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A Post-Meeting Internal Dialogue of a Church Planter

The following is an approximation of a church planter I know very well, and how he tends to process his own leadership of a meeting after the door has closed, the lights remain on, and he’s all alone.

[Closing of the door after last person leaves]

So, how do you think it went?

Eh, it was ok.

They’re probably talking about the meeting right now… on their way home…

What do you think they’re saying?

Honestly?

Yea…

Disappointed…

Thought so. I wish I were a better leader. If I was only like         , then people would really be happy with how things are going. But… he’s got weird hair… and a swagger. But he’s definitely cool. Cool would  win people.

What do you think people will do?

I don’t know… probably leave, I guess.

Probably. What’ll you do if people leave?

If they leave, it’s ultimately not about me…

Yea, that’s easy to say… but you’re “the guy”. You’re the one that this entire “church plant” gets judged by… What do you think           thought of the meeting tonight?

They didn’t say much… probably hated it.

If           leaves, we’ll be down to           (# of people). How will the plant survive? Do you think the plant will survive?

What do you think I lose sleep over? Why do you think my neck’s always tight?… If they leave, our budget will go down          ($X)….

Gosh… If # leave, and we’re down $$, I’ll have to work at UPS again, the secret level of church plant funding…

What will that say about your ability to provide for your family, when everybody leaves, and your family is left starving because you couldn’t pull it through, to lead strong enough, make better decisions, make faster, more creative calls?

Aren’t you supposed to exemplify leading your home and providing for your family to God’s people? If this church plant fails, what does that say about your calling?…

I know…Why do I have to be such a lousy leader?

Why were you so bad tonight? What can be done better next time?

Ask better questions? Give more time to preparing? Ha! “More time.” What is this “more time” you speak of? …I wish I were more creative… more engaging…

…Do you think the plant will survive?

Sigh… I think so, but not on my battery. Michelle says these sort of thoughts are all about me… That I’m not thinking about God’s view on this.

But you’re the guy…

Maybe, but it’s just a role… and here at the end of the day, I’m just a Christian…I really think Jesus had some brilliant things to say in the Sermon on the Mount. He hit it with that “consider the lilies” bit.

“your heavenly Father knows”…

Do you really believe that? Seems like somebody who believes that doesn’t struggle or fail like you…

Do ponder my Father’s knowing very much?… Clearly not.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”

…. Do you really think you’re doing that?

I think so. We left everything to do this… Affirmed by many, commissioned by the church. The process certainly hasn’t been easy and there have been lots of times to jump ship. So I don’t think I’m here for me. I’m doing this for Jesus.

What’s that bit from the Heidelberg?…

…Question 26…

Q. What do you believe when you say,
“I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth”?

That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who out of nothing created heaven and earth
and everything in them,
who still upholds and rules them
by his eternal counsel and providence,
is my God and Father
because of Christ the Son.
I trust God so much that I do not doubt
he will provide
whatever I need
for body and soul,
and will turn to my good
whatever adversity he sends upon me
in this sad world.
God is able to do this because he is almighty God
and desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.

Able and desiring…

Don’t you think your Father is disappointed in the meeting?…

Maybe with my leadership – I can’t make that call – but not with his Son, nor with his precious people.

Are you one of those precious lambs?

On most days…

No, my Father loves me because of Jesus. That’s enough.

He’s able and willing.

What’ll I do next?

Well, I should probably pray… then whisky.

 

The Real Reason the Bible Bores You

About a year and a half ago I got my favorite Christmas present in a long time, and it taught me a lot about approaching the Bible.

It was a novel. Or rather, a fake novel. Or rather, it was a novel written in the margins of fake novel. The conceit was that this was a real “novel” that became something of a secret communication medium between two strangers trying to unravel a conspiracy. The best part was that as you turned the page you’d find a maps with markings for secret tunnels. Turn another page and find a drawing on napkins. Google something online and there would be a whole mysterious radio broadcast. The deeper you went, the deeper you were drawn. With handwritten notes and weathered photographs you fell into a world you weren’t completely sure was not real.

J.J. Abrams, the creator of the novel, wrote somewhere that he’s always been fascinated by the concept of a “mystery box” — that strange artifact waiting to be explored. There are mystery boxes in crime novels (the locked briefcase), in action adventure (the ancient artifact), in science fiction (the glowing orb). It’s like unwrapping a Christmas present only to find a smaller present, only to find another smaller present, as you delve deeper and deeper into the mystery.

Reading it is a jumble of flipping back and forth across the novel, notes, and artifacts, trying to piece a story together. And yet, the more maddening it became the more I was hooked.

What does any of this have to do with approaching the Bible?

Simply this: Too often we approach the Bible too much like a stodgy textbook and not enough like a “mystery box.”

Too often I wake up, groggy, approaching my Bible with all the excitement of reviewing my health insurance handbook. But in my hands is the ultimate mystery box, waiting to be unwrapped and discovered. It is thousands of pages written across centuries. There are books of history, lists, poetry, and letters. There is crazy apocalyptic imagery written by men in exile far from home. There’s a diary of a former member of a King’s court trying to rebuild an ancient city.

It gets better: You can read the rise and fall of a great king of Israel and then read his innermost thoughts through the poetry he wrote a few books over. You can travel with a doctor as the ancient world is turned upside down by a former persecutor turned evangelist, then read the letters the evangelist wrote as he waited for his execution. You can watch the creation of the world at the beginning of the book as stars explode across the darkness and mountains crash out of the ocean, and you can watch the world on fire at the end of the book as all is destroyed and renewed.

And through it all it tells a single story: Shadows and types at first. But then those shadows become clearer and clearer till light bursts onto the scene and reinterprets all that came before and all that will come after. The story is about love lost and pursued and renewed. The story is about war; about forces arrayed against a single man who singlehandedly pushes back the darkness. The story is the one true story of the history of the world full of conflict and relationship and hope and renewal.

This. This is the Bible.

I think that many times we don’t read the Bible because it bores us (though we’d never admit it out loud). And the Bible bores us because we skim some pages, it seems old and disconnected from our lives. Frankly, a google search is more rewarding. But that is because we forget what the Bible actually is. We’re content to blow the dust off the mystery box, maybe peak inside, and say, “Well it looks like a bunch of old stuff I can’t use.”

The Apostle Peter says of these Scriptures, these “prophetic words” preserved in the Bible: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

That sentence is literary dynamite. The creator of atoms and mountains wrote poems. The creator of towering glaciers and desert sunsets wrote histories of kings and nations. The creator of fiery volcanos and intricate reefs, wrote a book. The Holy Spirit that animates creation and animates hearts also breathed out this book.

Your Bible is not a stack of meaningless data. It is a mystery box.

Open it.

Friday Variety: 3 Tools to Help You Create, Remember, and Declutter

I am easily attracted to new tools, new promises of productivity, and shiny new apps. But there are a few things that stick around, become part of my life, and general make things easier. The three things below are three things that have lasted and made my life better. You can use these in your work life, in your personal life, or some combination of the two. I’m using them regularly to create more, remember more, and declutter my life.

Todoist: A dead simple, gorgeous app that keeps you doing stuff

todoist

Recently relaunched with refreshed apps and interfaces, Todoist has been my go-to To-Do app for over a year. There’s a free version and there’s an app just about everywhere you could use one, plus a premium version for $29/yr.

todoist2

Here’s what I love about it:

  • I don’t think about it a lot. It has tons of features–you can prioritize and categorize and tag to your heart’s content. But when I just need to capture a to-do for a certain date (even at a certain time or place) it makes it dead simple.
  • It integrates with Gmail so that you can add emails as tasks. This has been a lifesaver for me so that I don’t lose track of an important email I need to reply to on a certain day, or after I get certain information.
  • You can add an extension to Chrome and add a website as a to-do. This is useful for saying things like “send this to Bob” later in your workday.
  • It gets out of the way. The design is intentionally minimalist and it lets you focus on what needs to get done.
  • I think that I have a great memory but I have a terrible memory. When I need to do something, I put it in and I really do remember.
  • When you finish your to-do list for the day it gives you nice suggestions like “Play some music” or “Adopt a kitten.”  I like to be encouraged, okay?

Evernote: An app that allows you to outsource your memory (which is good news for me)

evernote

Much has been written about Evernote. It’s a monster and chances are you’ve heard of it if you’ve spent any time in the productivity world. But I have a confession: I tried it a few years ago, didn’t get it and stopped. But about two years ago I went back and now I can’t live without it. If you’ve tried and failed, here are a few reasons to reconsider:

  • The web-based writer is just gorgeous. If you need to write a letter, or paper, or sermon, or something else, and you don’t want any distractions, try this. It doesn’t have all the features of a word processor but I often use it to sketch out ideas or write things down without worrying about formatting.
  • If you save articles or bits of information I just haven’t found a better way to save it than Evernote. I’ve gotten addicted to using it for saving potential sermon illustrations. When I read something illustration-worthy I put it in a big stack in Evernote and will scan through while I’m prepping for sermons.
  • I have a “meetings” stack of notes for people I meet regularly with. I modify these notes before each meeting, reviewing what we covered last time and what we will cover this time.
  • Again, I have delusions of grandeur when it comes to what I can remember. In reality I only remember the names of Star Wars starships, a detailed layout of Disneyland, the names of my children. Everything else goes in Evernote.
  • Jacob and I use Evernote to collaborate. We have an ongoing chat conversation about the blog and can easily share articles back and forth.

ESSENTIALISMA book about not doing a lot of things so you can do a few things really well

essentialism

Jacob recommended this book to me a few months ago and I’ve been working my way through it. We’ll probably have a blog conversation about this at some point, but I love it enough that I wanted to pass it along now. It’s not a book from a Christian perspective, but it aligns well with a Christian worldview. The book is built around the idea that we often spend too much time on what really does not matter and only a small portion of time on what matters most. How do we fix that? The book is winsome, has bite-sized chapters, and is beautifully designed.

 

 

essentialism2

I’m finding that the book is most useful not as a one-time sit-down read but an ongoing read. I read a bit each week and seek to apply it. It pushes me each week to spend time on what matters most and helps me fight the drift to the tyranny of the urgent.

What about you? 

What are your favorite productivity tools? Apps? Books? Leave a comment. We’d love to check them out and keep our recommendations going.

 

4 Lessons in Tone from R.C. Sproul

In preparation for sermons, counseling, small group meetings we often prepare what we will say. That’s good. But how we say it requires just as much thought.

At least, that’s what I learned from Dr. Sproul during two weeks of illness.

Recently I was laid up after a minor surgery and secondary infection and I listened to a lot of R.C. Sproul. (A lot.) I love the foundational role he played in my theology as a teenager but it had been a while since I sat down and, say, listened through a whole series. I was struck, but not by the arguments (solid) the exposition (illuminating) or even the intellect (formidable). After pastoring for several years I noticed something about Sproul I never understood as a teenager.

I was struck, perhaps more than anything, by Sproul’s tone.

He was teaching on several difficult doctrines of the Christian faith, thorny doctrines that often get preached with a thunderous and condemning and self-righteous tone. Now, note, that he did not go soft on anything. He wasn’t pulling punches. He wasn’t watering down his doctrine.

And yet, even on the most controversial topic his tone was warm and inviting. He made me want to keep listening, even if I disagreed with this point or that point.

I’ve started to wonder whether we as young evangelicals would do well to pay attention as much to Dr. Sproul’s tone as his theology. Perhaps this feels too touchy feely to you, but in the pages of the New Testament letters as we see pastors communicate directly to churches the tone seems warmer than colder. The tone seems blood-earnest, hard-hitting, and… full of love. Paul even uses the analogy of the gentleness of a nursing mother to describe his tone and affection for a church (1 Thess 2:7).

The Apostle Peter, as brash and bold as he is in the pages of Scripture, charges this readers this way:

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16 ESV)

To Peter it wasn’t enough to make a good defense, how you make the defense matters immensely. And even further, Peter is addressing their interaction with opponents who would likely be belligerent, angry, and reviling. How much more should we take our tone into account when we speak to other Christians?

Here are four things I noticed in Dr. Sproul’s tone that I want to emulate:

An Invitation to come near, not just pushing away

Even when addressing Roman Catholic doctrine, for example, Dr. Sproul invites the listener in. He does not give up his ground but he invites them to pull up a chair and debate. Surely there is no embrace of false doctrine but Dr. Sproul seems to beckon the listener in rather than slapping them across the face. Seekers of truth (even wrongheaded ones) would want to get closer, not turn away.

An explanation, not just a SOUND BYTE

It would be easy for a theologian like Dr. Sproul to simply say, “Trust me here’s what you should believe.” It would be easy to reduce opponents to the worst version of themselves and dismiss them outright. Instead he took the time to walk them down a path, to build out his explanation, before delivering his conclusion on the subject. It takes longer, but it helps the listener see things for themselves.

A respect of opponents, not a mockery

I was struck that Dr. Sproul consistently refrained from taking cheap shots, from settling for a mocking opponents in a way that would be red meat to this audience. Dr. Sproul’s tone toward opponents is one of respect. Certainly he doesn’t refrain from pointing out their faults (even humorously at times) but the tone is not “You’re an idiot” but “I’m afraid you’re wrong here friend.”

A humility before God, not a self-righteousness

When Dr. Sproul teaches you can sense that he himself is in awe of the God he’s teaching about. This is not a tone of “Look here silly people at how I’ve worked this out” but a tone of “Can you believe God is this good? Can you believe he’s been this good to us?”

Certainly there are times to stand for truth, plant your flag, and call for war. Sproul has done this. Paul did this. But I think the default tone should be much closer to this–as we pastor, counsel, and preach.
After all, doesn’t this sound like the tone Christ uses most often with us?