Practical Stuff for Church Leaders

The Tale of Two Churches

A few days ago I hopped on a jet to southern California and began my 12-day journey with the research crew from 20sChurch. Heather, Maria and Taylor are three college students who are going from coast-to-coast this summer studying what churches are doing to reach 20-somethings. I'm learning a lot from them, and am privileged to be their chauffeur and roadie in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and the San Francisco area.

Today we attended two churches--Reality LA in Hollywood and Hillsong LA in downtown Los Angeles. They are about 12 minutes from each other and seem to both be drawing a high percentage of 20-somethings. However, they couldn't be more different.


Reality LA -- I could easily picture someone who studies megachurches saying these guys do it all "wrong." The parking is terrible (most people walk from a parking lot four blocks away) and the facility is old. They purposely leave the singers in the dark so you can't see their faces. Their transitions are choppy and announcements too long. They have a total of "zero" moving lights (and only two spotlights for the speaker) and they don't use video--as in none. We stood for 36-minutes straight (that explains few people in the 50+ age range)--and they do loooooong series (they literally last for months).

It's all a recipe for failure, right? You can't grow a church that way. No one will come! And yet young adults are coming by the thousands--not dragged to church by their parents or forced to attend a Christian college chapel. They are getting out of bed early Sunday morning to worship passionately and study the Bible. They are banding together to make a difference in the world, and they are engaged in community groups throughout the city.

Hillsong LA -- They could be described as the "total opposite" of the first church. A brand new start-up (last week was their first "weekly" service), this is a high production event. I'm guessing they arrive in the middle of the night to hang the speaker arrays, complex truss system and Hollywood-level lighting and sound. The service is perfectly programmed and the arts are excellent with a capital "E." Transitions are tight and every aspect of the service has been considered. The energy in the room was electric.

So who are they attracting? The exact same demographic. The place was packed with young adults (i.e. 20-somethings) who were excited, passionate and driven.

Neither one is doing church wrong. And neither church is doing it right. They are both doing what God has called them to, and in both cases, it is working. They are each very committed to loving their city and making a difference in the lives of real people with real problems. 

This weekend it was reaffirmed for me--there is no right way to do church. If anyone tells you they are doing church the right way--run away! God has gifted humble leaders with a unique thumbprint--and it's only important that we be true to how He has wired us.

The 20sChurch team says that 20-something are looking for authenticity, relevance, a challenge to make a difference, and an opportunity for community. I saw all these characteristics at play in these two churches. 

Way to go Reality and Hillsong teams! You are shaking it up in Los Angeles, and as a fellow believer, I'm incredibly proud.


This Key

Have you ever considered what would happen if something that can't talk suddenly began speaking? If it could tell stories? Like the teapot in Beauty and the Beast, or the snowman in Frozen. Or what is up with that gnarly raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy?

Recently I was sitting in a waiting room fumbling with my keys--I only have three. And one of them has been in my pocket every day for 18 years.

This key.

I've easily used it more than 10,000 times. It used to open every room in the building--then things got a little more complex. But it still opens the front door, and it still opens "my" office--the same office that I moved into when the building opened on August 17, 1996; the same office I didn't move out of until earlier this summer.

If this key could tell stories, it might talk about the thousands of conversations that happened in my office--talks about life and God and faith and family; talks about frustrations and celebrations and disappointments; yes, some passionate conversations about how to do something better or whether to stop something that was no longer working.

This key might tell of tears of joy or cries of angst that happened in that office. It might talk about conversations overheard when someone accepted the invitation to join our staff team, or it might talk of the awkwardness of a final conversation with a team member before they left our staff.

This key might talk about the people who have walked through my door--distraught parents or unhappy couples; new believers excited about their faith; government officials helping us clear hurdles; architects and builders; CEO's; widows; some very rich people and other who are extremely poor. 

This key might talk about the work done in the office--budgets, discipleship initiatives, staffing plans, vision statements, organizational restructuring, financial decisions into the multi-millions, series planning, fund raising, and so much more.

This key has seen the staff grow from 5 people to 129; it has seen our property grow from nothing to 55 acres and $24 million in buildings; it has seen our congregation grow from a few hundred to several thousand.

This isn't a VIP's key. It doesn't belong to a celebrity. It belongs to me. Most of my work was behind-the-scenes--I'm guessing fewer than 20% of the congregation knew my name or what I did. I loved that. Being able to serve the church without being in the spotlight was an amazing privilege. 

This key can't talk about regrets. I have none. I served every one of the past twenty years to the best of my ability. That doesn't mean I was perfect or didn't make mistakes. But mistakes that one learns from are not regrets. They are life lessons.

This key also can't talk about any burned bridges. I walked away with my head held high. No harsh words were spoken, no feeble accusations were leveled. There is no one who I dread running into at Walmart or the Apple Store. I don't fear any awkward conversations. Everything is in the open. I love the church and the team that is leading it. I'm honored to have so many friends on the team.

This key can't talk about dishonesty or sexual advances or truth-twisting or number-fudging. None of that ever happened. Not once.

Early this summer I completed my assignment. Next month I'll be finished with my transitional coaching responsibilities, and I will return this key. And I'll walk away from my job 19 years, 11 months and 10 days after I started.

Someone asked me the other day, "Do you ever wonder if you made the wrong decision?"

Not even for a millisecond. I know without a doubt that my assignment is complete. I am so happy about my 20 years at Granger and everything we accomplished. But just as sure as I knew I was supposed to leave a secure job 20 years ago and join the staff of this little start-up local church meeting in a movie theater--I'm just as confident today that my mission is finished. Another adventure lies ahead.

But for now, it is time to turn in the key.


The Passenger in Row 20


My return flight from Nashville last week was already running about an hour late, and everyone surrounding me at the gate was anxious to get on the flight and get home. It was a packed flight, so when the last person got on the plane and there were no remaining seats--the flight attendants were confused. From my aisle seat on row nine row I could see the pilots, flight attendants, and other airline officials looking at lists, walking on and off the plane, pointing, and talking some more. There was obviously a problem.

Then the announcements began. No fewer than ten times the announcement was made: "This is flight 699 going to Chicago. If you aren't going to Chicago, you should get off at this time." Each time the announcement was made with more volume and emphasis. Then they started calling specific names: "If you are Jessica Klein, please raise your hand." "If you are Bob Francis, please raise your hand." After about 30 minutes of calling names and begging anyone who wasn't going to Chicago to get off the plane--there was still no movement.

This is where the Southwest Airlines "sit wherever you want" system officially broke down. Since there are no assigned seats, they had no way of knowing who was in the wrong seat. So the next step was to go through the plane, person-by-person, and check everyone's name off the passenger manifest. One official started at the front of the plane, and another at the back.

Sure enough somewhere around row 20 they found the offender. Turns out he was supposed to be on a plane to Columbus, not Chicago. How he was able to get on the plane with a boarding pass to Columbus, I have no idea. How he missed the ten different announcements about the destination of the plane, I'll never know. 

But I do know what happened next. By now we had been sitting on the plane for an hour--which made us more than two hours late. The passengers were getting tired and agitated. So as the offender got out of his seat and gathered his belongings, the passengers jeered. They booed. They clapped as he was leaving and took a walk of shame past 20 rows and out the front of the plane. Some of them made sarcastic statements to him as he walked by...

I guess you aren't going to Chicago with us? 

Don't come back.

Better get your hearing checked.

It was funny. I felt unified with the crowd as we were all experiencing the same emotion, and finally had someone we could pin our frustrations on. It was also sad. I wondered what this middle-aged man (who looked like any other business traveler) was experiencing in his life to have been so zoned out for the past hour. Maybe his wife just died. Maybe he just got fired. Maybe he learned his kid has terminal cancer.

As the plane finally got in the air, I closed my eyes and reflected on the whole experience. I was troubled that I was so easily sucked into the mocking vortex of the crowd. I didn't participate, but to anyone watching I would have looked like I was enjoying it. Truthfully, I did enjoy it. But now, I could only think about the passenger from row 20. I breathed a short prayer for him. 

I wondered how many "Christians" were seated around me. Jesus said we will be known by our love for others. I'm not sure any of us on the plane that night would have been recognized as one of His followers. I know I fell short.

My two-hour drive from the airport would now get me home well past midnight, but I wasn't thinking about the late hour or the traffic or the Chicago skyline. Instead, I kept thinking about the passenger in row 20. And I was thinking about my own heart.

I'm determined to do better next time.

I'm Giving Away "Pop Goes the Church"

Pop Goes the Church was one of the coolest projects I had ever worked on when I wrote it in 2008. It was my first "solo" book, it came out of a huge passion, and it enabled me to put a voice to the theological implications of the contemporary church which was beginning to engage culture in a huge way.

The book was widely received and I had the opportunity to do many radio and TV interviews, as well as offer my perspective for news reports published in the Wall Street Journal and Atlanta Journal Constitution, among others. 

Some leaders I highly respect said some amazing things about the book:

Bill Hybels: "Pop Goes the Church should be read by every pastor, church leader, and layperson who wants to connect people to Jesus but is finding it hard to be heard in our media-saturated culture."

Guy Kawasaki: "Pop Goes the Church provides a curve-jumping, revolution-starting approach to changing churches..."

Craig Groeschel: "Pop Goes the Church will challenge you, convict you, and inspire you to be more intentional about doing whatever it takes to reach people with the message of Christ."

A fun book that added some tremendous value to the church world. But here's the deal--when the publisher went out of business in 2011, I bought all their remaining supply of books. Because they were the publisher of record, the book became "unavailable" on Amazon and sales pretty much dried up. We had an extremely difficult time getting the book listed prominently back on Amazon. Additionally, since I will be moving soon (more details on that later), I do not want to pay to move the books to a new location.

That's why I'm giving them away. There are only two catches...

  • I'm giving them away in quantities of 40. Why? Because that's how many are in a box.
  • If you pick them up from me, they are completely free. No shipping charge. If you want me to send them to you, you'll need to pay for shipping. It costs me approximately $1/book to ship them. So if you pay $40 for shipping, I'll send you 40 books (international addresses will cost more).

You might ask...why would you want 40 copies? The obvious answer is TO GIVE THEM AWAY!

Recently Pastor Glenn Bone drove over from Chicago to pick up four boxes of Pop Goes the Church. He's the pastor at Good Seed Ministries and was doing everything he could to educate his people on why he sometimes used pop culture to illustrate points or communicate truth. Yet some of his people were still confused or questioning whether it was okay for him to use these secular illustrations or props. He gave them each a copy of the book and helped walk them through the reasons why it's not only permissible to use pop culture--but there are actually many biblical examples of Jesus, Paul and others doing the very same thing!

A few things you'll find in the book...

  • Examples from 20 different churches (big, small, urban, suburban) about how they use pop culture to teach truth.
  • Ten different examples from Scripture of how pop culture was leveraged to reach people.
  • A case for how using pop culture in your church might be the very thing that will free your church to get unstuck and begin growing again.
  • Very practical tips on how your team can find appropriate movies, TV shows, or songs to use in your teaching.

I'm only offering this until quantities run out, or until July 15th, whichever comes first. After this offer, the book will likely be out-of-print and no longer available. So if you want to take advantage of this--send me an email to tim@leadingsmart.com and tell me how many boxes you want. If you are picking them up, we'll make arrangements to meet. If I'm shipping them, I'll send you a Paypal invoice and get them out to you.


How Good is "Good Enough" to Lead in a Church?

How often do you hear...

  • "She can't lead a small group--she hasn't been through the Membership Classes yet."

  • "He isn't qualified to lead the greeter team."

  • "How is it possible she can lead anything at this church yet? She just met Jesus last week and doesn't even know the basics of the faith."

The question about how qualified someone must be to lead is one with which every church leader grapples. We debate it, argue it and defend our position. Some believe the very fundamentals of our faith depend on keeping unqualified people from influencing other believers.

This starts with deciding how much training or education an adult needs who will be leading a team or small group. But it also impacts what we require of our pastors--do they need a seminary education? Can a small group leader or church lay leader baptize a new believer? Is it okay for someone who hasn't been ordained to serve communion? 

My belief is that anyone, at any point in their spiritual life, can help someone behind them take steps. The person who has only attended church or a Bible study a few weeks can say to a friend, "You need to come with me, this will help you!" By a simple invitation they are helping that person take steps toward Christ. They are, at a very basic level, discipling that person--even if they don't know it.

Consider Jesus healing the demon-possessed man in Mark 5. This guy was as unchurched and "lost" as anyone you've ever met. He hid in the caves, he even cuts himself, and he was a complete outcast from the entire community. Jesus, in a miraculous moment, forgives him of his sin and releases him from his bondage.

This dude is, understandably, beyond grateful. He wants to go with Jesus to the next town:

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (Mark 5:18-20, NIV)

Does this strike anyone else as interesting?

  1. Jesus heals the man but refuses to disciple him.

  2. Jesus doesn't leave anyone there to disciple him. He doesn't put him in a Bible study or leave him a 12-step plan to spiritual maturity.

  3. Jesus instructs him to disciple others by telling them his story. Remember, about 12-minutes ago he was a raving, demon-possessed lunatic!

  4. People listened to him and were amazed.

The guy had ZERO training, ZERO discipling, and ZERO grounding in Scripture. But he had encountered Jesus, and that was enough for him to begin to help others take steps toward Christ. People might actually listen to the person who still looks like them, smells like them and acts like them, but has just met Jesus--more than the guy who has been sitting in seminary classes for four years and is now totally unrelatable. 

I think the next time we convince ourselves that someone isn't ready to help others by sharing their Jesus-story, we ought to consider Jesus own example. Not everyone can help everyone. But everyone who has met Jesus can help someone--that is, if the Church doesn't stand in the way.