A Clogged Filter

clogged-air-conditioning-filter-phoenix-azHave you ever felt like you needed to filter what you were about to say?  Or maybe you’ve said something and wished you would have filtered it before it came out.  I’ve done that – way too many times.  The problem with a filter is it gets clogged up and the ugliness eventually comes out.  We put to words “how we really feel”, and it comes out in a not very helpful way.

In Matthew 15:18  Jesus says “….the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart”.

You can try to filter what you want to say only so long but what comes out eventually are is deeply implanted thoughts in the heart, our core beliefs and judgements.

The issue isn’t the filter we use, the issue that we even need a filter.

In Matthew 12:36 when it says that “everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken”, I already have enough words I need to give account for I don’t want to add more.  This means that I need to evaluate my heart and my heart reaction, my core belief system and my judgement of others.  I need to view situations and people, no matter how complicated or messy, the way Jesus sees them.

Lord help me live in such a way that my heart is clean and a filter is never needed.

So Dad, what’s the benefit to us of you being a pastor?

img_0695This last weekend my 11 year old son, after a small disagreement regarding a trivial matter on a Sunday, asked a phenomenal question….  “Dad, what benefit is there for us now that you are a pastor”?  Ouch…. that hurt…..  While it sounded like a really selfish question for an 11 year old to ask, it was a great, honest, heartfelt question in the moment.  After a month of pushing hard to get many things done it was a good reminder of my priorities.

Before I dig deeper into that question and my response I need to paint some background.  Over the course of my career in healthcare I tried to carve out time during my busy schedule for my children.  This picture above is what “Work Days” normally looked like.  These were days that I would invite one of my boys to the office for an hour where we would hang out, eat ice cream from the hospital cafeteria and I would try to make them feel important.  I would introduce them to people I worked with, let them draw pictures on my white board and listen intently to them.  I still got work done during the time we spent together – as you can see in the picture I’m on my phone….but I intentionally carved time out of my busy schedule for them.  I would also take them to Notre Dame football games or special events and we would vacation together to fun places.

Now in ministry I find it more difficult for “work days”and financially challenging to take them to larger events like football games or fancy vacations.  My boys go to church on Sunday’s so they are at the place I work, but for a different purpose.  In ministry you also deal with your weekends being much different than they were when I was in the marketplace.  The day I’m off my children are in school or working and it can be challenging to find time to be meaningfully present.

Here are ways in which I try to connect with my children while in ministry, and I’m still working on these:

  • We try to eat together many evenings – this doesn’t happen every night, but we really try hard to do this regularly.
  • Intentional time – I drive my middle son to school almost every day.  It’s 20 minutes together and while we don’t have amazing discussions every day (imagine a 15 year old early in the morning – not the most talkative), it’s time we get together and we do connect.  Finding intentional time with each of my sons is important.
  • Special Events – These take on different meanings because they are likely less frequent in ministry just due to time and financial constraints.  Instead of Notre Dame games or destination vacations we go away and camp or to a state park.
  • Pray Together – Must do more of this!
  • Texting – With my oldest son who now has a full time job and attending a community college texting seems to be a lifeline to connection throughout the week.  From comical tidbits back and forth to serious questions texting is a must.

Today after an early morning meeting and leaving before my sons got up, I went back home to eat with my youngest son and we discussed some of the benefits of my job to the family.  We talked through his question yesterday and we talked about how our time together was important.  It was the highlight of my day.

While there is a delicate balance between your time in ministry serving others, are you serving your family and your children well?  Do they feel like they are important to you, or are you out of balance?  It took an 11 year old to ask an honest question for me to recalibrate after a busy month of activity….  I appreciated his honesty and I enjoyed my breakfast with him this morning.


Improving Communities – Start With Your Smallest Community

cuu6mjaumaqdsbdI had the opportunity recently to speak with a large health system in Northern Indiana.  They wanted me to speak about “Improving Communities” and left room for me to speak about whatever I felt might be important within that topic.  With such wide boundaries to work within it allowed me to think about the gigantic concept of “community improvement”  and I immediately thought about geographic regions like cities or large portions of populations. When you think about community improvement the natural tendency is to think big, isn’t it?  When you consider improving large populations of hundreds, thousands or millions of people you start to think about what programs to implement, funding decisions and key metrics and it is easy to of a mission to improvement communities to become largely disconnected from someones everyday work.

If you look at the mission statement of health systems around the country it frequently points to community improvement in some way.  When you ask their employee’s how their specific job, at a day to day level, helps to advance the mission (let alone do they know what their mission statement is), they frequently can’t make that link – it becomes an ethereal concept.  How does going to meetings everyday really improve our community?  How does cleaning this patient room improve our community?  If your mission statement isn’t directly linkable to someones everyday work in some way it is difficult to really advance your mission.

If you look at how Jesus dealt with community, he generally dealt with the smallest form of community – changing one person, or a small group of people which then infected the entire community, and the world around him.  It got me thinking….  What if we thought of community as every interaction that we have around us with other people?  Don’t you enter a community every time you enter a patient room – it’s the community of the family in front of you.  You enter a community every time you deliver a meal to a patient room, visit a person at home with a homecare visit, schedule a patient visit, clean a patient room, document a visit in the electronic medical record.  We enter a community when we have a meeting with our co-workers, we enter a community when we give a performance evaluation.  The reality is we are a collection of communities, small and large, and we interact with communities all day long.  If we thought of improving communities as improving the interactions we had every day with groups we work with the mission of “improving our communities” our mission would take a who new meaning.  It would make the ethereal concept of community and make it tangible for every person in the organization.

It is my belief that without the thought of improving communities at the every day interactions with small pop-up communities all around us, an organization will never be able to improve large community populations.

Here are 6 ways in which an organization can start improving communities at the day-to-day level that will more rapidly start to improve larger communities.  Using these you can tap into the potential of thousands of everyday interactions which cumulatively improve the geographic population you live in.   As you read through this list, think through the small communities (interactions) that you have every day.

You can improve community if you….

  1. Realize you are not the most important person/department/organization in the community
  2. Build the community up, don’t tear it apart
  3. Discover and encourage the gifts of other community members
  4. Unlock your own gifts and give your all
  5. Participate in your community with joy
  6. Leave your community better than you found it

These are great lessons from best management reference around….The Bible…. Specifically from Romans 12:3-8

Teaching the Campus to Be a Campus

disconnected-400x250When you launch a multi-site video campus a fair number of individuals may transition from the live campus.  Additionally, when you launch you will have visitors that are not used to video teaching.  This means that you, as a campus leader/pastor, need to help teach the campus, how to be a campus.

For example eight weeks into our launch of our video campus the teaching pastor (on video) invited everyone with a specific issue to stand up during the message.  At the live campus this worked beautifully and connected perfectly in the message, yet at the video campus no one stood up during that prompt.  It created an awkward moment in the room and there was a feeling of being disconnected.  This had nothing to do with the technology, or how poor the video quality was, or what camera shot we were using – we spent a lot on the technology.  The disconnect related to the campus not interacting with the teaching.

There are two approaches to fixing this type of disconnection.  First we could have implemented a “no teaching pastor can call out an action in the room” which can create a sterile message and minimizes campus interaction during the message, which is not ideal.  Alternatively the campus pastor can help facilitate that interaction.  The campus pastor normally is watching what is going on in the room and could jump in, while the teaching occurs, and underscore who at the video campus should be standing.  Additionally the campus pastor could let a few individuals know beforehand that there is a callout to stand for a particular opportunity and encourage those to stand if they feel led to.

Anything the campus pastor can do to interact within the campus with the video teaching can help support the interaction during the message and help eliminate the disconnect feeling.  Interactions like clapping when the teaching pastor welcomes the campus, or laughing during jokes during the message help model how the campus attendees can feel included.

Our first permanent video campus took around six months to feel like the campus knew how to interact with the video message and no longer needs as many prompts or reminders.  Once the campus feels comfortable with that interaction newcomers see the behavior modeled and disconnects become less noticeable.

Perhaps the Lord – Giving God Room

YmQFmoTjAfter hearing a great message in the fall and while praying about some major initiatives recently I have become more aware of the importance of giving God room to move.  While God can certainly move any direction He wants in any situation, what I believe He has shown me is that our prayers and our expectations of what He can do are woefully inadequate.  If we believe God can provide the BEST answer, are we asking Him for things that are miles too short of what he could provide?

In 2Samuel 14:6, Jonathan leads his armor bearer to an interesting journey and says to his young armor bearer  “Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf.”  Are we leaning in to situations and giving God room to show up?  Are we praying prayers that, if He answered, would ONLY give glory to Him because it would be impossible to accomplish in your own strength?  Are we trying to get a glimpse of what God may want to happen, stepping in to that and asking Perhaps the Lord….?

This has substantially changed my prayer life and I now encourage:

  • Pray instead of act toward my desired outcome – There are times that I act first to get the outcome that I desire, hoping or assuming that God will agree with me.  I’m learning to pray and give God room to move.  I’ve seen more answer to prayer because I’m giving God space where I used to jump out of my own effort.
  • Pray and ask for a timeframe – I don’t do this to test God, but perhaps the Lord will answer my prayer instead of putting an open ended ask.  It builds expectation.
  • Pray the crazy prayers – When we were looking for a new church property for a campus we prayed some crazy wild prayers.  Looking back it allowed us to see God in the process more clearly.  We saw things that only God could have done in response to those prayers.
  • Pray with expectation that it will be answered – If you are going to pray it, then test it.  If you pray for healing, check it out right away.  If you want an answer to a question, have paper and pencil in hand expecting an answer.

Perhaps the Lord…..

Immediately Recognizable vs. Replicated – Keeping the Culture Alive at Multi-Sites

do-not-duplicate-page-nameWhen your church decides to go “multi-site” the first step is to develop a great set of overall guidelines that will provide guard rails for your off site locations.  There are many great examples of these guidelines that are a good Google search away.  What I’ve found is needed beyond the overall guidelines is a way to help multi-site locations extend the core culture to those sites.

When you develop your multi-site strategy, instead of replicating the central locations culture and feel you should shoot for a culture that is immediately recognizable instead of duplicated.  I’ve been to a multi-site location that attempted to replicate the feel of the central location and it felt….wrong.  The sound system, lights and volume were way overdone.  They attempted to replicate the experience and it felt disconnected and off.

We developed what we referred to as Campus Culture Guidelines.  These guidelines were developed by the champions or owners of ministry areas and they documented a short list of 10 or fewer  items that fostered the culture we wanted at any of our locations. Along with the culture items they explained why those were important to the culture we wanted. They didn’t dictate a specific thing to purchase, rather it outlines practices that have become fairly standard in our culture.

Ministry areas that helped form this include home groups, outreach, technology, worship, weekend celebrations, first impressions, hospitality, spiritual development and business operations.

As an example here are a few culture items that we want to be immediately recognizable at any of our sites: volunteers parking at the furthest spaces from the door, a name tag table, free “good” coffee for all, creating an atmosphere that is newcomer aware (with 5 items that should be done at every campus to ensure that), leaving no question unanswered at the welcome desk, etc.

With this packet of information the campus leaders can help develop a culture and feel that is immediately recognizable and not replicated.  While the distinction sounds trivial, in practice it is critically important to allow your multi-site locations the autonomy to implement the desired culture in their own context which will be much more successful than trying to replicate copies of one site out of context in other locations.



My Application Mix

UnknownI’m a fan of productivity and applications that can “improve” my efficiency.  Like most productivity junkies it’s your system instead of your apps that make you more productive however finding the next greatest app is always on my mind.  After years of tweaking I think I’ve probably got the best application mix I can ever recall, and I’ve finally dumped Outlook!  Here is the rundown (Mac applications only) and for each application below I own the iPhone application as well.

Evernote Premium – Yes I pay for the premium subscription and yes it’s worth it.  Evernote is my digital notebook and the place where meeting notes, invoices, guitar chords for songs, messages, etc. are stored.

Airmail 3 – I’ve used Airmail before but never converted it to my primary email client.  When version 3 was released I thought I’d give it another go and I’ve now converted 100% to it.  With integration to 2Do and Fantastical it’s enhanced my productivity substantially.

Fantastical 2 – A great calendar application and definitely worth the cost.  Integrates into Airmail and allows simple calendar entry and multiple calendar access.

2Do – I’ve come to realize there is no perfect task management system, but 2Do is about as close as it gets.  I use to be an Omnifocus user but it just became too cumbersome to constantly tweak.  I need to enter tasks and complete tasks in a flowing manner.  Omnifocus seemed like a aircraft carrier, while 2Do seems like a sleek destroyer that is much more nimble.

Olive Tree Bible Software – I’ve used it so long and added texts to it’s library it has become indispensable.

Day One App version 2 – Journaling is important!

Microsoft 365 subscription – Because you have to.

How to Conference Well

conference-pic20 years of attending conferences have taught me a lot about what not to do and how to get the most out of almost any conference experience.  Here are some tips I’ve used over the years:


  1. Pre-register as much as possible  – Pre-registration keeps you out of lines and relieves mistakes.  Register for everything you can online because on site registrations take forever and too many mistakes happen when the lines get long.
  2. Minimize group think – While going with a group of people is fine, I try to break off the group during the conference so I can digest the material myself.  Don’t use others as a filter for the information you are hearing at the moment. Connect at the end of the day with your group or after the conference.
  3. At the registration table don’t pick up unnecessary trinkets – If you aren’t going to use the notebook or the coffee mug you don’t have to take them.  It’s more stuff to carry.  Determine what your minimum carry is and stick with it!
  4. Schedule your day and have a backup plan for each session – I’ve been in too many sessions that had really interesting names only to find out they were terrible. Plan to have  an alternate session if at all possible for each time slot.
  5. Seat selection is critical – Get to the session early enough that you don’t have to sit in the middle of a row of chairs.  The most ideal seat is one that is far enough back you can still see the speaker and the screen clearly, but one that you can easily exit from in case the session is not what you expected.
  6. Write down what you hear – Don’t rely on the slides that you might have received or on notes someone else took.  I’ve given enough presentations to know that really good information leaks out around the edges of the normal talk.
  7. Network with people you don’t know – This is generally an opportunity to connect with people who have the same interest as you.  Don’t eat lunch with your group, go sit by a stranger and strike up a conversation. You will end up learning more by talking with others outside your organization than group thinking the information with others you went with.
  8. Plan the information to immediate action – Spending time at a conference can be refreshing while you break away from your everyday tasks and learn new and interesting things.  While you are away make a plan for how you will use the information when you get back.  When you get back it is too easy to fall back into the everyday cycle and not implement or forget about the information you are learning now.  Take time while you are still away and make a plan.
  9. When you get back share the information –   In one of my previous positions I required that individuals who went to a conference had to come back and present at least some of the information that they heard.  Nothing is better at validating learning and understanding than having to share it to a group of peers.

I spoke to you again and again….. God is calling you

UnknownToo often people believe that God is distant and does not want to communicate with them.  They believe that their situation is “different” or “challenging” and that their life situation is so bad they wonder why God would want to talk to them or listen to their situation.  Some even question if God has the time to worry about their situation!

While reading the book of Jeremiah I was reminded that God is listening to us intently – desiring to pull people out of their troubled situations into greatness.   If we are in the middle of sin, he’s calling us “again and again” to repent and turn towards Him.   In the beginning of the book of Jeremiah it states that the tribe of Judah was doing some rotten things against God (read the first 7 chapters of Jeremiah to find out why God isn’t happy with them). It would be difficult to make your life more of a mess than what the people of Judah had done. Yet God makes this statement to Jeremiah about Judah:

“While you were doing all these things, declares the LORD, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer.” Jeremiah 7:13

Sometimes when things are not headed in the right direction and we are crying out to God and wondering why we think he isn’t listening, he actually is…. Later God explains to Jeremiah:

I have listened attentively but they do not say what is right. None of them repent for their wickedness saying ‘What have I done'” Jeremiah 8:6

When you are in the middle of a season where you cry out to God and ask Him to intervene or cry out and wonder if He is listening, these verses serve as a reminder that He is calling us again and again and He is listening attentively no matter the situation we are in.  Even if we are have forsaken Him.  God is not too busy to communicate to you.  You haven’t messed up so badly that He wants to ignore you.  He loves you and wants to speak to you again and again and He is still listening to you attentively.

Leadership: What Culture Do You Want?

1be0305Serving 20 years in an organization is a rarity in today’s “what’s in it for me” culture.  I had progressed through an organization and was promoted, in an interim position, to the president of a hospital and I was having a blast.  Over those 20 years I saw leaders come and go and culture change frequently.  I had the great fortune to sit under a number of great leaders and learn from them, but the revolving door of leadership taught me that while an individual might have an impact, when they are gone the culture they imparted on their team lasted far longer. (for better or worse)

Why then, during interviews, aren’t we asking what type of culture the person wants to create?  Why aren’t we digging into the culture they are in and have developed behind them?

Don McPherson from Modern Survey states ” If it takes 20 years to transform the culture of a struggling country, how long does it take to transform the culture of an organization? To transform it in the wrong direction, it takes about 15 minutes. However, to transform it positively the timeframe is about three years for medium and large organizations. For smaller organizations, it can take less time…about a year to three years

The average tenure of a hospital president is 3.5 years, while the average tenure of a CIO is 5 years.  The average tenure of a college president is about 8.5 years.  Thom Rainer states that the average tenure of a lead pastor is just over 3 years.  All of these are just long enough to imbue a culture from the leader long enough to impact the organization, and then the leader leaves with their culture they left behind.

If you are currently leading an organization or group of people you should be leading with a view of who is coming behind you.  If you are creating a culture that works, lay a foundation where no matter who the leader is, the culture is so thick and so engrained that it continues well after you are gone.  Develop a culture that YOU would want to work in, no matter what the organization did.

A positive culture that works well extends past 3 year goals, financial targets and performance evaluations.  It’s how you treat those you work with, how you ethically guide the organization and it means allowing fear and negativity to invade your organization.  Leading with fear and anger disguised as “passion” or “intensity” crumbles the very foundation of culture the benefits long term success.  Lead with love of one another, respect that is so recognizable that it is talked about and honor for authority that is unmatched.  After 25 years in the marketplace I never once saw those on any annual goals….