What Do You Focus On?

With baseball season now in full swing, I’ve been following the Dodgers who incredibly have the best record in baseball with 9 wins and only 1 loss. I was wondering today how many of the players are thinking about that 1 loss and wondering what they could have done differently…what it would be like to be 10-0 with an undefeated record right now.

They probably don’t, because they’re professionals…but that’s what I would do. In fact, it’s what I do far too often.

A couple of years ago at Parkcrest we had an incredible year of people coming to faith – so much so that we actually baptized in a day more people than we ever had in an entire year, and at the end of the year we saw a huge number of baptisms. But it was actually just 1 shy of being a really nice round number that would have sounded so much better. It was hard for me not to focus on what we could have done to see one more person get baptized.

A week ago, we had record attendance for Easter weekend – the biggest weekend Parkcrest has ever had numerically. But we were 11 short of what would have been a really nice round number that would sound really good to say. It’s hard for me not to think, “seriously, in the 17 different services that we had that weekend, there weren’t at least 11 random people in the foyer or something that got missed and didn’t get counted”

It’s interesting, because the big number is what God did, and yet I tend to focus on the small number of how I perceived us coming up short. When I focus on the 11, I miss thanking God for what we got to be a part of. When I focus on the 11, it’s about what I didn’t do as opposed to what God did.

Far too often, I find myself focusing on the perception that I have of what hasn’t been realized, and I miss the incredible things right in front of me.This week, I’m going to commit to focusing on God’s provision rather than my perceived shortcoming so that I can recognize and celebrate what He has done rather than what I didn’t do.

Context Matters

What if I told you about a friend of mine who leads a church, and that church has baptized 10 people over the past 3 weeks? You’d be pretty impressed but it’s not totally out of the ordinary to hear about something like that.

What if I then told you that church averages around 150 people each weekend? A bit more impressive for them to have baptized 10 people over 3 weeks?

What if you also learned that the town this church is in has a population of 1,042? Actually, true story, there was a murder two weeks ago, so it’s now 1,041. Still, that means that in 3 weeks, they have baptized about 1% of their population. Just to give that some context, that would be like Parkcrest, baptizing 4,000 people in Long Beach in 3 weeks. To even begin to comprehend that is crazy and ridiculous.

But here’s the thing that blows me away, and is one of the problems amongst Christian leaders today – no one knows about it or will hear much about it. He won’t be asked to speak at a conference, get interviewed for a major magazine or to write a book about it. But what other church are you aware of that has baptized 1% of their population over a 3 week period?

As people, and especially pastors, talk about results they’re experiencing, I’m learning to ask context questions. For churches that are rapidly growing – are they in a suburban area, a place where there is a large amount of new growth, are people coming to faith or are they changing churches? A church where all of that is true may be growing at a faster rate and percentage than one that is in an urban area with a highly post-Christian population, but the growth of the church in the second context would be a much harder to achieve growth. Context matters.

In the movement of churches that we’re a part of, they publish a list of the largest churches each year. Parkcrest has been on that list for several years…until last year and this year when I chose not to submit any information. The thing is, I couldn’t figure out why it was helpful. What does it benefit someone to see us on that list? It felt good to see my name and Parkcrest’s name there, but stroking my ego hardly seemed like reason enough to make sure we were on there. Now, most pastors and churches don’t make that same decision, and this really isn’t about whether thats right or wrong – but that to say those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

As I was asked to submit our info this year, something more than years past began to bother me – my friend’s church wouldn’t ever be on that list. Which is unfortunate, because he probably has something more significant to teach people than many of us who are on that list, if people would listen.

I’m all for tracking success and making sure that what we’re doing is moving in the right direction, but at the same time, we can’t forget that as we talk about results, context matters. Our results don’t occur in a vacuum. I wonder if some of the most significant stories have remained untold because we ignore the context and look purely at the results.

Staycation Mission Trip

I’m not a fan of using this for commercials, but bear with me for just one…

This year, I decided to lead a different kind of mission trip at Parkcrest. One where we would still have to take off work, go through the faith exercise of raising funds, and would partner with a great organization to do something significant…but that we wouldn’t go anywhere. We’re calling it a Staycation Mission Trip, and we’re going to be partnering with Habitat for Humanity to help build some homes in Long Beach.

If you go to Parkcrest, or are in the Long Beach area, and want more information, I’d love to have you join us this Sunday for an information meeting at 1pm at the Heartwell Campus.

You can also sign up for email updates here

And you can download the information sheet here

Also, there’s plenty of other great mission trips that you can check out here

…commercial over

Rob Bell’s Parting Epistle to Mars Hill

On Rob Bell’s last Sunday at Mars Hill, he read them a parting epistle that he had written to them. If you haven’t read it yet, set aside 15 minutes, and soak it in.

so as i’ve been thinking about my sermon here today, i found

myself returning again and again to the power of a good letter. someone may text you or ping you or email you or direct message you or contact you on facebook-but none of those particular mediums of communication can begin to compare to a letter in which the person has labored over every word, going back over it again and again and again, crafting the phrases and searching for just the right word and turn of phrase to capture exactly what you want to say. technology has given us a wide array of methods to communicate and because of this variety,

it’s important we remember that this is a distinction to be made

between diversity of form

and depth, significance, and soul.

so, i’ve written you a letter…

remember, the movement is word to flesh.

beware of those who will take the flesh and want to turn it

back into words…

when people

ask ‘what about mars hill?’ or ‘what’s mars hill going to do?’

it’s as if mars hill is a disembodied reality with a life of its own.

here’s the twist: the church is not an inanimate, impersonal

product. there is no ‘mars hill’ in theory. there is no abstract, disembodied entity mars hill apart from the people in this room

who ARE mars hill…


if you want this church to be some other church,

then please leave this church and go to that church.

this church has it’s own unique path,

it’s own particular DNA

and you must be true to it,

or you will lose something vital to who you are,

and why God brought you together…


people whisper sweet nothings to their lover

but they yell ‘fire.’

reflect on this with me.

love, whispered.

danger, yelled.

fear, it turns out, is often louder than love.

sometimes fear is good, and yelling even better,

especially when there actually is a fire.

but other times fear is toxic, destructive,

the opposite of love.

remember that.

look for it.

and call it out, confront it when you come across it…

Read the entirety of it here

Christmas Starts This Weekend!

Christmas starts this weekend at Parkcrest.

It kicks off at our 7th Street Campus with their Urban Angels event on Friday night for women.

On Sunday we begin the first 3 of 7 Christmas Services at our Heartwell Campus, where we’ll have the final 4 services on the 24th.

At the Lakewood Campus on the 24th, there will be a Christmas Open House with a petting zoo and Christmas pictures.

And then all of our campuses will be having a special service on Christmas morning.

If you’re in the Long Beach area, we’d love to see you there!

Change of Place

I’ve stolen a mantra from Mark Batterson over the last few years. Change of Pace + Change of Place = Change of Perspective. Sometimes just changing the environment that you’re in can give you a whole new perspective on something you’re working through.

Today, I packed up and headed to the coffee shop to work through some of my Christmas message and a few things that need to get written in the next couple of weeks for early next year. Sometimes that simple change can spark something that sitting in my office all day can’t.

For me,  sometimes I’ll leave and take a 20 minute drive without the radio on, or I’ll write in my moleskine with a nice pen instead of writing on the computer, take a walk around the office, or I’ll simply change the music that I’m listening to to something completely different. For me, I’ve found that those little things can help get me going when I’ve hit a wall.

What are some of the ways that have been helpful for you to change your pace or place?

Operation Christmas Child

Our family went shopping today to buy presents for our Operation Christmas Child boxes. If you’ve never participated in Operation Christmas Child before, it’s essentially a way to share Christmas with kids around the world by purchasing small gifts and packing them into a shoebox that will be given to them as a Christmas gift.

We’ve participated in this every year we’ve been at Parkcrest. What we’ve started doing, is buying presents for a boy Isaac’s age, and for a girl, Kate’s age. The kids help pick out the presents, pack the boxes and write them a note with pictures they’ve colored. This year, we’ll register our box online and watch where it gets delivered to.

As they were packing up the boxes, I was reminded of this picture that a woman from Parkcrest sent me last year. She was traveling on a bus in Fiji, having participated in Operation Christmas Child a few months earlier, and saw this boy.

IMG 3194

As she asked him about it, he shared with her how important this box was to him and said that it “made his Christmas extra special.”

Although this weekend is the deadline to turn your boxes in at Parkcrest, you’ve still got time to help make Christmas extra special for a child on the other side of the world.


Growing a Healthy Church

I recently was asked to write an article for the Pastors in the Foursquare Denomination based on a message that I gave earlier this year.

Here’s an excerpt…

Far too many of us have bought into the fallacy that the way to accomplish this mission is to have really great and attractive church services. Is it possible that we have become too focused on the church service, believing that the service itself would accomplish the mission of the church? It seems we have lost sight of empowering our people to live out that mission, instead training them to become consumers of a church experience.

As leaders, we need to stop blaming those whom we lead, and instead recognize that we’ve played a role in creating the vast consumerism that’s running throughout the church in North America.


You can read the rest of it here

(also, thanks to Marcia Graham for getting me to do this and editing the final draft)

The Tension of Middle School

This American Life is one of my favorite things to listen to. I listen to very little music, almost all podcasts, and This American Life is one that I never miss. This week’s episode is on Middle School. If you have any kind of influence with Middle Schoolers, as a parent, pastor, teacher, whatever, it’s worth a listen (This American Life makes only the show from the previous week free to download, so get it before Sunday if you want to listen to it).

A couple of things I was reminded of as I listened (it’s got much more in it than this, but these were two overarching ideas I left with after listening):

Middle School is hard. Those can be some of the roughest years for a kid as you’re growing up.

Middle School is exciting. It’s a time where you form who you are, try new things and experiment.


That makes such an interesting tension for those who do ministry to that age group. It takes the right person and personality type. It made me really proud of our Junior High Ministry and Scott Schlatter who leads it. He’s been doing this ministry much longer than the average tenure of a Junior High Minister and gets better and better every year.

If you go to Parkcrest, listen to this episode, be reminded of what that age group is like and thank Scott and the incredible volunteers who serve our Middle School students.





What Makes it a Church?

I was driving with Allison not long ago when we came across a church that had a sign to attract people to come to this particular church. Although it was worded much more eloquently, the sign essentially said, “Don’t like that contemporary music at your current church, then come to ours – we’re doing it the way that you got used to 50 years ago”. Again, they said it in a much nicer way than that, but that was it’s essence.

It got me thinking about churches that I know of that actually aren’t doing anything to reach people far from God, but instead have gotten really good at collecting disgruntled believers from other churches. Most churches are good at hiding that, by having something in their mission statement about reaching unbelievers or something like that, but their reality hasn’t reflected actually doing that in 30 years. At least this one church was being honest about what they’re doing – trying to connect with Christians who are looking to leave their church.

All this led me to ponder out loud – can those churches actually be defined as a church? Isn’t one of the core, defining characteristics of what makes a church, a church, that it actively lives out the mission of Jesus? Would the New Testament call it a church if it wasn’t doing that? Is it a church because they read the Bible and sing some songs? Is it a church because the name on their sign says so?

As we move forward on seeing 50 churches planted in the next 5 years, one of our expectations is that we would be seeing new churches help people discover faith in Jesus. Shouldn’t our expectation be the same for the long established churches as well? And if they aren’t, what should we call them if they’re missing one of the essential defining characteristics of what it means to be a church?

What is it that makes a church, a church?