December 31, 2009

Biggest Moments of the Decade

Isn't it crazy that we're about to begin a new decade when it seems like only yesterday that we were freaking out about all the Y2K problems? As we start a new decade, I think it's good to look back over the last 10 years & reflect on the moments that were milestones for us. Here's my list:

10) Boston Comes Back To Beat The Yankees & Win The World Series
-OK, so I'll admit this one is a little trivial, but if you're a lifelong Red Sox fan, you know why this made the list. It's not just winning the World Series; it's not just beating the Yankees. It's how the Red Sox did what had never been done & did it against the Yankees, & they had to do it at Yankee Stadium.

9) Hanging Out With Students
-This encompasses everything from roadtrips to Gainesville with Clayton, Andrew, Ben, & Larry to watch the Gators to hanging out at Starbucks or Chick-fil-a with Tyler & Ellie. Over the years, I've got to hang out & build relationships with some great teenagers, relationships that have lasted over the course of this decade.

8) Swimming In The Arctic
-A couple of years ago, I got the opportunity to help lead a mission trip to Kotzebue, Alaska. We worked our tails off while we were there, but one afternoon we had a chance to goof off a little, & a few of us decided that we would take advantage of this once in a lifetime chance. So we went swimming in the Arctic waters. It was July & a warm day by Arctic standards, but for a guy from west Tennessee, it was still cold.

7) Buying Our First House
-We were one of the few who actually bought a house we could afford. I just hope when the time comes, that we'll actually be able to sell it! This was a bigger deal than I thought it would be. We've lived in this house almost 2 years, & it's packed with memories simply b/c when 1 child has lived their entire life here & the other has spent most of their life here, a lot of 1sts tend to take place.

6) Serving At Summerville
-In the nearly 4 years that we spent at SBC, God taught me & stretched me so much as a leader. He surrounded me with some great students & church members. There are some moments that I'll remember forever: taking our students up to Global for a leadership retreat & building an altar to remember it, talking late into the night about life w/ Brooks while we were at camp, spending over a week on a roof with Don in Alaska, & watching the radical transformation that is still happening in the lives of students like Ellie, Erica, T.J., Stephanie, Cora, & Tyler.

5) Leaving Summerville
-Not all the big moments have to be positive ones. Difficult times & times of adversity can be major mile markers on our journey just like all the happy moments. In almost 4 years, we put a lot into the ministry there. Not everything was positive, but it never is. However, I can look back & know that I followed God's guidance & that He used our time together to change lives that will go on to impact their world.

4) Serving At FBC Jackson
-This place was pivotal in my life. It's where I met Valerie. It's where my relationship with my mentor, Roger Glidewell, was able to go to another level, & it's where I learned a lot of the valuable lessons about ministry that have served me well in the years since. On top of that, I was able to develop life-long friendships with some great people at FBC.

3) September 11, 2001
-9/11 is the kind of moment that sort of transcends our personal experiences. 9/11 happened to all of us. I think it was Mayor Guiliani that said, "on that day we were all New Yorkers". That day wasn't just a pivotal moment for my generation; it was a turning point in the history of our nation & our world. We're still feeling the effects of it; people are still processing it, & we don't know what the future still holds as a direct result of that day.

2) My Marriage To Valerie
-June 7, 2003 (I think that's the right date) was a day my life officially changed. Until then, Valerie & I both could have gotten out; now we're stuck together! It's unpredictable; it's sometimes frustrating, sometimes exhilarating, but always worth it.

1) The Births of Julia & Audrey
-Getting married is great, but I think even my wife would agree that there's nothing like seeing a new life come into the world. These two little girls look a whole lot alike but they are so different, even going all the way back to the pregnancies. It will be so cool to see them grow up & to see what God does through them.

December 30, 2009

2009 Reading List

Yesterday I posted my Top Ten books that I read this year. Today I wanted to share my entire list with you guys. I would recommend pretty much every one of these books to others, even books I had to read for my seminary courses. So here we go:

I Am Not But I Know I AM by Louie Giglio
Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs by Bill Hybels
Visioneering by Andy Stanley
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Louder Than Words by Andy Stanley
The Dip by Seth Godin
Creating Community by Andy Stanley & Bill Willits
The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
The Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley
21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
Killing Cockroaches by Tony Morgan
How Good Is Good Enough by Andy Stanley
21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader by John Maxwell
Peterman Rides Again by John Peterman
It by Craig Groeschel
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
Primal by Mark Batterson
Mad Church Disease by Anne Jackson
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Tribes by Seth Godin

Seminary Reading
Old Testament Survey by LaSor, Hubbard, & Bush
Cracking Old Testament Codes by Sandy & Giese
Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson
Creative Bible Teaching by Richards & Bredfeldt
Created To Learn by William R. Yount
Communicating For A Change by Stanley & Jones
Introduction To The New Testament by Carson & Moo
The New Testament: Its Background & Message by Lea & Black
I Maccabees
II Maccabees

Focused Bible Study
I Timothy
II Timothy

December 29, 2009

Favorite Books of 2009

In the last few years, I've really redeveloped the discipline of reading. When I was a kid, I was a voracious reader (reading builds vocabulary). I read everything from astronomy, to biographies, to the classics. As I got a little older, I became the classic teenager who thought reading was boring & who didn't have time to read. However, as I got even older I began to understand I couldn't afford not to read. I could go on & on about how much I believe one's leadership is directly connected to one's discipline of reading, but I'll save that for another day. Today I want to share a handful of my favorite books from my 2009 reading list. I'll also include some of the books that are already on my 2010 list that I think would be worth your time. Tomorrow I'll put my entire 2009 reading list up for you to give you more ideas of some good titles to read this next year.

1) Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs by Bill Hybels
-Great insights from one of the great long term ministry leaders in America.

2) Killing Cockroaches by Tony Morgan
-Awesome, humorous insights from one of the most refreshing voices in ministry leadership.

3) The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
-Every year I try to read not only new books, but some classics. Tozer's is by far the best I've read this year. Both poetic & profound.

4) Primal by Mark Batterson
-I was fortunate to get an advance copy from the publisher, & this is an amazing book. Put it at the top of your list for 2010.

5) Visioneering by Andy Stanley
-I read this book every year; it's that good.

6) The Book of Judges
-This was the most profound Scripture that I studied all year.

7) Peterman Rides Again by J. Peterman
-Yes, it's that J. Peterman, the one from Seinfeld. Actually, it's the real guy that the character was based on. I received this book years ago & had never read it. I decided to pick it up, & it turned out to be one of the more interesting & unique books that I read this year.

8) 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
-I'm sort of embarrassed to put this on the list because until this year I hadn't read this classic leadership book. I can't say anything about it that hasn't already been said. It's great!

9) 1st & 2nd Maccabees from the Apocrypha
-These books chronicle some of the historical events that take place in the 400 year gap between the Old Testament & the New Testament. There's some really great historical stuff going on during that period, & if you've ever wondered where Hanukkah came from, go read these two books.

10) Tribes by Seth Godin
-Just finished this one Sunday evening, & it was great. Seth Godin is a leadership/business/marketing guru who is a wealth of insights both in his books & his blog. Anyone in any area of leadership should pick this one up.

Going into 2010, here are a few books I'm looking at reading in addition to my seminary texts: The Art of War by Sun-Tzu, Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Daily Sacrifice by H.A. Ironside, & God's Pursuit of Man by A.W. Tozer.

What books did you read & love this year? Which one's actually surprised you?

December 22, 2009

What If There Were No Christmas?

Originally posted: 12/13/06
Tonight I'm wrapping up my two part lesson series that focuses on that question. Last week our group talked about Jesus being the light of the world. I brought up to them that the Christmas lights that so many of us love to look at & to decorate our houses with would be gone without Christmas because Jesus was the light. At that first Christmas, light came into the world. It exposed the darkness that humanity was living in. Our spiritual eyes had adjusted to the darkness around us to the point that we thought it was normal. Jesus' life revealed to us just how far we had missed the mark.

Tonight we'll look focus on probably the most identifiable part of Christmas: Christmas gifts. We all look forward to making those lists & then hoping to get what we asked for. Admit it, we all get a little childish about presents at Christmas. However, without that first Christmas we would have no occasion to exchange gifts. The Magi who came offering their gifts to the Christ child set the precedent for us. They came to honor Him. We give gifts to honor & show our love to our friends & family. I guess the question we need to answer is "how are we honoring Christ in our lives?" These men traveled a great distance to get to Jesus. The brought costly gifts & even risked their lives in dealing with the ruthless King Herod. They did all of that to come & pay homage to a baby. How are we honoring Christ in our lives? Are we willing to honor Him no matter the risk or cost?

Remember to truly celebrate Christmas this year. Christmas isn't just about a big meal or gathering with your family or even presents. The word "holiday" actually means "holy day" which means that day should be set apart for something special, a celebration of God's love for us that was shown in the birth of Jesus Christ all those years ago in Bethlehem. Let's all pause in the busyness of this season & truly remember to celebrate this holy day.

December 21, 2009

What If There Were No Christmas?

Originally posted: 12/6/06
Tonight I'm starting a two part lesson series with my students that asks this question.

We take Christmas for granted. Even in our secular culture, Christmas is printed up on calendars & everybody gets a day off work. Even if you don't observe Christmas, you get that day off, & nobody, no matter how anti-Christian they are, is going to argue with a day or two away from their job! In the C.S. Lewis classic, "The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe", it is said that in Narnia that it is "always winter, but never Christmas". How depressing is that? Many times Christmas is the bright light wedged in the middle of a cold, dreary time of year. It's a time of hope & of celebration. Without the true gift of Christmas, Jesus Christ, December 25th would be just another day for us. We'd go to work & go through our normal mundane routines. However, that gift gives us cause to gather with our friends & families to celebrate the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. He is the light of the world just as Christmas is the bright spot in an otherwise cold, dark winter. Truly think about what it would be like if there were no Christmas.

December 16, 2009

Primal Quotes

Here are some quotes from Mark Batterson's new book Primal. For more info you can either click Mark's name or the book title for a couple of links that will give you more info about Mark & about the book. You can even download & read an excerpt from the book. These quotes center on our approach to Scripture.

"Many of us doubt Scripture because we haven't done it."

"Reading (the Bible) without meditating is like eating without digesting"

"We are far to analytical in our reading of scripture. We dissect Scripture instead of letting Scripture dissect us."

I'll share a few more quotes later, but for now, I encourage you to jump over to one of the links above to learn more about Primal. I've read a lot of books this year, & this one is definitely at or near the top of my list as the best one of the year.

December 15, 2009

Primal: The 1st Book of 2010

In one week, "Primal" by Mark Batterson will become available at your local bookstore. I want to join Mark in encouraging you to be a part of the primal movement. Without a doubt, Primal should be the first book you read in 2010, & if you need a last minute Christmas gift, try to pick it up next week before Christmas.

In Primal, Mark invites believers to journey with him down the "2000 stairs" back to Christianity in its most raw, primal form: the Great Commandment. Believers are encouraged to become "great at the Great Commandment". Mark uses his unique style that blends his love for history, neurology, astrophysics, & theology to rethink what it means to love God with all of one's heart, soul, mind, & strength.

Mark's other works, "In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day" and "Wild Goose Chase", have set Mark apart as one of the great young leaders in the church. In "Primal", Mark challenges God's people to be a part of the "next reformation", to rediscover that ancient command that sets believers apart in this world: love the Lord your God with all your heart & with all your soul & with all your mind & with all your strength.

I'm excited to see how God uses Mark's words to challenge this generation to embrace Christianity in its most primal form & to see how this generation will be a part of sparking a New Reformation. I'll be sharing more from Primal as the week goes on, so check back to learn more.

December 11, 2009

Primal Anticipation

In less than two weeks, Primal by Mark Batterson will be available at your local bookstore. Mark's previous works In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day and Wild Goose Chase are bestsellers, & Mark has become a leading voice among young leaders.

Fortunately, I was able to get my hands on an advance copy of Primal, & next week I'll be making a couple of posts giving you a sneak peek at the book. Having read both In a Pit & Wild Goose Chase, I've been anticipating this book for several months. I just started reading it a couple of days ago, & it's already blown me away & challenged me on some things. I look forward to getting through the entire book & sharing some of it with you hopefully to motivate you to go pick up the book for yourself or as a last minute Christmas gift for someone else. Also, if you'd like to catch a glimpse of what Primal is all about, click the link above or go to Mark's blog where he has been sharing small excerpts for the last several days.

December 10, 2009

Evaluation Ideas

Even though evaluating teaching and learning in the church is difficult, we have to be willing to do the hard work of honestly learning where we are so that we can determine where we need to go. Here are a few ideas of how we can begin to tackle this task:

1) Seek Outside Help
Sometimes it is very true that we are too close to our own situation to evaluate it objectively. By enlisting someone from outside your organization or ministry, you're bringing in a person who can be more objective & unbiased. You can go one of two routes on this: pay some kind of consultant to work with you or partner with another local ministry, denominational leadership, or another organization to come in & give you some feedback & guidance. In my denomination, there are great people who work at the denominational level who can come in for a period of time & provide valuable feedback for little or no cost. Another idea would be to enlist another local ministry that you respect to help you out. This will require courage & a humble willingness to learn from others. After all, local churches are often characterized as competitive rather than cooperative, but Imagine the testimony it would be to others to know that your ministry & another are partnering together to be more effective agents of God's Kingdom.

2) Get Creative
In some groups within the church, evaluation is not only possible, it can also be fun. When it comes to children and teenagers, you can "test" them; just don't let them know they're being tested. Use activities, games, & short term competition to reinforce and evaluate exactly how well you're teaching & your students are learning. I know, it sounds like it would never work, but trust me, I used to think the same thing, but one of my mentors, Roger Glidewell showed me that it does work. So get creative in how your review, reinforce, & evaluate the teaching & learning that's happening in your children & student ministries.

3) Get Away & Decide Where You Want To Go
In addition to anything else you do to begin the evaluation process, you must get away with your team, both staff & some volunteers, & determine your objectives & the steps necessary to reach those objectives. This will likely require more time than you think it does. If a multi-day retreat is not possible in your context, then set a series of times aside so that you can continuously work on the issue. Enlisting outside help is great, partnering with other ministries is also beneficial, but if you are the leader of your ministry or organization, you can't continuously outsource this responsibility. Utilize other people's feedback, but you have to lead.

Honest evaluation is difficult, and it can be downright scary, but it's vital. As the church, we're not just about teaching people facts & information. We're communicating a message that has the potential to revolutionize & transform lives. We can't take our responsibility in teaching that message lightly, & we cannot ignore our responsibility to evaluate how effectively we are teaching, learning, & leading.

What steps can you take in your context to begin having an honest evaluation of your small group, children's ministry, youth ministry, or preaching? Who do you need to get away with in order to identify your ministry or organization's objectives & plan of action?

December 9, 2009

Why Evaluating Is Hard-Part 2

This week I've been looking at the problem of evaluating teaching & learning in our ministries and trying to identify some key reasons why it's so tough. Yesterday I mentioned how our foundational purpose for teaching in the church is just different from other educational arenas, & because of that most leaders are poorly equipped to evaluate which leads to a lack of benchmarks or milemarkers that people need in order to gauge growth. Today, I want to point out some other factors that are at work beneath the surface.

3) The Urgency of Now
Whether you are a pastor, a small group leader, or a small group member, you feel this pressure. In ministry, Sunday is always right around the corner, & as soon as you finish one lesson or sermon, another one is waiting for you. That sense of urgency tends to overwhelm people to the point that it is all they worry about. And as Tony Morgan would say, we end up killing cockroaches. In other words, we're so consumed by what's urgent now that we lose sight of what is urgent long-term. Leaders have to find a way to manage that urgency in order to build in a process of evaluating exactly where their ministry or organization is. However, there is another, uglier, thing lurking beneath the surface that keeps us from taking a good look at where we are.

4) We're Not Honest With Ourselves
I think this is tied to the sins of laziness and pride. Deep down we know things aren't right, but we can't stand the thought of admitting it. After all, if we admitted it, people would know we're not perfect. Guess what? They already knew! We have to kill that pride that keeps us from being honest about our teaching or the learning of the people in our ministries. Laziness is a factor because not only do we not want to admit something's wrong, we don't want to have to work to fix it. Plus, if the people we serve don't know something is wrong & aren't complaining about it, why should we create a problem that we have to work on? That is lazy and self centered leadership. You're not creating a problem; you're enabling a problem to grow and fester. Eventually that problem will grow to the point that you can't ignore it, & it will probably be beyond your ability to deal with.

What distracts you? What seems so urgent now that you can't look at the big picture? Have any traces of pride or laziness crept into your leadership and caused you to be less than honest about exactly where you are as a teacher and how well the people in our ministry are learning about becoming more like Christ?

Do the tough work. Ask hard questions that demand honest answers, not church answers. Build time into the rhythm of your leadership to evaluate. Don't be distracted by the urgency of now. Keep your eye on the ball.

December 8, 2009

Why Evaluating Is Hard

Yesterday I began thinking about how we do evaluation in church ministry, especially in the arena of learning & teaching. Today and tomorrow I want to look at 4 reasons (not all of them, just 4 I quickly wrote down) why evaluating is difficult in the church's educational ministries. The first 2 are more theoretical; the second 2 are brutally practical, whether you're the teacher or a member of a small group. Today's 2 issues are primarily leadership issues:

1) Our Goal Is Different
There is no getting around this one. As the church our goal in "education" isn't the same as our local schools or universities. In those settings, the primary goal is Information Transfer; in the church our goal should be Life Transformation. And let's face it; that's a lot more difficult to measure. In school, they hand you a test or give you a pop quiz every once in a while to measure your learning. That just doesn't work in the church. How do I know? Because our problem isn't knowledge; it's application. If we were to give tests at church, most of our people would be straight A students, but they would be failing the real test. Since our goal is different we have to figure out how to measure our teaching & our learning in a way that is different as well. This is where the second problem comes in.

2) We Don't Establish Any Benchmarks
Sadly, most church leaders haven't been trained on how to evaluate teaching & learning. How do I know that? I'm a seminary student, & in one of our text books, the section on evaluation was all about tests & how to write better test questions. That's great if I'm planning to become a professor, not so much if I'm in youth ministry or education ministry. Because leaders aren't properly equipped to evaluate, they often assume that as long as nothing is going wrong, everything must be going right. Our problem is that we haven't identified for the people in our ministry what the next step in their growth looks like. Remember, it's not about our acquiring more knowledge; it's about practicing what we have learned in order to become more like Christ. If we're not leading people to the next step, we can't expect them to find it on their own. Some will find it because they're motivated; others will stumble upon it accidently, but most people will simply spend most of their lives frozen in spiritual time. It is vital that we as leaders, both paid & volunteer, identify the next step(s) for the people we serve. Once we've done that evaluating where we really are is a lot easier.

For those of you in leadership, how do we get everyone to understand that information isn't our goal; instead it's transformation? How have you identified the next steps for your people? Have you seen a change in the quality of ministry since you established those expectations?

December 7, 2009

Evaluating In The Church

Recently I had to do some reading & writing for my Master's work in the area of evaluating learning in the church. While some of the questions posed were a little silly (should written tests be used in church?-sure, try making an adult small group take a test on Romans!), the overall concept is important. How do we as ministry leaders evaluate the learning of the people in our ministries? Do we even think about this? After all, if people are failing to learn, it could be that we are failing to teach.

Written tests with true/false & multiple choice questions are obviously out the window, especially with adults, but shouldn't we figure out how to gauge our effectiveness as learners & teachers? With kids it's a bit easier. It's possible to "test" them without their knowing they're being tested, but what about adults? And here is the bigger problem: our system of evaluation has to be fundamentally different simply because our goal in teaching is fundamentally different from the greater educational system.

This week, I want to talk about how we can begin to have honest dialogue & evaluation in our churches. Week after week, teachers & preachers stand before a group & pour themselves out, but most of the time we stop there without evaluating whether our teaching is sticking.

What do your ministries do to effectively evaluate the learning of the people & the teaching of the leaders?

December 3, 2009

Cry Baby Christians

Today I was doing some studying in Paul's writings to the church in Corinth. Toward the end of II Corinthians, Paul is dealing with some people who are bragging about their accomplishments as believers. He decides to show them what all he had done. His point isn't to impress people with all that God has done through him, but really to show them how useless it is to brag. In fact, he says that for him to engage in this kind of boasting was foolish.

Yet as you read you find that Paul endured some stuff that we cannot imagine. Beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, you name it, Paul had pretty much done it. However, he didn't think it worth mentioning. He thought it was kind of stupid to bring it up. That got me to thinking...

How often do we brag about what we've done or what we've endured? Better yet, how often do we whine about what we have "endured". I do it too, so it's OK for you to admit it. We like to spiritualize our so-called sufferings when chances are good that our sufferings are simply the results of our poor decisions.

The things we brag or whine about really end up looking stupid when we take a look at the life of Paul. I'm kind of glad that Paul acted "foolish" for a few moments in order to put people in their place. We like to complain, yet Paul probably would have never brought this stuff up if he hadn't been trying to make a point to the church in Corinth.

Next time we're tempted to brag or whine, we probably need to do a couple of things: remember that Paul said it was foolish & then we need to remind ourselves of all the things Paul could have bragged or whined about but didn't.

December 1, 2009

You Can Go Home...Sometimes

I spent the last week in my hometown of Jackson, TN. It's OK if you've never heard of it, but most of you have a connection to Jackson. If you've ever eaten Pringles, that potato crisp (they're not chips) was made in my hometown, possibly by my dad's team. He's worked there for over 30 years. Going back to Jackson is always a different experience. Part of going back home is cool. You remember fun times & crazy stuff you did when you were a kid. Other parts aren't quite as fun. Sometimes you feel like you're being squeezed back into a mold that you may have outgrown 10 years ago. I guess that's why you say you can't go back home, but one part of my trip home was really cool.

I got to speak at my old high school, Jackson Christian School. JCS is affiliated with a particular Christian denomination, & while I was a student at JCS, the school was pretty much segregated from other denominations. It affected everything from employment, chapel speakers, & Bible class curriculum. The last two years I've had the privilege of going back & speaking in chapel, even though I'm not a part of the denomination. I'm sure being an alumnus helps, but it's really encouraging to see the growth & expanding vision that the leadership for JCS has. Here are a few examples:

1) Teaching Students To Own Their Faith-While I was there, the Bible was usually taught as just another textbook. It was academic. That approach is beneficial but only to a point.
2) Casting A Global Vision To Students-I don't remember ever doing ministry in my time at JCS, but now the school has embarked on being a part of Christ's movement in the world. During Spring Break 2010, JCS will have 3 teams of students, parents, & faculty on 3 different continents. Not bad for their first year of this.
3) Integrating With The Rest Of The Body-JCS still has a long way to go in this area, but baby steps are being taken. The fact that I've been allowed to speak in chapel the last two years is bigger than you know. When I was a student, someone like me wouldn't have had a chance to speak in chapel, but things are changing. I applaud the leadership for moving in this direction, & I pray that it continues.

When God's people work together, in spite of their differences of opinion, the world takes notice. Wouldn't it be great if that was our reputation rather than as a group of people who supposedly believe the same basic stuff but can't find a way to get along?