Post-Evangelical Pastor and Leader Gathering

Join other post-evangelical pastors and leaders October 12-13 to connect, learn from one another, and know that you’re not alone

For a while now I’ve been connecting with pastors and leaders who feel like they don’t belong anywhere in the church landscape. The phrase we’ve borrowed from Jason Miller is that we feel ecclesiologically homeless. Folks who once had a tribe but for various reasons no longer feel at home on that tribe. Post-evangelical seems to be the best term that’s currently being used to describe this space. 

On a weekly basis, I’m connecting with pastors and other leaders who find the boundaries of evangelicalism too narrow for our experience of God and its politics corrupted by an un-Christlike vision. Who seek a more just and inclusive expression of faith, but also reject the temptation to trade one exclusionary stance for another in the effort to address the need for justice and inclusion. Who believe in the importance of deconstruction, but also believe in rebuilding faith as followers of Jesus. Who see the Spirit moving through new ideas and theological visions, but who also embrace the depth and breadth of historical faith. 

It’s a really unique and beautiful crew of people who are doing significant things in the church, and I’ve been working to find ways to build community in this space, to help these leaders find one another, and to figure out how to help each other and share resources. 

We’ve been trying to figure out a way to be together in one space. Not to hear more content from the stage, but to build relationships, to learn from one another, and to see the larger movement that the Spirit is stirring beyond our local context. 

So, October 12-13 in South Bend, Indiana we’re going to gather together to do that. Brit Barron and Scott Erickson will serve as sort of spiritual guides for our time – creating space for us to encounter the Spirit.  But a lot of our time will be focused on creating space for conversations – both guided and unguided. There is going to be no cost, in order to make it as accessible as possible for whoever would like to be a part. 

Creating Space for New Constructs

“I would die for you”

No one had ever said that to me before. But as this man, who was clearly a former Navy Seal, explained to me the reason he sat where he did in church was in case someone came into the church shooting. He fully intended to jump in front of me and take a bullet for me.

A few weeks later one of our female Pastors preached. He came up to me with the same fervency and wanted to know why I would “allow” a woman to preach in the church.

That was the last time I saw him.

I guess he meant to say, “I’ll take a bullet for you…until you do something I disagree with. Then you’re on your own”

“You should speak with confidence the things you believe God is calling you to say”

She told me that after overhearing me share that I guarded the way I would preach. And that while I never preached anything I believed to be untrue, I often held back and didn’t share what I believed to be fully true.

Alongside a few other experiences, her encouragement helped to give me the courage to start offering some challenges in sermons that seemed to me to be what the Gospel would look like in our time and place. It felt freeing to speak with confidence the things that I believed God was calling me to say.

She apparently didn’t think I was listening to God correctly, or maybe God had told her I was supposed to be saying something different. Either way, she let me know her displeasure that I had taken her advice when she made it clear that she believed I did not treat the Scriptures with respect.

One of the things I’ve come to realize is that some people don’t actually want a pastor, what they’re looking for is a puppet. We’re often looking for someone who will simply reinforce the worldview that we came with. We talk about wanting to be discipled, until we are personally confronted and challenged and then we cry foul.

For many in the church, we hit a point when we think we’ve got it. If we’ve grown up in the church, it’s a view of God and faith that was taught to us in our teenage years. If we came to faith later in life, it’s often the views that were passed on to us early in our life of faith.

The problem is that while those views made sense at those stages, at some point there is more depth and complexity that you are able to move into. That depth and complexity, however, often feels to us like we’re violating the earlier view we had. So, we fight against it, seeking out people who will simply provide new information that reinforces what we already believe, and then we’ll call them deep.

The secret that many pastors are holding onto is that they know in order to keep certain groups and people in the church, they have parameters on what they can say and what they can’t say, regardless of what they believe is fully true.

It’s set up a system in many churches in America that the early church leader Paul warns against when he tells his young apprentice Timothy, that in order to suit their own desires, people will gather around themselves teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear.

That was often given to me as a warning to “not give in to culture”. But I’ve actually experienced it much more in the church. Where people gravitate towards churches, and who expect their pastors to tell them what their itching ears want to hear.

I’m reminded of what’s described in the old parable of the French Revolutionary who sees crowds of people running by and says, “there go my people. I must follow them so I can see where I’m supposed to lead them”.

In every generation, there are movements within the church that challenge the status quo. Movements that talk about God and faith in ways that make those who are most comfortable in the established systems incredibly uncomfortable. We often don’t realize how radical these movements are because we have adopted their language, theologies, and structures and missed the fact that we probably would have been fighting against them had we been there while it was happening.

Maybe it’s uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Maybe it’s not the way you would phrase it or the way you think about it, but maybe that’s why you need to hear it.

You’ll never go beyond where you are now unless you’re willing to let go of the constructs that brought you to the place where you are. Jesus says you have to be willing to lose your life.

We’ll never go forward as long as we’re clinging to what was and what has been.

I Accidentally Published a Book Today

So, apparently I accidently published a book today.

It wasn’t an accident that it was getting published. We had been working on it for a while. I just didn’t realize it would actually happen…and that it would happen today.

4 years ago, I was tired of the way that I was seeing Christians engage in politics and decided that I wanted to help initiate a different kind of conversation that I wasn’t seeing many people have. I preached a 2 week series called “In God We Trust?” It stirred up more conversations than just about anything else I had preached before.

As this election began to move closer, I began to see some of the same disturbing trends and at times even worse. So, decided to try and take what we talked about 4 years ago and see if we could turn it into a short book. Short enough that people would actually read it, but still with enough substance to invoke conversation.

My hope is not to give final solutions and answers as to how Christians are to engage (or not engage) in the political process, but instead, my hope is to raise some new conversations that not many are having. Sometimes we need a bit of a jolt to the system so we can step back to try and see the forest in the midst of the trees.

If you’re tired of the rhetoric around politics and have this sense that evangelicals are being used as political pawns…then this book is for you.

If you have an uncle who you hate to be around during this political season because of how obsessed he is with politics…this would make a great “Happy Super Tuesday” election present.

If you’ve read the stats of how the younger generation is being driven away from the church because of how politically involved the church is and you want to figure out a way forward…this book is a great starting point.

If you don’t want easy answers and want to struggle through things on your own and have the space to come to your own conclusions while being challenged by others…this book will mess with you a bit without giving a bunch of easy answers.

So, I’d love it if you’d consider buying this book. But here’s the deal, my biggest hope is to in some small way begin to change some of the conversation that at least some followers of Jesus are having when it comes to politics. So, buy one for someone else too.

If you’re a part of Parkcrest, we will have copies available on a Sunday, sometime in the future. I’m not exactly sure when, but it won’t be for at least another 3 weeks. Because, like I said…I accidentally published a book today.

If you’re a church leader and want to utilize this for groups in your church or use it as a way to have a larger conversation about faith and politics as the election season continues to heat up. Let me know and if you’re buying more than 25 copies, we can offer them at a discounted rate.

If you have an event at your church or organization and need a panelist or speaker regarding faith and politics, I’d love to be a part.

I (obviously, since I didn’t even realize it was being published today) don’t have a marketing plan. So, I would love it if you would help me out and help get the word out. We’ve got to start having a better conversation about faith and politics. Lets get that ball rolling.

For my friends who already tweeted, instagramed, facebooked, sent me pictures of their receipts from purchasing it. Thank you! I had no idea you would do that and I’m so grateful!

And thanks to my friends Ashley Miller who helped me edit it and actually make it readable and Brent Otey who did a killer cover design.

Here’s to having a better conversation about faith and politics

Lets Have Better Conversations

A few weeks ago, for the third year I attended the Q Conference in Boston. This has turned into one of the year’s highlights for me and I was glad Allison got to attend with me for the first time this year. Much has already been written about some of the significant conversations that happened there.

What I left realizing, however, is that one of the things I most appreciate about Q, is the space to have thoughtful conversations, where there’s space to dialogue, hear multiple perspectives and be challenged. Not only from the stage, but also in conversations around lunches and coffees, in the hallways in-betwen and during sessions. I told someone recently that I love going to it because Q has become in a lot of ways, my tribe. Not because we all believe the same things, or because everyone is a pastor in a church like Parkcrest, but because it’s a space for the kind of dialogue that I find myself often longing for and it’s a group of people who are looking for that same thing.

This year, unfortunately, one of the things that happened was because of the sensitivity of LGBT conversations regarding the church that seemed to become one of the predominant themes, there were quite a few people who felt the need was not for dialogue and discussion. People who weren’t looking for safe, thoughtful conversations, but for the conference to take a stronger stand – either more conservative or more progressive, depending on which viewpoint you came into the conference with. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking simply mimics the incredibly divisive and polarized climate in our culture at large – one where you need to show strongly which side you’re on. Rather than approaching these kinds of dialogues in humility, we approach them with the arrogance of being right and needing the conference that we attend (not the one we put on…but attend) to affirm what we already believe.

Researchers have written a bit about what is now being called “The Backfire Effect”, which essentially says that when we’re presented with facts that objectively counter what we already believe, we won’t change our beliefs, but will actuall dig our heels in more to what we already believe to be true. Being presented with actual facts that push against what we already believe backfires by causing us to become more entrenched against those actual facts. We suffer from Confirmation Bias, where we search out information that affirms what we already think, rather than allow ourselves to be challenged by something that may force us to change what we think, or even the way in which we think it.

We don’t know how to be challenged in what we think anymore. We don’t know how to have engaging, thoughtful and respectful dialogue with someone who believes differently than we do, especially with subjects that have become incredibly divisive. When we talk about people and subjects such as our LGBT friends, the role they play in the church and how we understand sexual ethics to be at work today, we haven’t figured out how to not dig our heels in and openly dialogue with those who end up opposing the viewpoint we hold.

As one scholar recently said to me, “This is the most challenging issue I’ve seen in my life for pastors.” There has to be a space for those of us in influential roles to be able to have open, honest dialogue, without feeling like you need to pander to one audience or another. Q has been that space for me for a few years now, and I hope it will continue to be, rather than being coopted by either conservatives or progressives making sure that their agenda is being pushed to their appropriate level of satisfaction.

What we need are more conversations. Conversations like the one that Dan Cathy and Shane Windmeyer had a few years ago. We like to spend a lot of time arguing about what is sin and what is not, while Jesus spent a lot of time with people. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to have those hard conversations, but it does mean that at the core of Christianity is incarnation – beliefs that are not divorced from humanity. The Word becomes flesh, not the other way around.

What I left Q with, was a deep appreciation for how hard it is to create a safe space for hard conversations. It’s more than putting differing viewpoints on stage. It’s more than giving out a book with multiple viewpoints to read. It’s an ethos of a people who are willing to respectfully dialogue with others. One of my hopes and prayers is to see more of this kind of ethos spring up in Christian communities across the country.

On Women in the Church…

Today, I was challenged in a sermon by one of the best preachers I get to hear on a regular basis. That preacher happened to be a woman. Rachel crafted a fantastic message that was funny at the right moments, insightful, vulnerable and challenging at the same time, which is not easy to do. I had sat in the sermon prep meetings and knew most of the examples she was going to use, I knew what she was going to do to wrap up the message and some of the ways that she would get there, but even knowing all of that, she put it together in a way that regardless of knowing what she was going to say, it still provoked and challenged me. That’s something only a skilled, gifted communicator is capable of doing. 

If our church did not allow her to preach, we would be missing out on that gift. If she was relegated to only teaching children or women, I would have missed the challenge that I received today from her teaching, and so would the 50% of our congregation that happens to be the same gender as me.

The church that I grew up in didn’t have space for women to lead and teach in that kind of way. In fact, I don’t remember a woman ever even doing something such as serving communion. I don’t know if it was an official policy or a stated theological position, but it was just known that didn’t happen. They could teach my Sunday School class, but heaven forbid that they were allowed to pass out the elements of communion to the congregation, much less explain those elements or ever teach the congregation. 

Several years ago, I remember bringing in a woman who taught at our church. In the packet she sent before she came, she asked if she was allowed to quote the Bible while she taught, if she could stand behind the podium or needed to be in front of the stage, and if what she was doing was allowed to be called teaching or if we needed to simply call it her “sharing” instead. Apparently those are all things she’s been asked to do at churches that she has been invited to speak at before, so as to not appear to be teaching. 

A friend told me once about a marriage series that the Pastor at his church was preaching. He had asked his wife to share one of the messages with him, in order to give a perspective from a wife on marriage. Sounded great since that is not always done in churches, where men typically dominate the preaching conversation about marriage (as well as everything else). When it came time for his wife to teach, however, he introduced her by saying, “Now men, my wife is coming up here to teach the women. You are welcome to listen in as she does, but you need to know that she is here to speak to the women.”

This has been on my mind this week. I don’t know if it’s because of what happened with The Nines Conference last week where there was only 4 women out of 112 speakers to church leaders. Or maybe I’m a bit more mindful of it as I read Sarah Bessey’s thoughtful and well-written book, Jesus Feminist.It could be because of what happened to a lament that April Diaz wrote about women in leadership in the church, which was stripped from a book before publication.  Maybe it’s because I have a daughter, and I’ve been thinking about the kind of church environment that I want her to be able to grow up in and what it looks like as she grows to be able to be empowered to use the gifts that God has uniquely given her in the same way that I’ve been empowered to use mine.

Whatever the reason, this has been on my mind. As as I think about it, I am incredibly grateful for the church that I have the privilege to be a part of. I’m grateful for the honest wrestling with Scripture that has led us to recognize the contribution that women have in all places in the church. I’m grateful to get to sit under the teaching of a gifted communicator like Rachel. I’m grateful for the wisdom of all of our Elders, including two women. I am grateful for the ability for women to lead and serve based on their gifts and not their gender.

Yet, at the same time, I am grieved that in many places in the church, that is not reality. I’m grieved that not only are there incredibly gifted women who have no place to use their gifts in the church, but I’m grieved by what those churches are missing out on. The women in our churches have much more to contribute than just a perspective on “female specific topics”, and many churches are missing that. I’m grieved as I read the stories of women who feel silenced, oppressed and not valued in the churches that they love. 

So, to my friends who lead churches where there are incredibly gifted women who don’t fit into the narrow roles that you have defined as acceptable for them. As you find yourself in battles as they try use their gifts, and you don’t have a place for them…Send them my way. We have a church full of strong, capable women serving and using their gifts, but I could always use even more role models for my daughter. I don’t know that I have a better answer than that. I can’t change your church, but I can keep making sure that there is space in the one I lead for people to serve with the gifts God has given them, regardless of gender. 

Sermon Prep – Follow Up to SermonSmith Podcast

Recently, John Chandler interviewed me on his new podcast, SermonSmith. It’s a great podcast, interviewing pastors about sermon preparation. It’s such a significant part of the job, that not a lot of people are talking about. If you preach or teach on a regular basis, I’d highly recommend checking it out.

On the podcast I mentioned that I am not a good extemporaneous speaker. I ramble, I repeat myself, and I forget half of what I wanted to say. Which is exactly the case when John interviewed me. Before he called me, I had thought about all kinds of things to say about my sermon prep, and proceeded to forget most of it when we talked. 

So, I thought I’d follow up here with a few things I didn’t mention in the interview.

Sermon Prep is incredibly hard work for me

It does not come easily or naturally for me. I enjoy teaching, but the preparation for the teaching is something that I agonize over. I can read and study if it has nothing to do with something I’m preparing to teach on, and I enjoy it and get a ton out of it. But, when I’m studying for a specific sermon or series, it is incredibly hard for me. For me, it’s a discipline that I have to intentionally engage in. For those who just naturally engage in it…I hate you… :)

I’ve had to learn the discipline of holding onto sermon illustrations

My temptation is to have something happen or to come across something that I think will be a great sermon illustration, and then to want to use it that weekend. Because of how I use Evernote (something I talk about some in the podcast), I am able to file that illustration in order to use it when it would work best, rather than trying to cram it into a message just because it is there (which is what I used to do).

A lot comes to me through in-direct study

Although I do record and catalogue quite a bit as I mentioned in the podcast, I also am constantly taking in information that I don’t capture. Listening to podcasts, reading books, magazines, newspapers, etc – there is a constant influx of information. All of that information is in some ways, synthesizing in your mind, and at times you’re making connections without a focused effort to. You will have a thought, that you think is original, but it’s really not, it’s simply coming out of a collection of things that you have in some unintentional way synthesized in your brain. So, I try to take in a lot of info, and sometimes something comes out of it.

Sunday forces me to have to ship

Seth Godin talks about how professionals always ship. They don’t just talk about an idea, they actually ship an idea. If Sunday didn’t show up every week, I wouldn’t ship. The impending Sunday forces me to have to come up with something. People are showing up and I’ve got to have something to say. On Monday, I may have had a great sermon the day before, but the next one is what’s on my mind now. In some ways, that showed up in the interview. John asked me for an example of something I had done in a previous sermon, and I honestly couldn’t think of it, because the way that I work, I have to move on to the next one.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to what I do in sermon prep than just that. I talk more about it in the interview, which you should check out, not because of me, but more because of the others who are being interviewed. I’m already trying new things, and incorporating new ideas into my sermon prep because of it. Thanks John for doing this, it’s a much needed discussion.

Bold as Love This Weekend at Parkcrest

I first heard about Bob Roberts several years ago when Roger Beard, the former Lead Pastor at Parkcrest, was at an event he spoke at. Roger came back talking about this crazy guy, Bob, who was incredibly challenging and was causing him to think differently about missions.

So, I began reading Bob’s books, where his influence began to affect the way we engaged in missions at Parkcrest, and also began to spur on a passion and strategy for us becoming a church planting church.

A little over a year ago, I began getting to know Bob, and each time I’m with him, I’ve been regularly inspired, remembering why I’m in ministry and challenged at how I engage in my neighborhood and world. Bob has this unique ability to build relationships  and speak with world leaders, people of multiple faiths, and just about anyone he meets, all the while never giving up what he believes to be true and core. As a result of that, he gets invited to speak around the world at things most evangelical Christians never get invited to – like the World Islamic Forum. 

That’s why I’m so excited to have him come to Parkcrest this weekend to speak at all of our Weekend Worship Services at the Heartwell Campus. Bob is going to speak on the subject of his new book, Bold as Love. And while his book won’t release for another month, you will be inspired and challenged at what it looks like to live your faith out boldly and lovingly in relationships with people of multiple faiths.

Hope to see you there!

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.

On Becoming a Leader Who Reads

The other day as I was listening to Bill Hybels being interviewed on the Catalyst Podcast, he shared something that I’ve heard him say several times – that all leaders are readers. He’s not the only one to say that. I just googled it and got over 188,000,000 links to people saying that exact same thing. Of course, I haven’t heard most of them say it, but I have heard other people say it too. Plus I figure if I google it, that makes it true.

I was trying to remember when this clicked for me. I used to hate reading. The first book I remember enjoying, or really even reading the entirety of without using Cliff Notes was during my senior year of High School, reading The Grapes of Wrath, but it was quite a while before I read another book after that. My sister used to walk down the street reading books. We would go on vacation, and while we would be in these incredible places, she would have her nose buried in a book. I wasn’t even close to that…that’s probably why she has her PhD and I’ve still got my fingers crossed that someone will give me an honorary doctorate someday.

Somewhere along the way, things changed for me. I never became the person walking down the street while reading a book, but I did actually start to enjoy it and began to read more and more. At one point before we had kids, I was reading close to 100 books a year, but kids change things, and I’d rather be hanging out with them anyways, so now I read around half that.

Honestly, here’s what I think happened…I heard enough people who I respected say those exact same words – that all leaders are readers. And while I didn’t have much interest in being a reader, I did care a lot about being a leader, so I figured, maybe if I start acting like one and doing the things that they do, I’ll eventually become a leader. So, I began forcing myself to read. I read books about leadership, ministry, theology…just about anything that anyone would recommend to me. The more and more I began to read, the more and more I found myself liking it. It’s kind of the same way Allison got me to like Grey’s Anatomy, but that’s a different story.

There is no magic formula or secret trick to get yourself to read more. I actually sat down with every intention of writing a list of things to do in order to read more books this year, but somehow this came out instead. The trick to reading more is to just simply read. You don’t like reading? Read more, and eventually, like the vegetables that you learned to like as you ate more and more of them, you’ll find yourself strangely starting to enjoy it. And don’t just read anything – read things that will push you and stretch you. Try the broccoli, because it’s good for you.

What will happen is that as you find yourself thinking more, as you have pre-conceived notions challenged, and as your mind is literally expanded, you’ll want to make more space and time for reading. You won’t have to force it to happen, you’ll want to make it happen.

Maybe that’s a part of the reason that all leaders are readers. Not necessarily because they’re the people who are born with a natural love of reading, and not just because of the insights they gain in their reading, but because they’re the kinds of people who would be willing to discipline themselves to read when they didn’t want to and when they didn’t love it and when they would rather zone out watching celebrities try to learn to dance. Maybe they’re leaders not just because of what they’ve read, but because they force themselves to read.

And by the way, not all readers are leaders, but that’s a whole other thing…