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My Top Ten Articles for Pastors and Leaders from 2014

2014I’ve loved 2014. It’s been crazy busy, but there’s also been a sweet rhythm to life. I haven’t blogged as regularly as I have in past years, but my posts have often been longer, more article-length, and at least half of this year’s top ten are actually the top ten of all time (and this is my tenth year blogging). Without further delay, here were the best button-pushing, attention-garnering articles I wrote for pastors and ministry leaders this year.

10. The Truth of the Bible Still Matters, And It Always Will

This has been a bit of a roller coaster year in American culture, from the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case to the various gay marriage cases heard. In the middle of that chaos, I felt a calm assurance because of a decision I made when I started my ministry at age eighteen – to accept the Bible as God’s perfect Word.

Regardless of the outcomes of these and other controversies, I will still carry a Bible in which I completely trust. I believe it to be timeless truth as a whole and in all of its parts. Therefore, I have an absolute truth that guides my moral decision-making and my sense of what is right and true.

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9. When Things Get Real In a Church Plant

This post reflected one of the biggest highlights of our year – a record-setting day at Grace Hills and the life change that came with it. The message I preached that day has done more to set a culture for us than almost anything else.

God is at work, gathering a community of believers who are coming to know Jesus and serving others for His glory. And I can’t wait to witness what is next!

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8. Five Reasons Why the Church Must Engage the World with Social Media

I wrote and released a book this year called Rewired, published by Passio (Charisma House). It was all about this subject, and this post is somewhat of a summary of my convictions about social media and the church.

People have real needs that can be met via social media. Therefore, social media is a tool that cannot be ignored as a viable means of extending the Great Commission and helping others heal with the message of Jesus.

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7. Why Talking About Church Growth Matters

Numbers aren’t everything, but they can be rather important indicators of effectiveness, or a lack thereof.

When a church stops growing, instead of settling for “good enough,” maybe we should diagnose the situation. It’s possible that we could depend on God more, pray harder, preach more relevantly or passionately, love families better, organize to reach new people, etc.

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6. You Can Have Growth, Or You Can Have Control

This shorter article communicates a single, timeless principle communicated by one of my friends and mentors in ministry…

You can have growth or you can have control. And you have to decide how much of each you want.

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5. God’s Five Purposes for Your Marriage

One of the areas of tremendous personal growth for me personally this year was in my relationship with my wife. Few people have taught me more about love and grace than Angie. Out of what I’ve learned, I wrote a post applying God’s five big life purposes to the marriage relationship.

God has these five purposes for your life as an individual believer. He also communicates these five purposes to the church, and every local church that focuses its work and ministry on fulfilling these five purposes in the world will be healthier for it. And as I’ve devoted plenty of thought to it, these five purposes wonderfully express God’s design for marriage too.

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4. A Scalable Model for Making Disciples In Small Churches

While Grace Hills is growing somewhat fast, it’s still a small church, and aside from my time at Saddleback, I’ve always served churches of less than 250 in attendance. This post is essentially a summary of the discipleship process I’ve seen work well in a small church context, but it’s also a re-cap of what I’ve learned about being a purpose driven church.

At the end of the day, every church is driven by something – money, tradition, politics, fear, etc. – but I want to lead a church driven by God’s eternal purposes!

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3. Just How Large Should a Local Church Be?

I think this one was popular because people tend to have a lot of pre-conceived ideas about church size, and because it included a pretty infographic. Whenever you talk about growth or numbers, there will always be the jaded rebuttal as well as the pseudo-spiritual Jesus juke.

When we grow without compromising our message or mission, the Kingdom wins. I celebrate both timeless biblical theology and innovative strategies for reaching unengaged people. How large should your local church get? That’s really the wrong question. The right question is, how do we make disciples of everyone we possibly can?

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2. From the Heart of One Pastor, I’m Sorry I Let You Down

In many ways, 2014 was a year of healing for me. I feel more whole than I have in my entire life in ministry. In some of the hardest moments, when I’ve been most disappointed in myself, I learned these lessons. Here was my bottom line…

I love you. Your Pastor most likely loves you too. I’m sorry if I’ve let you down. I’ll try to do better. But for my own spiritual and emotional health, and yours too, I’ve decided to find my confidence in my identity in Christ, my calling by grace, and my commission to leave the ninety-nine in the flock to go after the one who is lost. When I try to keep you happy, I fail us both.

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1. To Every Pastor Who Is Ready to Give Up

This is actually the most popular article I’ve ever written, which breaks my heart. Ministry is a lonely place at times, and this post traveled across the social web at break-neck speed because there are so many hurting leaders out there.

My hope rests on the fact that Jesus Christ loves the church and gave Himself for her on the cross. He started the church, is the Chief Builder and Shepherd of the church, and will see to the church’s survival and success until He comes again. But until that day comes, we we see eras of painful pruning.

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Honorable Mention

Big News… Grace Hills Is Pregnant! We’re Expecting a Daughter Church!

I wanted to mention one more post that ranked somewhere within this list but was a little more personal and newsy in nature. One of the more exciting developments in the life of our church this year was sending out our one-year resident, Michael Smith and his wife, Jennifer to begin the work of planting Journey Church as a daughter of Grace Hills. The post I wrote announcing it gathered a lot of attention, which thrills me!

We’re asking God to give them favor with the community, financial provision, and spiritual protection as they venture into the deep end of church planting. And we’re also asking our friends to get involved. Here’s how…

Keep Reading >

What’s coming next year? More of the same, but better, hopefully. I intend to post far more frequently, but to keep the longer article-length posts coming too. I started blogging ten years ago because I wanted to encourage people. That’s still my goal today – to encourage people who lead in the trenches of ministry.

6 Tips for Writing Blog Posts That Get Read

ForwardThe world is full of great leaders with great ideas who will remain somewhat unknown because they just don’t know how to package their ideas for market. Since this is the age of blogging in which everyone is in the publishing business, it’s imperative for anyone who wants to be a thought leader and influencer to know how to craft a basic blog post that grabs and moves readers.

As an editor, I filter through a ton of material each week in search of content I believe Pastors need to be healthier leaders. What I often find is great content that will probably never be digested because the mechanics of the post are off. So here are my editorial, insider, words-to-the-wise suggestions for aspiring bloggers…

Write a Killer Title

Don’t blow this. Be poetic with your subtitle, but craft a title that spells out exactly the benefit the reader is going to enjoy by reading the article. The only point of a blog post tile – I mean this – the ONLY point of the title, is to get the reader to read the first sentence of the post. I’ll write more about writing great titles soon, but start with writing titles that

  1. Address a need or problem.
  2. State some kind of goal.
  3. Give a clear preview of the content that follows.

And it never hurts to start your title with a numerical digit. Psychologically, it conveys a sense of value. So “8 Tips for Writing Blog Posts That Get Read” is better than “Writing Better Blog Posts.” But don’t go to seed on this or you’ll annoy your regular readers.

Write a Killer First Sentence

If the only point of the title is to get the reader to read the post’s first sentence, then guess what the point of the first sentence is? Yep. Get the reader through the first paragraph. When I started writing the post you’re reading, the second paragraph was originally my first, but it would never grab a reader. Instead, I’m trying, with my first sentence, to grab the attention of people who hope to package their great ideas better.

Write a Killer First Paragraph

If this feels redundant, you’re getting it. We’ll get to your great content in a moment, but our first goal is to get the reader into the post. We do that with a first paragraph that summarizes the reason why the reader should continue. A traditional thesis paragraph states what is coming in a dry, academic way, but a blog post is a bit more emotionally involved, commanding attention.

Eliminate Everything Unnecessary

There is no set length of a good post. Brian Clark writes long while Seth Godin gets to the point, but both know how to make every point and paragraph meaningful. Whether your post is 100 words or 1,000, pack it with value and chuck the fluff.

Break It Up – Make It Readable

Books require paragraphs, but blog posts require bullet points and subtitles, and sometimes graphics too. This is a basic rule of “web copy” that can’t be ignored.

Drive It Home and Tell the Reader What To Do Next

We can have plenty of readers, but no practical influence, if those readers don’t actually do anything as a result of interacting with our content. So always ask, as you’re wrapping up your post, what should the reader do next? It doesn’t have to be something monumental like “go save the world.” It can be as simple as:

  • Leave a comment.
  • Check out a product.
  • Share this post.
  • Go save the world… you get the point.

My hope in writing this post is that some of you who are reading will gain an understanding of how to better spread your ideas. You know some good stuff and you have a desire to share it, so share it well. Show me a headline I can’t not read. And while you’re at it – tell your friends about this post!

What did I miss? What would you add?

One Minute In the Life of the Internet

One Minute On the Internet

With all this data being created every minute of the day, how is the gospel being heard? What do we need to do to connect with people and share the story of Jesus in a way that gets attention and draws people to Jesus in the right way?

Infographic by DOMO.

The Basics of Blogging and Online Publishing

BloggingBlogging is such a weird word. We never used it until people started keeping “logs” on the “web” of their life called “weblog” and for some reason, we dropped the “we” and were left with the art of blogging. And in a sense, it has changed everything. How? Because now, everyone is a publisher.

Every business, every church, and every institution is now a publisher, and those who publish with the most gusto win. It’s the age where people with few connections and little resources can grow their voice in the marketplace in inexpensive and creative ways.

I’m writing this post for those who haven’t jumped in yet. I’d love to dialog about the latest developer’s beta version of WordPress or Google’s search algorithm, but my goal is instead to reach out to those who are on the verge of blogging and push you over the edge to take the dive. If you need to read no more, head over to WordPress or Tumblr and get started! If you’re still looking to rationalize your decision, read on…

Why Blog?

Still with me? Let me give you some reasons to jump in.

  1. Everybody is doing it. This is normally a stupid reason to do anything, but in this case, what I mean is that everybody is talking and conversing about everything, and your voice matters.
  2. It’s easy. There was a time when you needed to know html or write the code for your own blogging platform. Now, with a few clicks you can sign up and from your smartphone, you can blog.
  3. It’s cheap. In fact, it’s usually free, or costs peanuts, to get started.
  4. You can earn some income. Don’t plan on getting rich off of blogging. It’s been done before and will be done again, but don’t assume you’re going to be the next John Chow, who makes money online by telling people how to make money online. Most of the “six-figure bloggers” were in the game early, but you can still earn a bit of an income if you’re patient and consistent.
  5. You can expand your influence. Ideas change the world, and today, ideas are shaped by the conversation online.

In other words, this isn’t just for geeks and nerds anymore. It’s for you too (assuming you don’t fall into either of those categories).

What To Do

Convinced? With me? Good. Now what in the world are you going to blog about? What does “blogging” look like for you? You can make blogging a time of personal journaling, but I want to challenge you to think a little harder than that. Let’s re-define blogging as putting your passion into words for the world to experience.

Your passion.

If you are passionate about underwater basket-weaving, blog about it. If it’s vintage and retro living, go for it. If you’re all about the latest flip-flops coming out of the fashion scene, blog about it. The blogs I read are those written by people who are passionate, whose passion spills out in a contagious way.

In words.

Blogging can include video and other forms of media, and will more and more as time goes on. What I’m getting at is that blogging is the act of allowing your passion to escape your heart and find expression online in a form others can consume.

For the world to experience.

I talk a lot about the experience of reading blogs because I’m a design and communications nut. For me, content is highly important, but so is its aesthetic surroundings. I’m not drawn to mere words. I’m drawn to the experience of reading them in their creative context.

Blog On Topic

So blog about what you know, what you love, and what you can speak authoritatively about to the world. Stay focused. I blog about an array of subjects, but they are mostly related to each other. If I started blogging entirely about weedrat recipes, I’d lose my readers, no matter how good weedrat stew might be.

Network With Others

Writing is good, but reading is better. Speaking is great, but listening is even greater. Blogging isn’t simply the dissemination of information. Rather it’s the joining of an ongoing, developing conversation about a niche. The more people you help, connect with, and pour into, the more you and your blogging influence will ultimately benefit.

Read Great Blogs on Blogging

Don’t read them all – you’ll go nuts. There are too many of them. But some of my own favorites are:

  • WeBlogBetter.com (I started this one, but Kiesha Easley has taken it beyond my wildest dreams).
  • ProBlogger (A lot about earning money, but a lot about powerful networking too).
  • Copyblogger (A whole lot of longer posts about writing, communication, and marketing).
  • Fuel Your Blogging (I used to be the Editor, but Christopher is much better!).
  • Kikolani (She gathers together some of the best resources on the web).
  • Social Media Examiner (Not all about blogging, but the broader topic of social media, of which blogging is one part).
  • Chris Brogan (An expert who blogs his expertise rather freely).
  • Danny Brown (Few understand blogging activism like Danny).
  • Michael Hyatt (He understands blogging from the perspective of a respected publishing executive).
  • For Bloggers By Bloggers (A steady stream of great tips).
  • Blogussion (Another great site with great tips).
  • Hubspot offers another list of great blogs too.

Jump In!

Here’s my step-by-step guide to getting started with blogging in a half an hour or less. Understand that if you can get hosting, a domain, and a custom-designed WordPress theme, you’ll be better off in the long run. But this isn’t the long run. This is the moment of taking the plunge. So here’s my challenge:

  1. Sign up for an account at WordPress.com.
  2. Pick a nice theme that reflects the personality of your blog. You can change later, and even move your WordPress.com blog to a self-hosted platform. For now, pick something pretty.
  3. Create an “About” page where you tell the world whom you are and other ways to connect with you (link to your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social profiles).
  4. Write a blog post. No, “This is your first blog post.” doesn’t count. Craft a catchy, attention-getting title and briefly pour your heart out.
  5. Post the hyperlink on Twitter, Facebook, and wherever else you hang out online. Don’t be shy. Do it!

Oh, and below, in the comments, tell me where you blog! What would you add to what I’ve said (for the soon-to-be newbie bloggers)?

Image credit: Kristina B

A Brief History of Blogging

Blogging is obviously close to my heart, but blogging is also a very misunderstood artform. Some see it merely as a journal, others as a gossip stream. I loved Cameron Chapman’s brief history of blogging over at Web Designer Depot and wanted to pass it along for the education of my readers…

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