Parents: Our Encouragement is Powerful

As a kid, I remember a particular late night conversation in our families’ living room. I was twelve years old and I was telling my Mom that I wanted to spend my life serving God but I wasn’t sure that made sense or that’s what God had in mind. My Mom told me, “Mark, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming about that. I really believe God is going to use you.” After that conversation, my Mom encouraged me in this area often. She even helped me craft my first sermon which I preached a few months later (parable of Lazarus & rich man). My Dad (who was also my pastor) encouraged me afterwards saying that my 5 minute sermon was incredibly good.

I am blessed with two parents who were and are continuously encouraging me. Their encouragement continues today.

One month ago we moved from Texas to California. The night before the move, my parents came over to pray for us. Being the spiritual giant that I am I quickly pulled out my iPhone and began to video. Now, I’m glad I did. My Dad, being emotional to see us move away, breaks down during his prayer. My Mom then completes the prayer. Here it is:

Yea, I’m blessed! Ginger & I want to encourage our kids enough to minimize their fears and clarify their potential.

“When you know you have unconditional love, there is no point in rebellion and no need to fear failure. I was free to follow my instincts, enjoy my life, and love my parents as much as they loved me.” – George Bush – Decision Points

Here’s a great blog by Carey Nieuwhof that provides some practical insight helping parents encourage their kids.

Did your parents encourage you? What are you doing to encourage your kids?

Are You Prepared for a Crisis?

I was sound asleep when the pager went off at 1:30am. I called the hospital and the ER tech said, “We’re going to need you on this one Mark.” “I’ll be there in 15 or 20 minutes”, I said.

Even though I had served as the hospital’s PRN Chaplain for 5 years, waking up from a deep sleep in the middle of the night and jumping into a family’s once-in-a-lifetime tragedy was never easy.

It was around 1:50am when I walked into the emergency room. I immediately noticed a lot of activity indicating a Level 1 Trauma. I saw the Paramedics, ER techs, Nurses, ER docs, Highway Patrol Officers, and family members. As I approached the room, I smelled those unique ER smells: alcohol, blood, and freshly opened plastic tubing.

Shannon Hospital where I served as the PRN Chaplain

I soon discovered that this trauma patient was a pedestrian hit by a car. Fortunately, after several days in the hospital he would be okay. Fortunately for him, lots of people were prepared for his crisis.

Hospitals wisely build emergency rooms anticipating people’s crisis. They create systems for it, staff for it, budget for it, build buildings for it, buy equipment and supplies for it, and train for it. Why? Because all of us will probably use the ER a few times in our life. We won’t plan for it. Fortunately, hospitals do.

As you know God often uses a crisis to strengthen our faith. The difference between our faith being strengthened or weakened is often determined by the relationships we have (or don’t have) during the crisis.

It would be nice to be able to quickly build the right relationships once the crisis shows up in my life. However, that’s no more realistic than building an Emergency Room after the emergency.

Small groups are a practical way for me and you to build intentional relationships to help us prepare for the inevitable crisis some of us will go through in the days ahead.

We don’t like crisis. They smell bad. They’re inconvenient. They show up unannounced. They steal my routine. They raise my stress. They’re never fun. But if we’re wise enough to prepare relationally, we can position ourselves for significant spiritual growth. Either way, they’re coming . . .

6 Habits That Help You Love Your Mission MORE Than Your Model

1) Tweet/RT stories of life change

I love studying and implementing effective church models. Too many churches under-estimate the impact that a clear model can have. However, it’s easy to go from being a fan of a model to becoming fixated.

An effective church model focuses people on the mission not the model.

“Be infatuated with the model and in love with your mission.” – Andy Stanley

Read our mission again . . . slowly . . . as if for the first time. Hear the words from Jesus’ lips:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Be in love with it. Be strategic to do it. Be inspired to share it. Be united because of it.

Planting Acorns

Pour a big cup of coffee . . . it’s Monday morning. For those of us in ministry this is sometimes a tough day. This is the day we occasionally feel pointless, like nobody cares, like nobody knows, like nobody sees, like nobody is different because of our efforts.

I’m in full-time ministry and, like you, for the most part I am enjoying way more than I deserve. However, there are still those moments. Moments when I wonder “What’s the point?”

Like you, I want to impact as many people in my lifetime as possible. I even have a secret desire to have a funeral that is “standing room only”.

But the reality is I am not well known. You probably feel the same way.

However, recently I received a Facebook message from one of the men I had the privilege to know for the past several years. He simply took the time to thank me for my “investment” in him. Wow! My investment in him? I thought we were just friends.

Then I was recently reminded of this quote:

When the oak-tree is felled, the whole forest echoes with it; but a hundred acorns are planted silently by some unnoticed breeze. – Thomas Carlyle “On History”

This month men more prominent than me had their lives honored in grand fashion (Steve Jobs and Al Davis) and appropriately so. Each man made monumental contributions in their industries and beyond.

My temptation is to look at the “oak trees” in our culture and feel insignificant. You may often feel like your impact is less than legendary.

You may not create cultural echoes but perhaps you are quietly making a difference in people’s lives that could impact generations to come.

So have your coffee and “bring on Monday”. Today you may plant an acorn.

Making a Difference vs. Making a Point – Part 2

Monday night I watched CNN’s GOP presidential debate and witnessed INCREDIBLE examples of smart people choosing to “make points” instead of making a difference. Or, winning arguments while losing influence.

You can see an excerpt in this 3 minute video.

Yesterday we compared making a difference vs. making a point based on this Andy Stanley quote, “It’s much easier to make a point than to make a difference.”

Unfortunately, in churches sometimes leaders settle for making points. It’s always easier to curse the darkness rather than light a candle. Here are some examples:

Tell people their addictions are violations of God’s plan without providing ministry support.

Tell people they need to become better stewards with their money without providing financial training.

Here some more sophisticated ways we can make points but maybe not a difference:

As a church, have a mission without a strategy.

Tell people they need to grow spiritually without offering good steps they can take.

Obviously, none of us get this right all the time. Making a true difference is difficult. I just want to challenge myself to try and be on the side of making a difference more than the “making a point” side.

What are some additional examples where you’ve seen people make points instead of a difference?

What is the most difficult part for you in choosing to make a difference over making a point?

Making a Difference vs. Making a Point

Recently a door-to-door salesman came to my house in Texas late one evening trying to sell me a home security service. Now, I imagine that is a hard job. However, it became unsettling when this stranger stood at my door late at night asking, “Do you have a home security system?”

Quickly into the conversation I told the salesman, “Thanks but I’m not interested.” Which he clearly interpreted to mean, “I’m considering it but you need to pitch me your product more thoroughly and with greater persistence” because that’s exactly what he did.

No matter what I said I couldn’t get this man to leave. Then it went from frustrating to creepy. This stranger began to question whether or not I was actually the home owner because “any true home owner would care enough about their home’s safety to purchase a security system”. Seriously? He then insisted that I at least recognize the value of a home security system. By now he knew that I would never buy from him. Yet he insisted I recognize his point. When he finally left it bothered me so much that I called the police who said they had already received several calls and were trying to locate him.

Here’s the crazy thing: I actually needed a home security monitoring service. But this salesman’s approach prevented me from even considering what I actually needed.

I remember attending a staff meeting at North Point when Andy Stanley said, “It’s much easier to make a point than to make a difference.”

Some Christians I’ve known and even some churches focus more on making a point. We may know Scripture well, have a firm grip on our systematic theology and be able to craft our argument in a compelling way. In making our point we can fail to make a difference.

So as I craft my conversations, sermons, blogs, ministries, and relationships I hope to shoot for the higher goal of making a difference instead of settling for simply making a point.

Maybe I’m stretching this analogy too far but I felt something while receiving this hard pitch that I believe no unchurched person should ever feel.

Tomorrow I’ll share some thoughts on how churches can make a difference instead of just making points . . .

UPDATE: Here’s the link PART 2.

Sadly, I Want to Impress You

Last night I wanted to go walking. So I decided I’d experience “a first” by walking on the boardwalk here in Ventura taking in my first sunset on the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, my inability to follow directions landed me near the harbor instead of the boardwalk. (Of course, there are worse places to get lost.)

Ventura Harbor

However, I was still able to walk over to the beach in time to see last night’s sunset. It was so beautiful that I took nearly a hundred pics with my iPhone.

My overwhelming thought was probably the same thought you have when you see God’s breath-taking handiwork: I was in awe of God and felt so small simultaneously.

Yesterday my Pastor talked about how all of us spend a lot of time trying to impress people and God. (Great message based on Phil. 3:1-11.)

For some reason, I find myself trying to impress people. I want to impress you. Yes, you. I want to post something meaningful to me, helpful to you, while still sorta hoping to impress you along the way. I hate that desire within me. I really do.

Maybe you’re like me. Or, maybe you spend time trying to impress God. Either way, we are trying to impress. We are trying to earn approval.

Here’s what I was reminded of today: God approves of me. God is satisfied with me.

Let this verse encourage you: God sent His Son “. . . so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for (insert your name here) . . . ” (Rom 8:4 – NLT) If you’ve received God’s grace, God approves of you. God is satisfied with you.

Tonight I watched God orchestrate the movements of a magnificent ocean and masterfully paint the sky orange. Kinda silly to think I could impress Him. Equally silly for me to waste energy trying to impress others.

The same God who created this majestic scene last night created me 40 years ago. He created you. He loves me. He loves you.

I hope to learn that impressing you is not a big deal. Our Creator already thinks I’m a big deal. You too.

What do you do to try and impress people? God?

How would your life be different if you lived your life no longer trying to impress people? God?

What are some evidences that reveal that God is satisfied with you?

3 Building Blocks of a Good Step

“Let’s say you wanted to get from the front of the auditorium to the back of the auditorium. If I took a stack of construction paper and threw it up in the air, allowing the individual sheets to scatter all around the auditorium and then told you that you had to step from one piece of construction paper to another to get from here to there…you might be able to do it, but your steps would take you all around the room. Some of them would require you to hop pretty far. You might have to backtrack. It would not be a simple process. But, if I took this stack of construction paper and carefully laid the sheets out so that the path led directly from the front to the back, and if I laid them close enough together to make it easy to step from one to another…you could easily do it.” – Andy Stanley

Here are 3 building blocks of a good step:

1. EASY – If it’s not easy, people won’t do it. Easy steps = increased participation.

2. OBVIOUS – People shouldn’t have to guess what the next step is.

3. STRATEGIC – If a program isn’t a step it will knock you off target costing time and money.

Steps may be less immediately satisfying (compared to new programs which we talked about last time) but they are more likely to create sustainable progress.

What are some examples in the church when you’ve seen a step that was hard, unclear, and/or random?

What are some examples in the church when you’ve seen a step that was easy, obvious, and clear?

To unpack this further, you can listen to a great podcast here or read 7 Practices of Effective Ministry.

7 Reasons Churches have Programs, not Steps

Some organizations are like Little League batters. If they just hit the ball anywhere, they get excited and feel good about what they’ve done. It doesn’t really matter if they get on base or if what they do actually gets them where they want to go. They are just trying to hit the ball somewhere. They are not thinking about home plate and the steps to get there.

Unfortunately, churches have a reputation for doing ministry without an end in mind. They build as many rooms as possible to reach as many people as possible. They start new ministries to target a variety of issues. They create countless programs to meet the growing needs of those who are attending. It all makes sense. It all seems right. It even feels productive. But there is no overall strategy and no runners are moving home. The questions they should be asking is not Are we hitting the ball? but rather Are we getting closer to home plate? – 7 Practices of Effective Ministry by Stanley & Willits.

Here are 7 Reasons Churches have Programs, not Steps:

1. They don’t have a clear strategy.

2. They have bought into a ministry “menu” philosophy.

3. They feel pressure to provide programming on the basis of needs, not purpose.

4. Their staff has built their identity around a program and not a mission.

5. They do not have a culture that confronts the “brutal facts”.

6. They fear the fallout of eliminating certain programs.

7. They have not given their leaders permission to “not” do some things.


Why do you think as church leaders we are geared to think in terms of programs vs. steps?

What makes an effective step? Let’s talk about that tomorrow.

5 Essentials BEFORE Taking a Leap of Faith

These are based on my experience starting a church and then recently accepting a position requiring my family to move across the country.

 1) Talk to Others

My heart was strongly telling me to “start the new church”. But I took two years to confirm my “call”. Fast decisions increase the likelihood of leaving God out. I talked with my pastor, other senior pastors, fellow church planters, friends, and family. It’s tempting to only talk with people who will tell you what you want to hear. Resist the urge to decide in private what will soon become public. “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” – Prov. 11:14

 2) Prepare your family

The process can be extremely challenging to your marriage. Ginger & I did everything we knew to do going into our adventure with our “eyes wide open”. We talked with others who had taken the step we were going take. If your wife’s going along but not personally excited about it, I believe YOU’RE NOT READY. I agree with Artie Davis’ formula: You+Vision+Passion – Support of wife = ZERO. Inviting your family into the entire process is critical.

 3) Have relational support in place

I remember the “morning after” my last Sunday at my former church. I felt overwhelmed. Suddenly, I was hit with a wall of emotion screaming “What have you done!?!” Immediately, I called a friend who talked sense into me reminding me of God’s clear leading. It helped me to have a mentor, some colleagues (already doing what I was about to do), and a supporting organization.

4) Plan to work hard

The day I resigned to start a church my personal salary went from $70K to $24K. I had a family of six. My wife and I worked “extra” jobs. When our CPA completed our year-end taxes she said we had the most W-2’s (11) she had ever seen. God provided everything we needed. But He chose to provide through our hard work.

5) Be open to a “Plan B” 

I planned to start a church and pastor it forever. God had me start a church then close it to prepare for me my current role. My current role is proving to be a more exciting opportunity than I could have ever imagined or planned for. I leaped and all along God was in complete control. God’s thoughts are so much higher than ours.

Pete Wilson wrote a GREAT book entitled Plan B. I’m convinced that my Plan B was God’s Plan A. Maybe your Plan B will not include moving to an unexpected city but your future will certainly have unexpected twists and turns. Embrace it for what it is . . . God’s adventure for you.

“20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

What preparatory steps would you add? Which step is most difficult for you?