to write. This has come from months and years of processing through what I see in the American Church and the values that are important to me in ministry, based on my vision and what I see in Scripture. And it is interesting to me because I know that many of my conservative brothers and sisters have made similar observations about the modern American Church as what I am about to make (albeit for what I believe are drastically different reasons and philosophies).

So - please see this article as a discussion starter of sorts. I don't have the answers - nor do I mean to pretend to. I want to hear from you - either on Facebook or in the comments below - and I'd love to hear your real world experience with this subject, and your own conclusions. I would only ask that as you discuss that you keep it respectful and you keep it steeped in either philosophy or theology, nothing personal. 

So - The Question of the "Judgment-Free Church"

Years ago, there began a movement in the evangelical church that was in part a reaction to the Gospel and - in larger part, I think - a reaction to the state of Christianity at the time. This movement started with a handful of churches and had a basic message for outsiders and perhaps former church people: "come as you are, we won't judge you, we love you, nobody's perfect." In fact, I am using about 100 churches' marketing slogan in that sentence right there. Right? 

The message is GOOOOOOD. And from the purely anecdotal side of things, I remember how much I resonated with & loved this whole philosophy. When that sort of vision really hit 10-15 years ago, it was such a different sort of mentality that it was instantly attractive, to me and I think to many others who'd grown up with a different sort of church. It was a hearts' cry that felt different and fresh and special.

And the churches who originally said it, really meant it. I remember in one of my earliest churches being blown away by the passion with which my pastor spoke on grace and how much he truly cared for the unbeliever who might be in the congregation that day. It was moving and inspiring and it became the rallying cry for our church... but not just our church - thousands of churches began to jump on this train.

And it built and built and built and here we are 10-15 years since I first recognized something different happening in the modern church, and - right or wrong, and I'm totally willing to be wrong - now when I see a church post this sort of vision or message as their way of letting people know that it's okay to come be a part of the church here, I realize that it feels more like a marketing ploy than a heart's cry. Seriously, I can't think of the last time I looked into a church and didn't hear some variation of that message. Everyone's message is the same (basically). And I'm talking about literally in the thousands of churches I have noticed this sort of messaging.

So - the first couple of questions I have to ask in order to really make sure I'm centered on the right things: 1) is this coming from a place of cynicism or does this truly feel right? and 2) is this me the overchurched guy who has now worked or been involved with the behind the scenes of more than a handful of massive churches speaking? or does it feel like this reaches to the unchurched?

The answer to the first question is that I truly believe that cynicism is not something that is a part of my reality right now. I am too curious to be cynical. I am too interested in what could be to cut off what is with cynicism.

The answer to the second question is less easy to answer. But I think as I wrestle with it, I come to this reasoning for believing that it affects more that just the overchurched: now than ever - right or wrong - the unchurched feel the opposite of that message. The unchurched world believes that the churched world judges them and doesn't accept them, despite the nearly universal call to the opposite. 

And that leaves me wondering where the disconnect is.

I'd like to give 3 thoughts in regards to this, and would love to hear yours (even if you disagree vehemently).

1. If Everyone is 'special', no one is.
I think that anything that was once special & different becomes the 'normal' it loses its potency. Let me be clear: the Gospel never loses its potency. Catchy slogans & distillations of the Gospel can, I think. I think that so many churches now use this type message that it is now hard to A) figure out if it's really true about the church (and I think in many people's experiences, the opposite is often believed to be true about churches who use this messaging) & B) because it's now so common it has become white noise.

Again - the Gospel is not noise. The Gospel is potent and offensive and it should be (more on that later). But when nearly every "successful" church in American Christianity has the same style of slogan (and let's be honest, style of worship and preaching/teaching style and small group method and... name your thing), it causes one to wonder if perhaps there is something 'special' waiting around the corner to help people differentiate. 

Messaging is just marketing. It helps you tell the story. It helps tell people why your church's story is different. Unless they're all basically the same and then it's impossible.

2. The Shifting Definition of Judgment
How we define judgment has drastically shifted in the 10-15 years. Being "judged" today is more defined by disagreement or lack of acceptance, while early in my time in ministry it meant something very different. If a church believes that, say, divorce is wrong outside of a couple of Scripturally-sanctioned reasons they are considered judgmental, EVEN IF the church cares for the people who go through the divorce and cares for the children of the divorce.

Back in the day, the judgment I saw people of various levels of 'sin' and 'rebellion' suffer didn't consist of simply not accepting or even disagreeing, it was all out rejection; it was being cast away for being different; it was being cut out of someone's life because you disagreed or were different.

In that way, YES! We do not judge and we do love. However - right or wrong, agree or disagree - the definition of judgment has shifted. So in the minds of those that actually matter - i.e., the ones we're trying to reach - they disagree; they believe we do judge. So if the first thing out of your mouth is a slogan speaking of being judgement-free and the people you're telling you won't judge feel judged, it fundamentally hurts our ability to affect people.

3) The Gospel is offensive.
I find myself more & more realizing that the Gospel demands something of us, and sometimes that demand can feel offensive to me as an always-churched guy who grew up a pastor's kid. I'd imagine it's offensive to those who have never had the same demand.

So maybe even beyond the shifting definition of judgment, maybe the messaging we use to get people in the door isn't quite true. We do love people different than us. We aren't going to cast people aside for their differences.

But the call of Gospel is not just to something; it's also turning away from something else. 


So... what?

As I conclude, let me first say this: while I think that we could probably begin to figure out how to use better messaging, the heart of the "judgment-free church" is good. I love its heart. And honestly in my experience - again, anecdotal evidence is not everything, but it IS something - I've rarely met a Christian who lives in true judgment of unbelievers. And I'm even talking about the believers who sure seem to be pretty judgmental on social media and the like. They rarely mean to come across as judgmental... but that's a whole different post.

But in conclusion I think there are a couple of takeaways, in my mind:

1) We need to start tweaking the messaging.
When messaging is being disagreed with by the target audience, it tells us that our messaging is missing something. We don't need to change The Message, i.e., The Gospel. I do believe we could begin to tweak the messaging of how we introduce people to that Gospel.

2) We need a greater focus on discipleship.
I believe that the greatest need in the modern American Church is the process of moving new believers to strongly-committed believers. It's the 2nd step in God-knows-how-many-Churches mission statement, yet it is usually the one that is missed the most. Discipleship is a HUGE need in the church. I believe strongly that if we raise up believers via discipleship we create men and women who can live out a "judgment-free" message and free the Church up to focus on different messaging. 

3) Let's study what the signs are telling us.
The world is changing so fast. Yet I don't see the church changing as fast to figure out how to change with it. The Gospel doesn't change but methods do. I truly believe that we should be actively seeking the ways to best meet the needs of our people, not to create consumers of Christianity but to call people to something by turning away from something else.

4) Reconcile that Christianity isn't cool and that it's sometimes offensive.
We aren't cool and that's okay. Our churches aren't meant to be cool. The Gospel isn't cool. Well I think it's amazingly cool, but the unbelieving world doesn't understand it (yet), so it isn't cool to them yet. The Gospel is offensive to those who don't understand it and we have to be okay with the fact that maybe, just maybe, the thing that draws people to the Gospel is not that it is just like their current lives, but with a little more Jesus... but that it is DRASTICALLY DIFFERENT, and scary, and painful sometimes. 

So - what about you? Do you agree? Disagree? What do you think about the ideas presented here?

Leadership Through the Lens of 1 Corinthians 13

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clinking cymbal.

Leadership is not a Patrick Lencioni book. It’s not a Craig Groeschell quote. It is not a Rick Warren snippet. Leadership is not power. It is not the ability to get what you want. Leadership is love. You can learn every bit of every leadership book that there is. You should. Leadership principles, if put within the context of love, are invaluable. Vital, even.
            But the church is not a business, even though it has business aspects to it, even though it makes sense to structure it in ways reminiscent of businesses. You can be the most talented leadership genius this side of Steve Jobs… but if you don’t have love, you are a noisy gong and a clinking cymbal.
            Leading without love as your lead is just more noise in a world that is already raging around us. And noise is just that … it’s worthless. It’s nothing worthwhile.

And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

You built a church program to something big and something special. Your gut on nearly everything ends up being right – you just seem to KNOW when something isn’t right. You just have an understanding of what works for your church and what doesn’t. You have what you think is a killer instinct for the KIND of leader or follower someone might be, from the your first impression on.
            No one would argue that you are not a man or woman of faith. They would be wrong. You can point out the ways that God has worked in your life and the times you’ve trusted beyond what felt comfortable or right.
            But if you don’t show love to the people around you. If the people around you do not know that you are for them, then you are nothing.

If I give away all that I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I have gained nothing.

Paul here is separating our actions from our love. We could give the poor everything we have. We could sacrifice for the people around us. We could even die. But if our people don’t feel loved, then it gains nothing.
            I think that we would make the case that giving up what you have, giving up your life – that is the definition of love. Yet Paul here separates them? Why?
            Most leaders worth their salt understand that what is received in communication is far more important than what we intended. We can say, “Guys, you’re doing a great job! I have some things we can do better…” but if what is heard is “I’m saying something nice so I can critique you because I read in a leadership book to always couch the bad with the good” then what they aren’t receiving isn’t positive, no matter how you meant it.
            If you are not communicating love, if love is not what is being received by those you are leading, then you have gained nothing.
           Working in the day-to-day to let people know that you love them beyond what they can give you or your organization communicates love beyond words, beyond dramatic action (like giving away all you have and giving your life). Love does more than gimmicky team-building exercises to "grow the team". Love does more than a 2-day retreat to "build the team". Leadership is caring about the ins and outs of every day life enough to know that the ins and outs of every day life are what team-building is ACTUALLY about.
            You don't build a team with trust exercises. You build a team with admitting you were wrong more often than defending your position. You build a team by having a two hour conversation that has nothing to do with work. You build a team by picking up the slack for the people who work for you, instead of making their failures an object lesson to be learned from. You build a team not by imagining a new org-chart out of thin air because it seems magical to you, but by figuring out what your team actually does well, then setting them loose to do it. You build a team by listening far more often than you challenge them. You build a team by caring more about their long-term health than the short-term results.
            Leadership is not a fruit of the Spirit. Love is.

Love is patient, love is kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way ; it is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth

If your leadership cannot wait for people to grow because … results! … then your leadership style is likely not based in love. It may be based in leadership books… but it likely not based in based in love.
            If your leadership is not considered kind – which is different than diplomatic or perfectly-coifed or excellent politically – then your leadership is likely not based in love.
            If your leadership has to tout its position or power it is likely not based in love.
            If your leadership is insistent on your way without taking into consideration the heart and passion of the people around you and below you, then it is likely not based in love. If you are known more for handing down decisions that empowering your leaders to figure stuff out, then your leadership is likely not based in love. If your leadership does not build trust with your subordinates and perpetually turn leadership over to them, then your leadership is likely not based in love.
            If your leadership finds ways to hold people’s past failures against them, if it resents the lack of perfection, if it looks for ways to prove that an employee or your employees are not right for a job or you find yourself writing people off without exhausting your ability to cast vision and encourage them along, then your leadership is likely not based in love.
            If your leadership would rather be right about someone – and being proved right means someone fails or does something wrong – then your leadership is likely not based in love.
            Love rejoices in your people succeeding. Love is more satisfied with being good with someone than being right about someone.
             One of my thought heroes is Simon Sinek. He once said, "If you are constantly trying to find the right people for the bus, you're doing it wrong. History tells us that when you put good people in bad situations, they usually end up doing bad things. If you put bad people in good situations, they many times end up learning to do good things. Environment is the key. You don't need the right people for the bus, you need a better bus."
             This is the very foundation of love. It's creating a culture that calls people TO something, instead of simply hoping people get culture and get things right enough to stick around.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away. As for tongues, they will cease. As for knowledge, it will pass away, for we know in part and we prophecy in part but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

Love in leadership assumes that you didn’t get it right. It assumes that when someone who works for you gets it wrong that it’s very possible – maybe even likely – that you perhaps didn’t do as good of job as you’d hoped in communicating the vision or the scope of the vision. Love in leadership puts the onus on yourself, not on the people who work for you. It humbly assumes that if your people didn’t “get it” than you didn’t “give it”.
           And in response, love re-establishes the vision. Love in leadership chooses to bear all things. It chooses to believe the best in people. It choose to hope that if you can re-establish the vision, re-communicate it again – and maybe again and again – that your people will respond and execute the vision successfully.
           Love in leadership endures the times when people fail. Love in leadership endures the times you don’t get your way or the times your vision isn’t carried out fully or even successfully.
           How we judge in leadership is how we will be judged in leadership. If we judge imperfection harshly, then our imperfections will judged just as harshly. But if we endure and believe and hope and bear through imperfection, then our imperfections will be endured and bore.
           Why is this important?
           Because it all passes away. With completion of this race, when we are in the Kingdom, then we will know all things, we will understand finally.
           And why is THIS important? Because Paul is telling us “RIGHT NOW YOU DON’T KNOW CRAP!” You don’t know everything people are going through. You don’t know everything people are struggling with. You don’t know the other things occupying their minds when you are attempting to lead them. So instead of assuming those beneath you simply are not qualified to understand vision or even to buy into it, assume that you as a leader should bear the weight of these things and continually perpetuate vision, again and again and again and again.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man I gave up childish ways.

Love in leadership doesn’t thrive on chaos. It doesn’t thrive on drama. It doesn't thrive on last-minute planning because of the excitement it brings. It doesn’t thrive on being in control or on power. Those things are acceptable for the young and inexperienced; the immature; the childish leaders. They have no place in loving leadership.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been known. So now faith hope and love endure; but the greatest of these is love.

Again -  we don’t know what is going on. We don’t know our own heart. We don’t know it all, no matter how many leadership books we read. No matter how many promotions we receive. We still know only in part.
            So… love. Just… love.

The Question of Paid Players in Worship

One of the most misunderstood and misconstrued pieces of the modern church is the payment piece. Who on stage gets paid? And why?
Here are some models that I have observed, and the pros and cons with each:

1)     Completely Volunteer Model

EXPLAINED: Church has a staff member (or a few) who work during the week to prepare everything for the volunteers; volunteers make up all the singers and band, outside of the staff member(s).

PROS: This model saves the money that could be used to pay band and/or singers and uses that money for other things… like, perhaps, a worship team staff.

CONS: If the staff members do not work to build a rotation, and if you’re a church that has multiple services, it is very easy to burn people out and turn into a carousel.

NOTES: I believe that this model works only if the staff team is dedicated to truly pastoring people. Being a part of a worship team IS different than other ministries, for many reasons… a main reason is that if you have multiple services your people are giving far more time than the typical church volunteer. So – it becomes very easy for the worship team to become their small group, their discipleship and their community… so, the staff should truly pastor and disciple, and their hours should be planned accordingly (i.e, to do more than simply prep music), and may mean that a larger staff is needed as the volunteer team grows.


2)     Completely Paid Model

EXPLAINED: Church usually has 1 main worship pastor/leader and perhaps an admin, then all other positions are paid a small stipend – usually it’s band, but in many places it’s also singers. I’ve heard of churches that pay as much as $1500/weekend per player. I’ve heard of other churches that give a “per stage” stipend (say $1500) and that number is divided equally between everyone on stage (5 players, each player gets $300). However, the most common model I’ve run across is a “per-instance” model: they get paid the same amount for every time their on stage – rehearsal and then each service. For instance if a player gets $50 per, and there is a rehearsal + 3 services, they would get paid $200. A music director would typically get paid 1/3 to 1/2 more.

PROS: Churches can up their excellence extremely quickly, if they hire the right teams of players.

CONS: In my experience, this often turns church into another “gig” players get. Many times non-believers are the best players, so many people on stage are unbelievers playing a gig and the spirit of worship suffers.

NOTES: This model works best if there is a worship leader who can lead the band and an admin of some sort who can deal with all the booking of band members. There are some churches who move to this paid model, but only hire people who either A) were once a part of the ministry as a volunteer; or B) only let people join the team as paid member, if they have 1st rose through the ranks as a volunteer (many times being on stage unpaid with other paid players).


3)     The Start-Up Paid Model

EXPLAINED: Similar to #2, but with a start up church, with the vision to use paid players to build excellence that draws other players, but with the goal to move towards volunteers as church members begin to want to be a part of the music program.

PROS: Similar to #2, a church starts up with consistent excellence, which can be a magnet to musicians who want a good church and a place to serve.

CONS: Once you’ve established a precedent for paying players, it’s very hard to break it without building resentment on one end or another. The volunteers serving for free alongside paid players have the opportunity to build resentment; and when you decide to move away from paid players, there can be a lot of frustration by the paid players who are losing a gig.

NOTES: I have seen this used to varying results. I think there’s something to be said for instant excellence. But I also think that there can be a boxing in that happens that may not be worth the cost.


4)     The Partial Paid Model

EXPLAINED: Your church has a pretty good band but can’t find a good drummer. So you find someone who will play, but only for a small amount. In order to help the team, you hire the drummer, but no one else is paid.

PROS: Helps fill in cracks and can help build excellence while still building community.

CONS: Once you start paying, you will need to be able to defend not paying everyone.

NOTES: This can get sticky real quick, or it can work magically – and I have experienced both sides of that. Just enter into this kind of arrangement knowing that it should A) be a short-term solution; and B) you will likely have to do some explaining about why you’re paying an outsider while not paying the people who are from the church.


5)     The Large Staff + Volunteer model

EXPLANATION: This is #1 on steroids, only really possible at a large church. In this model, you have a plethora of volunteers who want to be a part of what’s happening and you in turn staff to take care of the volunteers.

PROS: A large staff allows for staff teams to be strength-based and allow people to really run in their lanes.

CONS: It’s very easy for creatives to fall into laziness and away from actually pastoring people, and focusing solely on the weekend.

NOTES: For a large church, this is a viable model that allows for the most improvement and the most discipleship in volunteers. However, the focus has to be on A) creating space for staff members to focus on what they do well; and B) creating volunteers who are excellent in skill and growing in their faith through the large team actually pastoring them.


6)     The Worship Leader is Lazy and Pays People To Do His Work Model

EXPLANATION: This is more common than we’d all like to admit. Many times worship leaders and creatives know what they’re good at and what they’re not good at and they just decide to do what they’re good at: perform.

PROS: Zero pros.

CONS: All cons.

NOTES: If your worship leader is simply paying people to do the things he doesn’t want to do, this is a huge problem. Performance isn’t leadership. Discipleship and growing people is leadership. That should be the goal of every worship program, in one way or another. If you want to hire players because it’s too hard to build a volunteer base, it’s the wrong reason. If you want to hire an admin because you are irresponsible, it’s the wrong reason. If you want to hire an MD because chord charts take too much time from your video games, it’s the wrong reason. We as worship leaders should work hard and we should be dedicated to pouring into people – that includes pouring into people to make them better singers and players and better disciples.



If I am giving my opinion, I believe that all of these viable options depending on the church size and the situation you’re in. I have used nearly all of them at one point or another and all of them have had their pros and cons.

So – any other models you can think of? Any other pros and cons? What do you think about paying people to play in church?

The New Way

Hebrews 13:15 says “Through Him (Jesus) then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name”. 

One of the ways you can begin to spice up your Bible study life is to begin to check out the meanings of phrases or words in the original language. I grew up in a Pastor’s home, and it was an Independent, Fundamental Baptist church my dad pastored! So that meant we had Sunday School, Sunday morning church, Sunday night church, Tuesday night Bible Study, Wednesday night church, Thursday night soul-winning, Friday night AWANAS and Saturday night youth group. And I was there for all of it. So… it’s safe to say I heard some Scripture in my young age. And I memorized most of it.

Now as an adult, it’s interesting to come across a Scripture I remember being presented in a certain way as a kid and trying to figure out what it really means. And that used to force you to have to go find a concordance, a Greek-New Testament Study Bible, a Bible Dictionary, a scroll with Jesus’s actual Aramaic scribbles, and a typewriter on which to type your learned thought. (Okay, maybe we didn’t have to do ALL that, but still…). Now-a-days you just have to use google and boom! You can find meanings of words and phrases and it’s incredible.

So – I was reading this Scripture and wanted to know what this meant. What does it mean to offer a Sacrifice of Praise? Well – the word sacrifice here comes from the Greek word thuos which means literally “to kill or slaughter with a purpose”.

So – there’s that. 

I like to say “dude, that worship set killed!” or “that new song slaughtered!” How little did I realize how absolutely DEAD ON I was!

But really what it’s talking about here takes us way back to the Old Testament (remember we talked about the office of Worship Leader and how it goes all the way back?) where every year, a couple of times a year, everyone was required to bring their sacrifice as a recompense for their sins. They would bring their best lamb or best goat (and there are stories of people being killed for offering less than their best) and offer it as a sacrifice. The animal would be killed and then burned on an altar as a way to ask forgiveness for whatever bad they had done in the last six months or whatever. 

This was the way it was in the “Old Covenant”. Some people might find the word “Covenant” as a trigger word – others are like, “What?” For those of you that is a trigger word: don’t worry guys – I am nowhere close to a Calvinist… but I do believe that there was an Old Covenant and things were done a certain way. And with Christ’s death came the New Covenant in which things are done differently. Don’t get caught up in the semantics… you could call it the Old Way and the New Way if you want. In fact, let’s just call it that.

So – in Old Way, we had to present a Sacrifice to be right with God. In the New Way, Christ’s death was the ultimate sacrifice that made a sacrifice for our sins unneeded or extraneous. 

So what the writer of Hebrews (we’re not quite sure who that is – could be Paul, could be Luke, could be some dude no one’s heard of, or maybe it was a woman?) is using language from the Old Way to subtly remind us that we’re doing something different now in the New Way. Now it isn’t a sacrifice FOR our sins. It’s sacrificing our sins in return for praise. It’s about giving up pride and ambition for the sake of glorifying this God who saves us. The first fruits that once went on the altar, now are the fruits of our lips acknowledging God.

And when we put this within the paradigm we’ve been talking about for a few weeks of skill, passion and knowledge, it begins to make even more sense to me. In the Old Way, it was about how good the sacrifice was. It HAD to be the best. In the New Way, the best offering has been given already, so now it’s about giving our best for a different reason….not for recompense but for praise.

If we focus only on the skill of what we do, it becomes problematic quickly because it becomes about what WE can do, when in the New Way it has nothing to do with what we can do. But if we give our best because it is what God deserves; if we brush away pride because it is God being glorified; if we focus simply on what God calls for us in worship, it becomes not about how good our offering is, but how good can the offering be. It isn’t a legalistic “you must bring the best” it becomes a heart posture of, “How can I give my best?” 

Within the context of the megachurch world, it is so important that the skill of what we do is there. We do have standards of excellence to meet. But if meeting the standard of excellence is the point, then we have missed it. There is so much to the New Way than skill.

So as you worship in the coming weeks – whether you’re on a camera or running sound or running a camera or playing drums or leading songs – think through how you can give of your best not because you have to… but because you get to!

A Meditation on Colossians 3

One of the differences between Paul and Jesus is their presentation. Whereas Jesus tended to offer very little in the way of answers – many times answering questions with questions and more questions – and very little in the way of negativity (with the exception of being negative about religion and the religious), Paul on the other hand really likes to give answers and on many occasions he starts off with the negative and then moves into the positives.

            I’ve heard it said that Paul and Jesus have different theologies. Perhaps that is true and perhaps I am simply not trained enough or have enough understanding to really dig into that piece of it … but I definitely can see – and am struggling through – the differences in how Paul and Jesus approach what it means to be a follower or disciple of Christ... and it is at times hard to work through.

            As some of you may know, I grew up in a very conservative, legalistic religious atmosphere. My mom and dad were missionaries to Germany and from the time I was born, my dad was in ministry of some sort – starting as an assistant pastor and music director to then going on deputation and then the mission field. Women couldn’t wear pants. Men couldn’t have hair that hit their ears. No mixed bathing (this was the weird way us fundies described men and women swimming in the same pool together). No making out before marriage (and certainly no “heavy petting” – true story, this was an actual term used to tell us what NOT to do… to this day I still have never braved seeking out an in depth description of what “heavy petting” is). Shoot – I got busted once for holding my girlfriend’s hand.

            The hallmark of my religion growing up was not just the rules and regulations… but also the amount of time and energy spent discussing what we were against, what things we can’t do… instead of focusing on what we are for and what we love and what things we should do within the context of being a believer.

            So perhaps my struggle through the Paul and Jesus dynamic has more to do with how I’m reconciling my faith and my past, more than anything else. But there it is. That’s my stuff. But if I’m choosing between how I want to lead my life in leadership and in my marriage and in my life, I for sure tend to resonate more with how Jesus led than how Paul led. However, over the last couple of years as I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading and studying Paul’s writings, I find how much stuff Paul has for us today.

            Contextually, Paul was writing to the early church, helping these brand new groups of believers come together and figure out how to join together arm in arm, in community, around the shared belief in Jesus Christ as their Savior. So – while he goes to ‘here’s what you can’t do’ more than I probably prefer in how I desire to lead, I also understand that Paul was literally laying out the ground rules for the church. And when we dig into the stuff that he exhorts and encourages us with, we start to see a bunch of practical stuff on what it means to be a believer and a Christ-follower.


If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 


Paul really likes lists. I have this image in my head of Paul sitting in a modern church office, staring at a large white board filled with lists of things not to do. Timothy and Titus – Paul’s mentees – sit down the table from Paul staring at the same list. 

            Paul sits down, exhausted. “These lists. These freaking lists. Like… how do we tell Colossa the things not to do but bring some originality to the list. Someone pull up Thesaurus dot com.”

            Timothy cracks open his Macbook Pro and starts typing.

            Titus leans back, pipes up: “It just feels very … Romans. Like – this list is literally the same thing as Romans.”

            “And 1st Corinthians… well – minus the gay stuff,” Timothy says.

            Paul slams his fist down on the table. “Dangit, guys! There’s only so many ways you can tell people how NOT to be a Christian!”

            Paul gathers up his papers. “You know what, guys, you’re so smart – you work on these lists. And – once again – Romans 1 wasn’t just about the gays! I was talking about Caeser. Why can’t you get that through your head?”

            And he storms out.

            Titus shakes his head. “Come on, Timmy. You know he’s sensitive about Romans.”

            “Longing… craving… desire… libido…”

            Long silence. Titus stares at Timothy. Finally, “What?”

            “Synonyms for lust.”


And…. Scene.


It had to be hard to come up with all the lists Paul came up with. Colossians 3 is just one of the lists Paul wrote (both positive and negative) and he tended to come up with new and interesting ways to describe sin and then how to be a Christ-follower. Colossians 3 is one of my favorite lists because it takes an interesting turn.


12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.



So Paul starts Colossians 3 with this list of what not to do, then turns the corner into a list of what to do. And it’s a good list. Basically it’s this: because we’re God’s chosen, we need to have holy, beloved and compassionate hearts; we need to exhibit kindness, humility, meekness, patience (a re-telling of the fruits of the spirit – which by the way are all really just different explorations of Christ-like love); we are to work through problems with one another; we are to live in peace (echoing Jesus’ call to righteousness, peace and joy); and we are to be thankful and allow the word of Christ dwell in us.

            But here is where it gets interesting… we are to teach each other and admonish one another in wisdom. Okay – that makes sense… there are other calls to this type of Christian living. Part of putting on the New Self, living out the New Way (that we’ve talked about a few times now) is to be willing to teach (and in turn to learn) and admonish (and in turn be willing to be admonished) in all wisdom.

            But then… he tells us to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts, and follows that up with an encouragement to do everything we do giving thanks.

            So, let’s break this down a tiny bit further – Paul takes the time to explain what it means to put on the New Man or our New Self. He starts by telling us what it means to do away with the Old. Then goes into a list of ways we put on the New. And at first it seems like the usual suspects. Seems like the normal list of stuff… then this curve ball that isn’t really a curve ball at all: worship through music is a part of become the New Us. 

            Worship through music is NOT just something we do to scratch a creative itch… it is not something we do because we like music or music is in our soul… it is not just a part that should be relegated to the back burner. Worship through music is quite literally a part of the sanctification process for us as believers. It is a valued, important part of what we see here as the corporate part of becoming made new.


23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Paul finishes out this chapter, by continuing to talk to families about how to live: wives, submit; husbands, love; fathers encourage your children; slaves, obey; etc. And he ends with this: “Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men.”

            This feels pretty important, in the context that this is the second time within a few verses that he tells us that we should give our best for the Lord. And the wording here is interesting to me… the assumption is that we do things heartily for the Lord, not for men. 

            As we consider this idea that worship might be a part of the sanctification process then it is a natural progression to me to wonder why Paul follows that mildly interesting revelation with two encouragements to do everything we do to the best of our ability to and for the Lord, not for men. And what hits me is that perhaps this plays into the idea that New Way of worship. What if this whole idea of doing things excellently and focusing on excellence alone (outside or exclusive of passion and knowledge) is the Old Way?

            It’d make sense to me that as we do things heartily for the Lord (and not for men) that the focus becomes on excellence for something bigger, something better than just being good. It becomes about excellence for the sake of giving the Lord what is deserving of Him… not for the sake of excellence.

            And this – again – brings us back to the paradigm of Three-Dimensional Worship. When the focus is on all of those things, then doing things heartily for the Lord comes down to not simply performing well, but understanding more of who God is and how worship through music plays into that knowledge and understanding more of how our passion can encourage others towards the joy of engaging in worship through music as part of the sanctification process.

Two Corinthians 3

My last semester of college, I started working at Domino’s Pizza as a driver. I had a friend who worked for them and – with tips – was averaging $20/hour… which for a college kid in 2000 seemed like a whole lot of money. After I was asked not to return to Bob Jones University (for going to a 4Him / FFH concert – yes, that actually happened) I began to work my way up in the company – which is strangely more difficult than just learning how to eat pizza and chicken wings.

I became an assistant manager about six months in and then moved to store manager a coupla months later, and we rocked and rolled. I had a bevy of full-time and part-time employees, drivers and kitchen workers.

One of my drivers was an older Vietnam Vet named Bill. Bill was quirky and weird and hilarious and foul-mouthed and ABSOLUTELY suffered from PTSD, still 30 years later. One time, Bill and I were the only ones in the store and I dropped a pizza pan and Bill literally dove behind the counter and began to scream cursewords. After a coupla seconds, he stood up, brushed himself off and said, “I’m gonna go smoke. Be be back in a few.”

A few months later, Bill bought a used Police Cruiser via auction (this is a thing in South Carolina, not sure if it is here). He loved that car. He loved to – while he was delivering pizza – pull up behind cars and shine his side light into the back of the cars to scare people.

The problem with Bill’s new/old cruiser was that he just did not want to put his Domino’s car-topper on top of his newly-painted, beautiful old cruiser.  He did it once and the car-topper left suction marks on his paint job (for like 5 minutes) and he just wouldn’t do it again. Finally, it came to a head with my boss – the owner – calling me to say he’d seen Bill delivering pizzas without his car-topper and that I had to fire Bill if he didn’t put the thing on top of his car.

Bill returned from the delivery he was on and I delivered the bad news and Bill freaked the freak out. He cussed and ranted and raved and finally – as customers are literally walking out because of the hullabuloo – I fired him. I told him he had to leave.

He looked at me and he said, “I was a sniper in Vietnam. You better have eyes in the back of your head cuz I’m gonna blow that head right off.” And he walked out.

For three weeks, every time I walked out my house or walked out of work, I’d run to my car (or wherever I was going). I’d zig, I’d zag. I’d keep my head down (since I had not yet developed eyes in the back of my head).

Then one day three weeks later Bill walked in the front door of the store. “Hey, man! How you doing?” he asked.

I looked him up and down, looking for any gun-sized bulges in his clothing. “Um, I’m good, Bill. What’s up?”

“I am applying at Brooklyn Pizza – any chance you could write me a letter of recommendation?”

I wrote the most glowing recommendation I’ve ever written, in record time. I did not ask him if he was gonna put Brooklyn Pizza’s car-topper on his car and as he walked out of the front door, so did my fear of losing my head via a sniper bullet.




The Apostle Paul was writing his letters to the early churches all over the place, trying to help shape their understanding of who God was and how believers should act within the context of the church. Paul obviously wrote to many churches… but only a couple of churches got two letters. And you didn’t want to get two letters from Paul… because they basically meant you sucked at being a church and Paul needed to kick your butt to help you figure out how to be better.

Well – the church of Corinth got a second letter. And the feeling I get as I read here is that the Corinthian church was a little peeved at Paul, feeling like he’d judged them incorrectly or gotten it wrong about them. Of course, Paul was obviously not wrong… but leadership isn’t about the truth, it’s about how the people around you feel about the truth before you can ever get to the truth. So Paul has to unruffled some feathers in the 1st couple of chapters before we get to chapter three:


1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.


I sense mild sarcasm here. Paul is being a bit of a smart aleck here, right? The end of chapter two – and let’s not forget that Paul wrote this as one continuous letter that smart people later broke up into chapters – has Paul telling us basically that we have triumph in Christ and tells them that they are not peddlers of God’s word, but sincere men commissioned by God.

Then this: “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?”

Ultimately, this is a mi;dly strange rabbit trail for Paul to go down. Do we need letters of recommendation? Or is your letter of recommendation what’s happening in your heart.

I’m trying to imagine how Bill would’ve felt if when he’d come to me for the letter of recommendation, I’d simply reached out and touched his chest and said, “You yourself are the letter of recommendation, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God.”

I’m pretty sure Bill pulls out a pistol from an ankle hoster and shoots me somewhere I don’t want to be shot… which is anywhere, really. Just anywhere.


4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.


The “letter” here is the letter of the law… but it’s interesting how he seems to tie this to the letter of recommendation. It’s actually interesting and cool wordplay. And like so many of Paul’s passages – especially ones we’ve been studying lately – he draws this clear distinction between the Law and the Spirit.

The beauty of Grace and living in the Spirit, is that we are able to live within the Spirit of the Law instead of the Letter of the Law. The Letter of the Law says don’t kill. The Spirit of the Law says hating is the same as murder. The letter of the law says don’t sleep with someone who isn’t your wife. The Spirit says even lusting after a woman is wrong.

But on the positive side, we all innately understand the Spirit of the Law in “real life”. Anybody ever driven? What’s the general rule when it comes to speed limits here in America? Drive 9 miles over the speed limit and you’re fine. The Letter says “Drive over 55 and you’ll get a ticket.” The Spirit (of Police Officers) says, “ Eh, you gotta really be going fast for me to give you a ticket… unless I need to meet my quota, then you’re in big trouble.”

Another Domino’s story: a coupla years after the original story, I had moved Domino’s stores out to a little town on the outskirts of Greenville, SC called Easley. I was out delivering pizzas, crossing over a bridge, when a Cop pulled out behind me. I looked at my speed… I was all good.

Then he turned his red & blues on. I pull over, and he saunters up and says {in a deep Southern accent} “You know why I pulled you over, sir?”

“No, actually I don’t officer.”

“You were going 39 in a 35, sir.”

“Um… what was that?”

That’s right. 39 in a 35. I mean according to the Letter of the Law, I was indeed breaking the Law. But come on, sir! The Spirit of the Law – according to my father, who I’m realizing now might have steered me very, very wrong – says something VERY different!

In fact, I think we subconsciously assume the Spirit of the Law about a lot in life. Think about how many times the things we say are misunderstood… we want people to give the benefit of the doubt. Give us the chance to not get it all the way right, but still “get” what we’re trying to say or do. That’s the Spirit of the Law vs the Letter, right? That’s grace.


7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.


I love the comparisons here.

First of all, how on fire is Paul’s wit here? He’s basically calling the Ten Commandments “the ministry of death carved on letters of stone”. Wow.

Then he reminds of the story of Moses coming down from the mountain, after receiving the Ten Commandments, with such a sunburn – i.e, this dude was straight baked from being in the presence of God – that the Israelites literally couldn’t even look at him. The guy was so radiant, people’s eyes would get burned if they looked at him.

But that kind of glory is brought to an end.

Remember, we’re talking about the Old Testament, Old Way (old covenant) God here. This is the God who could not be seen by the normal person. This was the God who could only be seen by the High Priests, within the Holy of Holies, in the inner room of the Temple, hidden behind a giant, perfect Veil.

And EVEN THEN… if the Priest wasn’t exactly garbed right or he wasn’t completely and perfectly clean or the dude had sinned… like ever… the guy was goner. I mean – they seriously used to tie a rope to the High Priest’s leg when he went into the Holy of Holies so that, if they hadn’t heard from him in a predetermined time, they’d have to pull his body out, cuz he was dead.

This is what Paul’s talking about here. He’s comparing this God of Law, this ministry of death from the Old Way to the God of Grace of the New Way and he’s like, “Look if Moses was all baked because of this glory, imagine how freaking awesome the Glory of Grace is!”

This Law that once had glory has no glory anymore. And if this thing that was once so glorious now is come to an end, how much more will this permanent grace have glory?

Holy cow, I love this passage. The Law is done. The Spirit lasts forever.


12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one[c] turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord[d] is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,[e] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.


Now Paul’s a little braggy here, but I get it. I feel a little pumped up right now, too.


Here’s verses 12-16 with my annotation: “Since we have such a hope {in this incredible, glorious Spirit of Grace}, we are very {freaking, crazy} bold, not like {that pansy} Moses who put a veil over his face so that the {wussy} Israelites might not gaze on the outcome of {this crazy law that} was being brought to an end. But {those Jews – who btw I, Paul, am} minds were hardened. For to this day when read the old {way} that same veil {i.e., the Veil that separated this Glorious God of Grace from the humanity is so longs to save} remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the Veil is removed {torn away, thrown away, trashed}.”

And now my favorite verse of all: “NOW {i.e., right now} God is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!”

The Veil has been torn. The scales have been lifted. The chains have been broken. We are free. Free to dance. Free to sing. Free to praise the name of Jesus. And we move and we clap and we worship freely because the Spirit of Freedom is here. It has set us free.

We can invite the Spirit into our worship – not because He is missing, but because we can finally see Him without the fear of being sunburnt by His glory! We can see Him, we can feel Him, we can know Him!

“And we, all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is a Spirit.”

And this worship… this ability to see the Spirit in the New Way… it is transforming us!

When the Magical Mystery Tour Ends

There have been few things in my life that have shaped me or been as formative over the past few years than learning to understand true and Biblical honor. It has revolutionized how I deal with people, how I love and encourage my leaders and how I lead my team.

I understand the triggers that likely go off when you hear the word “honor” in regards to church leadership. I have been triggered for my whole life by the word. 

In my childhood, “honor” was code for “don’t question me because I’m the boss.” Pastors would talk about honoring the man of God and challenging people to honor them. But as I look back, I feel like there was confusion between honoring and obeying. The two many times go hand in hand, but are not always exclusive to one another.

But I believe Biblical honor goes way deeper than how you or I interact with our leaders. I think that honor is at its very basis love and grace combined. And when we live out a culture of honor, then we are truly living out a culture of love and grace.


So Jesus hits 30. He begins to wander Israel and to talk to people. Everyone seems to be in awe and wonder of this amazing man. He seems to have heard from God. They hear that he used to be a carpenter but He knows the Torah, the Word of God like the back of His hand. Like… this dude legitimately seems to have heard from God. And people start talking. Word gets around. People want to hear this guy speak. 

And from a historical context, the Jewish people have not heard from God in four hundred some odd years. For years, they had heard from God through the prophets … His word raining down from heaven as if from a giant spigot that one day just stopped. Nothing. For four hundred years.

And during these four hundred years, the Jewish people had been owned. Israel had been conquered by Rome. People were poor, overtaxed, hurting and waiting for the Messiah, who they believed would come and conquer Rome and save them.

Jesus starts talking and people are thinking Hmmmm… this sounds pretty Messiah-ish. But then he started doing crazy stuff. Like healing people. Like raising people from the dead. He goes from just being the keynote speaker to being the straight up main attraction. He goes from city to city on his Magical Mystery Tour, healing and speaking and speaking and healing. And I’m sorry – I’m a Beatles fan. My kids are both named after Beatles. And the team Magical Mystery Tour only works in so many situations. So… bear with me.

Mark is unlike some of the other Gospels. He doesn’t start with the Christmas story. He picks up the story with John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus, then John baptizing Jesus, then Jesus picking up His disciples, then starting his miracles. In succession, Jesus heals the man with the unclean Spirit (read: demon possessed), then Jesus heals a leper (lepers had leprosy … leprosy is a skin-eating disease that quite literally eats you alive … oh, and it had no cure … oh, and Jesus made this leper like new), then Jesus makes a paralytic walk again, then Jesus heals a guy with a withered hand (which seems mildly anticlimactic, unless A) you’re the dude with the withered hand and B) you take into account that nearly all jobs of this time involved physical manual labor – i.e., work done manually or, you know, with your HANDS), then Jesus straight up calms the storm with a whisper peace be still (sorry, I quote Scott Krippayne songs whenever possible), then He heals another demon possessed dude, then he heals a woman who had been just bleeding for twelve years straight from places you don’t wanna bleed for twelve years straight (I mean, technically, that’s … anywhere), and then He goes to this rich guy named Jarius’s house and He raises the man’s daughter from the dead.

Like I said – the Magical Mystery Tour. That resume is impressive. And that’s just the first 5 chapters of Mark. Jesus was legit. No questions asked. He had power.

Which is why Mark 6 is super interesting to me. Picking up in verse 1:


He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 
And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 
And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 
And he marveled because of their unbelief.


So – let’s get this straight: Jesus just spent 5 chapters basically kicking death and sin in the teeth. Then He takes the Magical Mystery Tour home… and … what? Like, this should be His glorious homecoming. There should be parades and people like going crazy for Him, cuz you know He’s awesome. He legitimately might be the Messiah. 

And people are like (read this in a Valley Girl accent), “Oh. My. Gosh. Who does Jesus think He is? Special or something?”

They’re like, “I went to school with this guy. He was not popular and He was not good looking then and He isn’t good-looking now!” (Isaiah 53). And, “Didn’t He make our table and chairs?”

And they either can’t or won’t give Jesus the honor He deserves.

But here’s the CRAZIEST part. It isn’t that they won’t give Him honor. It’s that when they don’t give Him the honor He deserves, His God-like superpowers of healing and necromancy and exorcism just… poof… are gone. It says “HE DID NO MIGHTY WORK THERE.” Instead of all the other awesome stuff, He heals some mild headaches. Not even migraines (cuz if you get migraines like I do, you know getting rid of that jazz is a mighty work). 

Jesus’ power is bound by not receiving the honor He deserves.


 We rightfully tend to think of honor in how we treat our superiors. Especially our spiritual superiors. The word honor is kind of a dirty word in some church cultures for a reason. It has been abused by many for a long time. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. 

At a former church of mine, we used to talk about honor like this: we honor up, down and all around. We honor those above us. We honor our peers. And we honor those who might be beneath us on an org chart. And we honor each equally. 

As I study Biblical honor I realize that someone does not deserve more honor because of position. They may have authority, and their authority demands a certain level of obedience. But my honor should be the same of someone who is my superior to someone who is not. Not less for those I see as inferior (which is something I see a lot in church world) or less because they are my superior (something I also see a lot in church world).

Paul tells us in Romans 12:9-13: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Peter tells us in his 1st book: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

Honor here has nothing to do with position. In fact, Proverbs tells us “Humility comes before honor.” In other words, even if you have position, it doesn’t ensure you get honor, so don’t expect it. Humble yourself, then you’ll be honored.

My point is this: because we each are the children of God, we each were made in His image, each and every one of us deserve honor and respect, based on that alone. So I can choose to be kind and loving and excited about life when I have waited 20 minutes in a fast food drive through not because I am denying that it is frustrating to expect a five minute wait tops and you get quadruple that. No – that IS frustrating. But my own frustrations should not inform how I honor the people around me.

Because the thing that a lot of people come away with in the story in Mark is this: “Look, we have to honor our prophets/leaders because if we don’t they are not going to have the power they need to do what they need to do.” And that is ABSOLUTELY true. We do need to honor our leaders. They deserve it. Not because of position, but because of the blood that runs through their veins.

But I believe we should honor those around us… I believe we should create a culture of honor in our ministries, in our lives, in our workplaces, in our small groups, in our… whatever… because when we honor people we empower them. 

We do not just empower the already powerful when we honor them. We empower every one to whom we show honor.

And what is honor? Well, as I said before, I think honor is a mixture of grace and love. Honor is loving someone even when they are unlovable. Honor is showing grace even someone has fallen from it. Honor is believing the best in people, and always looking for the good … even when there’s bad. Honor is seeking to highlight someone’s strengths and working to help them confront their weaknesses.

It is not agreeing with someone 100% of the time. It is not submitting without question. It is not blindly following. 

It is grace and love.


So – I’m gonna guess that the people around you are not walking around Judea healing people and raising them from the dead. But you’ve heard the stories of how the people around have succeeded in the past. Is their Magical Mystery Tour ended since you came around?

If so, is it possible that maybe it’s you, not them?

Want a culture of honor? Honor people and empower them. Honor begats honor begats honor begats empowerment. And suddenly, your culture shifts and maybe – just maybe – the Magical Mystery Tour picks back up again. (which by the way, it did for Jesus, too).

I'm White. Conservative. Christian. What do I know?

The starting point to the conversation is deaths at the hands of police officers.

Obviously, by all ways of measuring, we have a race disparity problem in America. And the only people who consistently don't recognize it are White Conservative Christians

(True Story: https://barna.org/research/culture-media/research-release/black-lives-matter-and-racial-tension-in-america -- sorry, friends who are white Conservative Christians)

While I think it is obvious that the long-term solution on both sides of the street (so to speak) is training and understanding and life change, what I think white Christian leaders seem to miss is that if black people fundamentally don't trust us or think we see or understand them, then we will never ever be able to be changed or affect change.

And they don't trust us because we have proven ourselves untrustworthy for a long, long time. While there are obviously specialized cross-sections of our demographic that do inner-city work or focus ministries on race relations, as a whole our Tribe (conservative Christian White Americans) thinks in black and white (pun intended) about truth and facts.

The reality I am coming to realize more and more through years of life and ministry is this: you can't focus on the facts until you first focus on how people feel about the facts. Because the truth is that facts are sketchy. They can be read and understood and manipulated to mean different things. One pie chart to conservatives means something totally different than what the same pie chart means to liberals.

I see conservatives ranting and raving, wondering why the world is going so liberal and - depending on your eschatology - you might be okay with the world going to pot (though in fact - by every measurable indicator the world is getting better and better as we go... but you know... facts...). They miss a key indicator: the reason liberals are winning is not because they aren't armed with "facts" -- it's that they do a better job of making the un-appreciated and disenfranchised feel seen and heard.

You make someone who feels invisible feel seen, and the likelihood is that they are more willing to hear what you have to say about other stuff.

But that's another problem! If we go into a relationship with the agenda to change someone, we will always fail. We should see and hear the disenfranchised and weak and the poor and the orphans and the weak, not to change them, but to hear them and see them and know them. Anytime we condescend, we fail to understand the important truths the disenfranchised can actually share with us.

We can learn too.

Christians - myself included - go to facts and truth too fast. Because to us, it's all about truth. And it makes sense! We know THE TRUTH - the Bible, God's Word. But we forget that the world around us doesn't look through the same lens.

And the reality is that we have feelings about the "TRUTH" that cause us to act the way we act. We have feelings about the facts that make us act the way we act. But we rely on truth over feeling, misunderstanding fundamentally that everything we do is about feeling. We literally cannot make a decision without feeling something about it.

So - if we can connect on what we have in common - we all have feelings about (our version of the) truth - then I think we can start a conversation that helps get us to something more substantial.

No one's side has it all together. I learn more every day of how I don't have it all together.

The starting point to the conversation is deaths at the hands of police officers. I'd like to suggest that the ending point is this: maybe we can chase truth in better, or if not better, different ways... ways focused on inclusion over exclusion; on learning over teaching; on struggling through answers over knowing them; on being okay with others not coming to the same conclusion... but loving them anyway.

But I'm just a white conservative Christian/pastor working to understand, just like everyone else. What do I know?

And that's the point.

How I Feel About Discipleship

My daughter likes Frozen. What can I say. She's four. She likes to sing "Let It Go" and she likes to dress up like Princess Elsa. This is my nightmare.

A while back my daughter was doing her dress up thing. She came out as Elsa, full dress, high heels, crown and all. And she clip-clopped around the house singing and playing. She sat down at the table and began to draw, giving some much-enjoyed silence.

Suddenly, down our hallway, I hear clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop ... and my two year old son McCartney comes around the corner in Keira's high heels, holding another princess dress, falling every couple of steps because - let's face it - it's hard to walk in high heels. Sarah and I laughed and laughed as he clip-clopped his way to me and held the dress up to me and said, "Daddy, dress! Daddy, dress!"

My son is an imitator. It's how he learns. At some level we are all imitators of someone.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Ephesian 5:1-2

In fact, this is our greatest call in life: to be imitators of God, and - therefore - to walk in love.

Imitating God is a pretty daunting task. In the same way that my son imitating his sister will (hopefully) never quite come true, as humans it's hard for us to imagine what it really means to be like God, or to be like Christ.

But thankfully Paul gives us more context than just saying, be this... do this...

The chapter before these verses is a beautiful explanation of what Paul calls "The New Life". The beginning of Ephesians 4 is Paul telling the church of Ephesus how they've gotten things wrong. Then in verse 23, the Apostle tells them (and us)...

Be renewed by the spirit of your minds and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:23

Then he follows it up with a list of things that make up this righteousness and holiness:

  • we're to speak truth about each other, always
  • we're to be angry and do not sin
  • we can't let the sun go down on our anger
  • we don't let corrupt communication proceed our of out mouth
  • we are to get rid of bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander
  • we are to be kind to one another

This leads us into Ephesians 5. Later in Ephesians 5, Paul continues with an explanation of what this New Life entails: abstaining from sexual impurity; husbands and wives submitting to one another; etc.

But if this is the New Life we're called to, then having others around who can challenge you, who can encourage you, who can push you to chase this life, as Paul described it, is not just important, but vital.

We all know the old Proverb: "iron sharpens iron, so does a good friend sharpen another."

In my mind, this is what discipleship is really about. Yes, it's sharpening. But it's also culling, it's stripping away the bad. And this is tough on both ends. If we have someone discipling or mentoring us, how do we give the freedom it takes to challenge us to that new life? And if we are on the other end, and we see a friend not living out this New Life, how do we deal with that?

Fortunately, we actually have Jesus' words on the subject. 

Matthew 18 is quickly becoming one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses go tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile or tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-18

First off, this is a crystal clear path to never be a part of gossip. If someone does something that hurts you or offends you:

  1. You go to the person alone
  2. If that doesn't work, you take two or three people (who are as impartial as possible, and will speak truth whoever it might go against... including you) and confront again
  3. If that doesn't work, bring church leaders into it
  4. If that doesn't work, you simply let it go, love the offender as if they unsaved and pray that they will come to repentance.

This doesn't mean you get to then talk about the person behind their back; this doesn't mean you get to trash them and hold bitterness against them, even if they might deserve it; this doesn't mean you get to stop loving the offender.

In fact, I believe Jesus has set up a paradigm of extreme love here. Because there is context to this passage.

Right before the confrontation passage, Jesus tells a story:

"If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one who went astray? And if he finds it, truly I say to you he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish"

So, Jesus starts off by telling us how very, very important each and every one of us are to the Father. And then he follows up with verses 15-18 above, describing good confrontation.

Then right after the confrontation passage, his disciple Peter asks him a big question:

"‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you sen times, but seventy times seventy'."

Then Jesus follows up this (brilliant) answer with another story:

A king was owed a great amount of money - about a year's wages - by one of his servants, and the servant couldn't pay. So, naturally, the king was going to throw the servant and the servant's family into jail. And the servant begged for forgiveness ... and the King grants it. He gives mercy to the servant.

The forgiven then leaves the palace and goes to another servant who owes the forgiven one a pittance - roughly a day's wages - and when this servant can't pay him back this small debt, the forgiven beats the servant and throws him into prison.

Naturally, other servants around the forgiven are surprised. They tell the King what has happened, and the King brings the one he forgave back to his court and asks him, "Dude, what the heck?! (paraphrase). I forgave you much, shouldn't you forgive others for so much less?!"

So, what?

Well - I think the point of Matthew 18 is is discipleship. It's love. If you take verses 15-18 out of context, you might be able to make a case for simply confronting those who do you wrong. But in the context of what Jesus is actually saying, it makes sense to me that Jesus is saying:

  1. Every single one of you is important to me and important to the Father
  2. But if you have problems, verses 15-18 are the way to handle it
  3. BUT HEAR ME ON THIS (Jesus says)...if you don't get repentance from those who've hurt you, then remember I HAVE FORGIVEN YOU EVERYTHING! Who are you not to forgive?

Biblical discipleship to me is simply people in relationship calling each other to the New Life Paul talks about: 

  • It's confronting each other when we don't live up to the New Life
  • And it's forgiving each other because we have been forgiven much

The Magnificent V-Neck of Grace

My mom has never complained about the size of my head, with concern to my birth. But then again, I was born via C-section, so I can only assume that the doctors saw the size of my head on ultrasound and said something to the effect of “There’s no way that head is getting out naturally… scalpel! STAT!”

My point is that: as long as I’ve been cognizant of my head, it has always seemed large in comparison to other people’s heads. And my body. I have a bobble head. I mean – I have a bobble head doll of myself that a friend gave me a while back. But it looks strangely life-like.

I have been accused of having a big head in regards to my pride. While that might be true, that isn’t what I speak of here. I have a large cranium. In So I Married An Axe Murderer I most identified with the Mike Myer’s brother, of whom was said, “His head is HUGE! It’s like Sputnik.”

* * * * *

When I was a kid, my parents were missionaries and were very, very poor. They were old school missionaries – we traveled around in a fire engine red, wood-paneled Dodge station wagon (with both a back and a back-back seat), from church to church, hoping that these small, backwoods, fundamentalist, independent Baptist churches might take us on for twenty-five, fifty and sometimes even one hundred dollars a month.

When my dad quit his job as an associate pastor / minister of music at a somewhat large church in Durham, NC to go on deputation, we had no support, no paycheck. My parents trusted God to provide… and He always did. And over two years, we slowly but surely raised enough support to go live in Germany to minister to the U.S. Military.

But even after raising full support, my parents struggled to make ends meet in an economy that was nearly double the cost of living in the United States. So – we would regularly get donated – usually used – clothes from churches in the U.S., and we were blessed to wear them… no matter how stylish or “cool” they might be.

So – to say that clothes that I actually liked were few and far between would be a vast understatement. I wore a lot of janky stuff back in the mid-1980’s.

But in one box came a Chicago Bears Jim McMahon jersey. I knew little of who the Chicago Bears were and I had no clue who Jim McMahon was. I was nine or ten and the jersey was a little big but it was MINE. I wore that jersey as often as I could. I would get home from school, put on my Jim McMahon jersey and go out and play imaginary football. I’d play quarterback, drop back, avoid the sack, and choose to either throw the ball to my wide receiver (myself) or hand off to my running back (myself) or take off down the field to avoid the tackle for a loss.

I’m not saying I was a normal kid. But this is what an American kid in Germany did for fun.

I loved that jersey. It was a replica NFL jersey of the time… the thick collared V-neck (long before V-necks were hipster), the glossy stripes and numbers and – of course the long, tight sleeves. I dunno how interested I was in girls at that age, but I know that if I wore that jersey today… well, it’d be way to small. But if I WERE interested in girls back then, they all woulda swooned over that Jim McMahon jersey.

One day, though, I put my jersey on, and my large, large head got stuck. No matter how hard I tried, I could not for the life of me get my head through the hole. It was so stuck, in fact, that I couldn’t even get the thing back off. I searched out my dad, and he just began to laugh.

“Son, you’re trying to put your head through the arm hole! Here, let me show you the right way.”

He quickly pulled that tight long sleeve off my large cranium and I was able to put my shirt on to go hand off and pass my football to myself.

* * * * *

The Apostle Paul said, “I don’t understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. But if I do what I want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself doesn’t dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I can’t carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”

Sheesh, Paul. What a freaking mind-bending twist of words!

But, man, do I identify.

If you asked me most days what I want to do, I’d tell you a laundry list of things, all of them good: make sure my wife and kids know I love them through my actions and my words; make sure my co-workers and employees know that their health and lives is more important than any excellence we could be chasing; to more closely pattern every action after the teachings of Jesus; etc., etc.

But how often do I work so hard within myself to try and be perfect, to try and make everything in my life right and perfect. And yet it all seems to fail.

To be honest, living the Christian life… chasing sanctification – it’s a bit like me trying to fit my large head through the long tight sleeve of that Jim McMahon jersey. We struggle and we strive and we work so hard to get our head through it… till we go find our Father and he (I assume) chuckles just like my earthly dad did, and quietly helps us realize we’re doing it wrong.

That’s what Romans 7 and 8 is, I think. It’s our Father helping us see that the striving and the fighting and attempt to “be right” – outside of His power – is futile.

* * * * *

Earlier in Romans 7, Paul says this “Don’t you know that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives?” And then he explains to us how we were once alive in the flesh, but now we are dead to Christ.

It’s a strange thought, to be honest. We’re alive. Then when we believe and put our faith in Christ, we become dead to ourselves. In Romans 7, Paul puts it like this: “By dying to what once bound us, we are released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and in the old way of the law.”

Perhaps a better way to say it – and certainly a more famous way – is how Paul puts it in Galatians 2: “For through the law I died to the law that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.”

Wow. That speaks to me.

The Law – this list of rules and specifications by which you MUST live in order to be right with God – the Law was impossible. The Law was futile. The Law was mankind struggling and fighting and trying to fit a tight, long sleeve over our giant heads… and failing miserably.

But when we believe, and choose faith in the Son of God, it’s as if God the Father is pulling this sleeve off and helping us easily slip our heads through that slick, collared, pre-hipster, awesome V-neck that has PLENTY of room for our head.

If it’s a set of rules that make me a good husband, I will fail. If it’s a set of rules that make me a good leader, I will fail. If it’s a set of rules that make me a good anything, I will fail. I have failed.

But it isn’t the law that does those things. It is Christ living in me. I am dead to the law… but SO very alive.

* * * * *

I remember the day that my Jim McMahon jersey no longer fit. I remember throwing that jersey away. It had holes all over it, from all the times I’d been tackled. The numbers were crinkled and faded. The sleeves had stretched out a bit. I never got anything as cool ever again in any of the care boxes, and so I’ll always remember that jersey.

But even more I’ll always remember my dad being there, helping me pull that jersey off of my head and showing me how to do it right.

Now-a-days, I hope that I can die to the law and fit through the magnificent V-neck of grace.

Another Blog About Millennials

I've been reading a lot about Millennials lately. I think it's an important discussion for the church.

As a generation, seemingly on the whole (though obviously there are many in this generation who have bucked the trends), there seem to be struggles nearly across the board, especially with how they deal with negative emotions. 

They are less churched by nearly 3 times as much than the any generation in recent memory. As they enter into the work force, fewer of them are getting jobs (especially in their chosen fields) than past generations, and when they do get jobs, they tend to not play well with others, especially of older generations. The suicide rate is sky high comparatively to past generations. Much is being written about how to successfully lead this generation (it's complicated) and even more is being written about the psychological effects on this generation and - as they enter into full adulthood - their kids. From mainstream media to psychological journals to ESPN - the bastion of hard-hitting, thoughtful reporting - much has been made of the "Trophy Culture". Everyone gets a trophy because not getting one is disappointing, and kids should never be disappointed, right? 

( A trio of articles that I found at least mildly useful to the conversations HERE and HERE and HERE in a vast world of articles to be found)

I had a very wise woman (who is a psychologist) tell me that leading a 23-year old today is light years different than leading a 23-year old ten years ago. And it sent me on this journey of discovery. Reading. Processing. Trying to understand. Here are a couple of (very basic) thoughts that have occurred to me:

1) The Problem is Pain

Psychologists point to this generations' inability to process pain and/or negative emotions as the key. As strange as it seems, seemingly an entire generation of American kids (thought it goes WAY further than just Americans) can't seem to work through the bad stuff in life. Well - it's not that they can't. They just seemingly won't. They ignore it, they stuff it down, they pretend it doesn't exist... until they can't handle anymore.

"Yea, though I walk through the shadow of darkness, your hand will guide me". As long as life has endured, there have been dark times. And yet we survive. Bad stuff is part of all of our lives. I'm learning more and more that the ability to face your problems, take responsibility for your failures (which takes admitting failures), working hard to recover from the pains of life, forgiving those who hurt you, facing your fears head-on ... all of these things bring mental and spiritual health.

But all of them cause pain. It hurts to admit failure. It hurts to face the person who has wronged you and work towards reconciliation. It hurts to chase friendship with imperfect people. 

To ignore or deny that, to fail to forgive and ask forgiveness, to deny the chance to face pain and fear only hurts us as people. Yet this is increasingly the concern within the psychological community for the Millennial generation.

2) Repentance hurts

To repent - to truly turn away from our sin and face a Savior who died for a sins and died for us and rose again - hurts. It means admitting failure. It means admitting that you aren't good enough. It means denying yourself and following Christ. It means a lot of things that - on the surface - feel negative. To take up one's cross and follow Christ doesn't sound fun or rewarding.

On a daily basis, I am forced to deal with my failings as a father, as a husband, as a friend, as a leader. I am required to admit failure and ask forgiveness. I am required to work hard and most days I don't get any recognition for the things I do. In fact, most days - to be honest - it feels like the good I do is missed while every screw up is magnified. 

And it hurts. Repentance hurts. 

So it makes sense to me that a generation that struggles to process negative emotions would struggle to face real repentance. Repentance is hard, it hurts. But, gosh, it is so rewarding. I hope everyone - no matter what generation -  can find truth in that statement at some point.

3) The shadow proves the sunshine

I could allow my failures and the pain and/or negative emotions to cripple me. And at times I have. But most days, the pain from the day before drives me to be better, to focus on the positive and build on it. Most days the pain causes me to realize I need to do better... and I work hard to that end. And I would say that most people outside of Millennials would have similar stories (though obviously not everyone).

Take away dealing with the pain, facing the pain, working on the things the pain points out in our lives, and suddenly our lives are - in my opinion - less rewarding, less full, less rounded.

Jon Foreman wrote "The shadow proves the sunshine". Other similar cliches speak truth (I mean, it's a cliche for a reason): if everything's special, nothing is special; the mountain highs don't make sense without the valley lows; to say it differently than Jon - without the darkness, the light is less important.

After watching Christopher Nolan's (in my opinion) underappreciated film Insomnia, I read about the Alasksan summers. For a couple of months, people deal with nearly 24 hours of light. And it drives people batty. We need the night to appreciate the day. (And vice-versa by the way)


So - what's the solution? I don't have any, to be honest. Perhaps answers aren't the response needed. I simply want to begin to find insight into what this 13-year generation of kids and now young adults are dealing with so I can first empathize and understand and secondly (hopefully) eventually begin to lead. 

My thoughts here aren't revolutionary, I know, but I personally have not found anyone talking about these things in this context and so I humbly submit my thoughts to paean of thoughts written by men and women far more qualified than I. Again, this isn't about ALL Millennials, nor is it a condemnation. I don't have answers, I simply have thoughts and responses to problems I - and others - have noted.

Would love to hear your thoughts  in response.

No One Made You Feel That Way

Confession: my wife and I see a psychiatrist. She'd probably refer to herself as more of a counselor, but she's like a legit psycho-analyzer, she's a scientist and she's brilliant and she has revolutionized Sarah and my marriage in a way that no one ever has before. She's awesome.

As I have learned more about the science of emotions and the brain and all that kind of jazz, I have realized more and more about myself. Some things I knew. Some things I didn't know before we began working with Jules.

One of the things that I have lived with my whole life is taking things personally. I have some insight now into why this is, but the skinny is this - someone does something that could hurt me and I have a hard time not feeling abused or slighted by that thing. 

On one hand, it has fueled this intense desire in me to be great in the things I do. I have a list of people who told me that I'd never make it, that I needed to give up many years ago. They ultimately drove me to be as great as I could be. In that case, perhaps taking something personally has helped me.

But in the large majority of ways, it has hurt me. 

And here's the conclusion I'm coming to: my emotions are not dependent on someone else. Someone's words don't make me angry! Their words are theirs. My reaction to those words is the thing I own.

This is VERY hard for me. I have a fight instinct that is rare, according to my counselor. I am not looking for a fight but when I reach the place of realizing a fight is imminent, watch out! So while it might take me a while to get there, when i feel like I've been attacked or wronged, it is really, really hard for me not to take it personally. But I have to release myself from the bondage of others' actions.

And as I begin to work on this, I realize more and more how much better my life, my marriage, my fathering, my leadership, my... well, my everything can be.

Hey - maybe you don't struggle with this - thank God! But if you do, know you're not alone. Know that God loves you, and that you can learn the tools to work towards freedom, as I am beginning to do! But you have to chase it!


The Cost of Leadership

I remember my dad told me once that raising kids was hard because on one hand you want to teach your kids to think for themselves and to be able to become functioning human beings in the real world, once they're no longer living under your roof... but you also REALLY want them to do what you tell them!

I think leadership is that. Times eleven.

Surround yourself with high value, high capacity leaders and I guarantee you that at some level you will be frustrated with the fact that the people you lead aren't doing the things you're having them do exactly how you want it to be.

And that's okay.

The cost of leadership is an awful lot like the cost of parenting: your people won't always do it how you would've... but they often do it better. Trust that you made the right choices in choosing your people, and give them credit when they get it right. It isn't glory for you, sure. But it's the best thing for your team.