Noble, Overwhelmed

Seems timely that I blog about Perry Noble’s book Overwhelmed, and when I google search him to give some link-love, he has broken his social media silence just yesterday!

For those who don’t know, Noble was the founding and lead pastor of New Spring Church, a rocket of a church in the Carolinas, until he was canned. He was struggling in his life and had some personal issues that were overflowing into his leadership, so the board at the church removed him. It’s always a terrible story, and there are so many common threads in these mega church pastor explosions and flame outs. It’s remarkable in two equal but opposite ways: why does it keep happening, and how amazing are men like Richard Warren and Andrew Stanley for their long integrity in their leadership roles!

All that to say, I picked up Perry Noble’s book, Overwhelmed: Winning the War Against Worry, because it included some of his backstory in leadership when he was dealing with his burn out. Reading biographies of other leaders is an incredibly helpful practice for those with leadership roles. Sometimes this is to learn from their strengths and, in this case, sometimes it is to avoid their mistakes.

It was a helpful book, but really it could have been half the length. The first half of the book is about his personal stories, and the second half felt like a repackaged sermon series. I didn’t think it would be that way, but it was really difficult to continue to take the book seriously as it got more and more tedious. So, if you pick it up, read the first half and shelf the rest. Unless you are into it, then knock yourself out.

Here’s an encouraging line I highlighted:

  • p.81, “Most Bible experts agree that the fourth man in the fire was an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ. But Shadrach, Meshach and Agednego didn’t see Jesus until they got into the fire.”

Coaching and Peripheral Vision

The point of coaching is to draw a greater performance out of the athlete than they  would be capable of otherwise. It is to take the drive that is inside a person and, in a team environment, create a performance that is better than would be expected. Coaching is a primal form of leadership because there is a direct and measurable result that can be employed to gauge effectiveness. Great coaches win, poor coaches lose and get fired.

Demonstrative and negative coaches get a lot of attention; demonstrative and negative pastors get a lot of attention. When seeing a picture of Bobby Knight in a red sweater every sports fan over 30 will immediately think of the time he threw a red chair across the court. He was negative and very demonstrative and we remember it. From this memory we create a perception of his coaching abilities, either good or bad. What no one actually remembers is what happened in the particular game. We don’t know any of the players or how they were performing during that game. The negativity takes, in fact, all of the attention and they game itself becomes secondary. This happens every time a baseball manager abandons all control and begins throwing bases. We couldn’t even tell you the score of the game in that moment because this incredible negativity has taken all of the attention.

And coaches aren’t the only ones! As a frequent youth sports coach, I can attest to both positive and negative emotional pleas from parents. It’s the negative ones that get noticed, and steal the attention from the game and the kids.

Negative emotions from a coach actually have a negative effect on a coached person’s team attitude, loyalty and personal development. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson (author of Positivity: The Upward Spiral that Will Change Your Life) has research that shows positive emotions actually expand a player’s awareness and reception of information, making them more resilient and creative in their actions.

Fredrickson goes on to say (quoting from Sept.28, 2015 Sports Illustrated), “Positive emotions are especially contagious…and a leader’s positive emotions are more contagious than anyone else’s.” The positive attitude of coaches and parents for an athlete actually improve a player’s physical performance. Athletes who feel better about their playing environment will win more.There is credible research done by Fredrickson’s University (UNC) pointing to an increase in peripheral vision when they are experiencing positive emotions.

So, when you are angrily yelling at that player for not seeing the open teammate on the wing you are ensuring that it will happen again.

Here’s what this means:

  • When you are coaching and/or observing youth sports/arts/performance, your contribution to positive emotions actually improves their physical abilities
  • When you angrily respond to player performance you are actually decreasing their physical ability and increasing the probability of a negative result being repeated.

This, of course, goes beyond youth and sports (though it makes the biggest difference in this arena). A leader/coach in an educational, employment and/or religious environment can expect to have similar results according to the positive or negative environment they create through their coaching style.

So, before your player heads out onto the field next game, take a moment and create some positive emotions so they can enjoy an even better game.


Morse, Making Room for Leadership

Servant leadership is the goal for those who serve in Christian organizations and churches. We believe that serving the least of these is the way of Jesus. We desire to have less of ourselves and more of God working in and through us. It’s a narrow way and a difficult way to live.

The difficulty increases when a person has obvious, strong and charismatic gifts of leadership. Those who are created to lead others (from the front) can end up thinking their gifts are less desirable, and attempt to downplay their abilities so that they can stay out of sight. The problem is that their God-given influence is negated from being a positive contribution to the kingdom of God.

Enter MaryKate Morse, professor at George Fox Seminary, who has written, “Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence.” In this relatively short book, Morse contends that power can be used for God’s glory and, in fact, should be. The social and physical influences of your position, gifts and presence are seen, by Morse, as gifts from God and can be used for His glory.

Much of the criticism of large and charismatic leaders comes from their up-front ways and strong influence being seen as overpowering and pushing out the Spirit. To be sure, some of the criticism of major Christian pastors comes from insecure pastors of smaller churches and since 60% of churches in USAmerica are under 100 people, that’s a large and noisy group. The claim most often heard is that they will not be able to handle the temptation that comes with fame and so they should avoid it at all costs. For me, this reasoning is faulty. Would we similarly say all people should avoid any success because success only sets us up for more failure (cue Latrell Sprewell)? Of course not – but in Christian leadership circles it’s acceptable to give a negative assessment of a person who is a dynamic and even famous leader/pastor just because of their success and influence.

Morse’s book actually takes a biblical and social look at power and it’s use in our lives. She considers Jesus’ own use of presence and power in his ministry and describes a way forward for gifted Christian leaders. There is even a couple practical chapters for emerging leaders navigating large meetings that include ways of speaking and even strategic places to sit around a board room table.

In her own words, here’s what you need to know:

  • p.17, “When I felt powerless, I wondered if that was how to be a servant. Then when I felt powerful, I struggled with the impact I had on playing the game and whether or not that impact was Christlike.// I couldn’t find the balance between being myself while holding Christ at the center and taking up space to accomplish God’s purposes.”
  • p.26, “[People in the organization] were comfortable with his [domineering] style because it created a sense of security among them.”
  • p.55, (about Luke 7) “A true prophet would not contaminate himself by allowing a woman to touch him in public. Simon’s inward attitude about Jesus might suggest his uncertainty on how to proceed with the meal because of the embarrassing event occurring in his house.”
  • p.58, “Power is a gift. Powerlessness is not a virtue; rather, using power to help the powerless is.”
  • p.85, “charismatic leaders influence through emotional appeals based in self-confidence that stems from an unshakable conviction in the rightness, even righteousness, of their beliefs… Charismatic leaders create meaning for others.”
  • p.125, “Even thought we value servant leadership, which has a lot to do with the use of power, we usually aren’t mindful of the stewardship of power. We tend to equate servant leadership with spiritual, internal character qualities manifested in the leader’s public behaviors… Everything about the leader, from the first hellow to the final decision, is a reflection of his or her stewardship of power – either for service or personal gain.”

Brian Houston: Live Love Lead

I tagged along last fall to a Hillsong worship event because I heard Brian Houston was going to be preaching at the event also. My memory from the event is a complete lack of parking so I dropped off my van full of people and drove up a Portland sized hill to park and walk down to the concert. When I got down there, I realized I left my ticket in the car, so I walked back up the hill, got my ticket and walked back down again. Getting to the church that was hosting I entered and some security person tried to scold me for coming in the wrong door, but I kept walking and made the educated guess that the church security at a worship concert didn’t want to take down a giant Canadian with burning thighs. Thankfully, I was correct.

The night was outstanding all the way through and Brian Houston gave a really personal and inspiring teaching. At the event I learned that the price of admission included a copy of Houston’s newest book, Live Love Lead: Your Best is Yet to Come. Never one to turn away a free book, I actually decided to get it into my reading schedule. The book tells a lot of the Houston’s story of starting in ministry, Hillsong church taking off and gaining international influence and the personal struggles that they faced along the way. The honesty, openness and humility that Brian Houston gives is remarkable. It is easy to trust an author who openly writes of personal mistakes, especially ones that are related to often heard criticisms of their ministry. While it is much heavier on inspiration than on methods and strategies; there are a lot of practical things that you can implement in your own life to grow in life and leadership and actually see better years ahead.

Here’s some highlights from Live, Love, Lead:

  • p.34, “Looking at yourself against the size of your dream can quickly become more than anyone can handle. The truth is, the plans God has for you are always bigger than you are, and they are never going to be something you can pull off easily and in your own strength.”
  • p.63, “I am not called to plant churches everywhere, but where we do, my hope and prayer is that we can build significant churches whose impact for the Cause of Christ spreads far beyond their own walls and welcomes everyone.”
  • p.82, “With growth came a level of scrutiny that we had never experienced before. I felt removed from my life, from the passion and purpose that usually kept me eager to get out of bed in the morning and greet the day ahead. I was going through the motions, often lost in my thoughts, uncertain how to regain my joy and peace.”
  • p.107, “Bobbie and I always aspired to build a church that was youthful in spirit, generous at heart, faith filled in confession, loving in nature, and inclusive in expression.”

11 Things You Can’t Find in Church Planting Textbooks

1. You can do anything you can pay for. This is actually something I learned from my pastor, John Breitmeier. It may sound crass, but it’s really true. You might have the biggest ministry dream in the world, but if it’s not funded, it doesn’t move. As a church planter, you are the main fundraiser and you have to be alright with straight up asking people to fund a church that doesn’t even exist yet. You dream first, but then you have to take a look at the budget and adjust accordingly; God will provide all the money He needs to do what He wants to do.

2. If you send out mailers/postcards/door hangers expect to see the kinds of people who choose churches by mailers. Honestly, what kind of a person gets a postcard in the mail and then makes major spiritual decisions according to what it says. 9 times out of 10 it’s crazy people. There’s the odd person who has been praying and asking God for a sign and then this is how God leads someone to a church, but mostly you are going to see crazy people. The crazy people will also call you and get mad at you for inviting them to your party in the park. It’s awesome.

3. Satan will come against you by coming against everyone close to you. When the devil comes against me it’s no surprise and I am able to stand strong. When those I love most suffer, it hurts in a completely different way. I can point to too many “coincidences” of extreme difficulties and trials in my immediate family, in the lives of my close friends and in my extended family. You may seek prayer cover for yourself, but I think those closest to you need it also. It’s important to not be surprised by opposition, when you make aggressive moves for Jesus, it’s going to be noticed by Satan.

4. Those first two years when everyone thinks you are the greatest invention since velcro shoes…don’t get used to it. In the first place it’s an easy time to get a big head and start believing your own hype. Even more, the third and fourth year is when opposition that has been simmering under the surface finally comes out and tries to kick you square in the face. It’s a special feeling to have someone tell you that you are absolutely terrible, that you are the primary reason that people don’t go to church (I think they meant all people everywhere, which is quite a compliment if you think about it), or have people dedicate their internet chatter to talking about your failings. So, it’s important in your first couple years not to get used to people thinking you are awesome – because some people don’t think that and they are just waiting their turn.

5. The church plant rises and falls on the preacher. People will be extremely patient and generous with pretty much everything about your church except the child’s safety and the preaching. If your chairs are uncomfy, it’s ok. If the school you are renting accidentally forgets the heat over winter break people will keep their jackets on. Even if your band struggles to find it’s voice the people will still worship and love it. But, if your preaching lacks fire people will burn a trail to the exit. Having all those other frills is great, but child safety that allows parents to focus and honestly strong preaching will have people showing up and growing! Also, pretty much all the research on church planting points to the major determining factor of success being the primary vision casting leader.

6. Having a killer band basically makes every Sunday easier. If you are able to create a culture where musicians have the opportunity to grow and play awesome music, they will show up and they will play magical music. Senior pastors who are terrible guitar players (I’m talking to you James Carmichael!) will do the gospel well by getting out of the way and allowing awesome musicians to be awesome. This should also inform the culture shaping process of what you chose to center your service on. Most churches are sermon-centric, but is that the way to be the church in your neighborhood?

7. Set the culture and allow the strategy to flow from it. Culture eats strategy every single time. You can copy the very best ideas from the very best churches and leaders, but if you fail to create a dynamic culture your strategies will be out of style quicker than crocs. Wait, they never were in style. And that’s the point. Let the leaders lead. Great churches have great leaders at all levels of the organization. If you are blessed with great leaders, don’t just delegate responsibility – also give them authority to make important decisions. If you’ve built a str0ng culture, they will be able to know how to make decisions that align with the organization.

8. Church planters need a community of church planters. The second most determinate factor in a church planter’s success is being in relationships with other church planters. The encouragement and mutual support of other planters is such a major factor that most planting organizations require it. This comes in the form of more experienced coaches and/or current planters. Finding and investing in those relationships make a huge difference in your church.

9. Be where the people are. For the Grove, this meant being outside at community festivals all summer long because these were the biggest gatherings of people in our city.  If we believe that God loves people and is working in their lives and we want to be where God is working, then we have to be where the people are. We do not set up shop, advertise and expect the people to come to Jesus because Jesus has already come to earth and the Spirit is at work!

10. Be a generous church even before you can afford it. To this day, I don’t know of a church that can ‘afford’ generosity. Churches (and people) chose generosity intentionally. From the very start set up your church plant as a source of blessing for others and you will have a lot more fun. Give locally and globally, to Christian and secular organizations, intentionally and randomly. Even while your church plant is being supported by outside organizations, decide to be a giving church and support others.

11. Start a church for unbelievers. Starting a church for church people is as easy as making it a little cooler than the coolest church in town. If the coolest church has a boss youth ministry, hire a young pastor with a mohawk and tattoos – church people will flock to you. Starting a church for people who don’t  know anything about church is stunningly more dangerous. First, it gets messy because they won’t know how to behave, and second, the church people will hate it and start gossiping all over town about how “emergent” your church is. This means you don’t need small groups when you start – only Christians think it’s awesome to meet in small groups to talk about their feelings. It also means you might not participate in the local ‘christian’ festival because all the christians are already there – so your band might need to play at the ‘ungodly pagan heathenfest’.

2 Days with Rob Bell part 3

This is part three of a whole series of posts I’m doing on my trip to go hear Rob Bell in February 2014. If you want, you can start at the first post.

The sessions for my 2 Days with Rob Bell were held at a cool event hotel close to the ocean in Laguna Beach. The room was actually out doors, with 4 walls but just a tarp on pulleys if we needed shade. So strange to go from Oregon’s worst snow storm ever to an outdoor event with loads of sunshine.

Rob began talking about some of the issues that only leaders really face. Things like the lack of certainty, fatigue, going through trauma without knowing it was trauma and still carrying it around all beaten up from trauma exposure. What leaders must do is instigate and navigate change, which isn’t always approved of by the mothership – so leadership in the current cultural context can also be a bit about map-making because we (as a culture) are going to places that humanity has never been (and before you say there’s nothing new under the sun, talk to me about Moses’ iPad…).  Today, leaders have to build things even when the parts required to build those things haven’t been invented yet; they have to jump off the cliff when no one has ever learned about the landing!

During this start of the day I really thought it was interesting because the things that Rob described as experiences of a leader could be experiences of anybody. The room was filled with people that I didn’t expect to be there. It was about 1/3 leaders, primarily church leaders, especially ones who liked to talk about the controversial books they had read and the beer they drank now that they were emergent. Then 1/3 Rob Bell super fans, who sat in the front with thick rimmed glasses and wondered when Rob got rid of his and started wearing contacts. Then 1/3 people who really needed a therapist and thought Rob would do the trick, which he seemed to enjoy doing for them. All of these people were relating to what Rob was saying about the life of a leader, even if they were only the leaders of their own selves (and that was pending a vote). Isn’t it a totally different experience to lead abnormally large groups? Isn’t there something uniquely suffer-able to giving leadership to dynamic movements?

The major difference I see is the number of people who are going to suffer if you screw it up. For an individual the splash zone for screw-ups is a lot smaller. I can’t imagine the pressure that a leader of a large organization feels when dealing with massive decisions. We can’t empathize with a multi-national CEO when he signs an order to lay off 10% of the work force. We don’t get to pretend we know what it’s like to be criticized by people who don’t know us and never will but have built careers out of dismantling everything we do. We can’t think we know what it’s like to be the president and know the codes for weapons that can wipe countries off the map.

Everyone experiences a lack of certainty – but not everyone experiences that with a large group of people staring at them wondering what the answer is.

Everyone gets fatigued – but not everyone keeps going the next week and the next day just for the benefit of the group that they lead.

We can easily end up swapping stories of how hard-core we all are, but those things always bore me because I know that no matter how big of deal you have propped yourself up to be you’re not the president, you’re not employing tens of thousands of people, you’re not Rick Warren, you’re not Barak Obama, you’re not Justin Beiber (just had to throw that in :). If you need to explain how great of a leader you are, then I don’t think I believe you. Instead, I start looking around wondering why your “followers” aren’t saying the same thing…

Yet, even if you are the leader (even if you are a bad leader) of a very small group – like a family, or a marriage, or a classroom or a workshop – these very issues drain you and cause you to doubt and wonder if you have what it takes to lead these people. And if you quit, it’s not just on you – it’s going to hurt others – and that is the most incredibly terrifying reality.

So, all that to say that leading people is an incredible experience. It’s tough, it’s exhilarating, its terrifying, it’s joyous. It’s reality-altering.

It’s why the presidents are all friends after they are finished running planet earth. They have had a life experience that is completely different and never understood by anyone outside of those who have sat in that chair with that power. They have conversations with each other that they can never have with anyone else.

It’s why athletes who were rivals in the sporting careers become great friends after they retire. It’s why the very best of the best never experience that comradarie. I’m looking at you MJ.

It’s why church planters always seem to be able to find each other at pastors’ meetings. Their experience of jumping full speed off a cliff and hoping that somebody in the group knows how a parachute works is one that the pastor of an established church will miss (and no this doesn’t make them better, everyone is good and your objection is boring me, so go back to your office after your assistant gets you a latte from your personal espresso maker).

Blazing a trail always seems like such an exciting and sexy thing to do. When the road ends and you keep walking, people (and your own self talk) either think you are crazy or genius and the line between the two is blurry. So those who have had the unique experience also have a shared loneliness – that they can only find empathy for among others who have jumped, who have kept walking, who have made maps instead of just following them.



2 Days with Rob Bell

This is part one of a whole series of posts I’m doing on my trip to go hear Rob Bell in February 2014.

The second week of February I was able to get down to Laguna Beach to attend a 2-day event with Rob Bell. It was an amazing chance to back up from the week-to-week grind and get some perspective on where we are going and what my role is in all that God is doing with The Grove. I’m going to blog about it just to process some things for myself, and put this out there for anyone who is googling the event in the future and wondering if it’s something that would be helpful for them. I’m not sure he’ll do anymore because of new Oprah-tunities that are coming Bell’s way, so this may be more for me than for the internet, but having it on my searchable blog will be helpful.

If you don’t know of him already, Rob Bell seems to be every former baptist’s favorite heretic. He was a regular, ordinary, run-of-the-mill conservative evangelical who planted a church in Michigan that took off and created all sorts of hype around him. From there he started making videos called Nooma, that became Zondervan’s hottest products. Finally, Bell started writing books that got him in increasing amounts of trouble with the conservative evangelical machine. The final bridge burner was Love Wins, where Bell (through a whole series of non-committal questioning) basically proposes a protestant universalist purgatory. I first listened to Rob Bell at a Youth Specialties conference way back in 2003 and it was so amazingly helpful to me that I have been listening and reading almost everything that comes out over the past decade. It’s interesting to me to see the transition in him (just like you can see in other pastor/leader/authors, i.e. Brian McLaren and Don Miller) away from the church and towards an individualistic expression of what it is to be a Christian. A lot of the noise around these leaders is about their liberal transitions in their positions on the bible, salvation, politics and, (the noisiest) homosexuality and Christianity. The deeper issue, I think, is the transition in their thinking from a Christianity that is rooted in a tradition that you join and it helps define you, to a Christianity that is rooted in traditions that are self chosen and self defined.

So, it wasn’t especially for theological orthodoxy training that I went down to Laguna Beach – which Bell announced anyways when he talked about how it is not his desire to be more orthodox-er. Rather, I appreciated Rob Bell for his ability to express in words the inclinations I tend to have about God, Jesus, what it is to follow Jesus, what Christian leadership looks and feels like and how preaching sermons is a beautiful art form. I learned an incredible amount in a short period and have many threads that I need to follow and work through that will take all year. So, it will take a whole series of blogs, but it should at least be interesting!