We Need a Clearer Vision of Our Multi-Colored World

I’m 38. I grew up in the 1980’s and early 90’s. I remember President Ronald Regan addressing the nation, the launch of MTV, and using an antenna switch on my tube-style television so I could play my Atari. For some of you, I’m really old. But for many of you, I’m still quite young, relatively speaking, not having lived through World War II, Korea, the hippie movement, disco’s heyday, or the birth of roller derby.

For many of us, civil rights issues were for a previous generation, but ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 when we finally outgrew all forms of systemic racism. Sure, a few people here and there still have their prejudices, but there is no longer any excuse for a non-white person in America to claim that they’ve suffered under the weight of our fairly balanced system, right?

Laws are one thing. Culture is another. When I was thirteen years old, my cousin and his family picked me up and took me to their church, three miles away. As we passed a home belonging to the local leader of a white supremacist group, we saw a cross burning on the far side of their pond and a couple of guys with hoods on standing guard by the road with rifles. Later, the Pastor of that church spoke out against the white supremacist group and the church mysteriously burned down.

My high school was quite divided along ethnic lines. Large numbers of white people and large numbers of black people were constantly scuffling. Once, a white friend of mine was in a fight with a black student, left the school angry and died later that day in a tragic car accident. What resulted was a lot of blame and a lot of tension. Dozens of white students skipped school the next day and showed up an hour late, circling the parking lots with horns blaring and rebel flags flying (so forgive me when I don’t believe for a second that flag has nothing to do with race) in protest, challenging black students to fight.

I took on my first pastorate at age nineteen and learned the hard way that at nineteen, I didn’t have the life and relational experience necessary for the task of shepherding a flock. On World Missions Sunday, I brought church bulletins with a picture on the front of a globe, covered with a close-up of a tribe somewhere in Africa. One of that church’s leaders refused to take a bulletin and let me know there wasn’t room for black people in his church and that “they have their churches, and we have ours, and it’s better that way.” That was 1997. I lasted five months in that pastorate.

There is still plenty of racial tension remaining, fifty years after the signing of the Acts designed to put an end to it in America. As a matter of fact, ethnic tension exists almost universally around our planet. It’s not exclusively an American problem. In nearly every country on earth, families and tribes of people don’t like each other because of skin color, religious and cultural values, and skewed perceptions. Furthermore, racism not only affects every land, but every era of time in modern history. Biblical history reveals ethnic tension close to four millennia ago. Why?

It’s sin.

Sin causes us to hide in shame, from God and from others. Sin causes me to place my need for self-preservation above my need to get along with people. Sin leads to fear, which causes me to stick with “my people” where I feel safer. And sin also leads to pride, which causes me to think that “my people” are better than “your people.” And fear and pride manifest as anger. Because of sin, we wind up fighting against people who are different than we are, who threaten to make us uncomfortable.

And here’s where I’ll get gut-level honest. As I genuinely peer into the dark corners of my own sinful heart, I have to acknowledge that I have this same tendency – to keep others at a safe distance so that my way of life isn’t too threatened. I’m trying to root this out, to rid my heart of prejudice, and to truly value every person equally. But it requires humility.

One of the reasons I believe we can’t get over our racism problem is because, as self-preserving sinners, we’re all so stinkin’ defensive. Me, racist? Me, prejudiced? Oh no, nothing like that could exist in my heart. It’s those other people, with the hoods on. Meanwhile, we avoid the parts of town that don’t look like our neighborhood and we keep throwing our support behind the politicians and influencers who will do the best job of preserving the way of life I’ve come to enjoy.

We even brag about being “color blind.” Oh, I don’t really see color, I just see a human… The problem with this is that it denies the experiences and realities that belong to people of every color. Color-blindness is actually part of our problem. I really need to see your color because I want to have a clearer vision of a multi-colored world where everyone is truly equal.

Here’s what I’m getting at. My vision of a truly diverse world that celebrates the equality of all people is clouded by my own sense of privilege, of losing the comfort of the way of life that has treated me quite well.

For one year, we lived in a condo in southern California. My next door neighbors were a sweet French couple. Across from me were an African-American family and a multi-ethnic family. We were, in that neighborhood, the minority. We shopped in malls where most of the people around us were Asian-Americans and we attended a church where at least 67 languages were spoken. I was glad that my kids experienced that kind of diversity. They’re going to experience it again someday in heaven where people from “every tribe and tongue” will be gathered. And I’d love for them to experience a world, here and now, where everybody gets along as true equals.

But I think we still have a long way to go. At least I do.

It’s Time to Get Mean About the Vision God Has Given You

Your church doesn’t need a new mission. God determines the mission. He defines the mission. And he’s been about the mission for thousands of years and simply wants your church involved in it. But your church is in desperate need of a vision that is informed by God’s Word, inspired by God’s Spirit, and applied passionately and broken-heartedly to your local context.

If you’re a Lead (Senior) Pastor and you don’t have a vision for how your church will carry out its mission in your local context, here’s my advice: Get away with Jesus! Take a retreat. Meet with some mentors. Read the word. Drive around your community and beg God to paint a picture in your mind of what could be if the gospel took root and sprouted all over the place.

Every ministry leader needs to cultivate a vision for their ministry context, but Lead Pastors are out front, setting the pace. God has chosen you to lead his sheep on a rescue mission for other lost sheep.

Once you’re a leader with a vision from God of what should be, it’s on to step two. Get mean. 

No, this is not an admonition to stop loving people or to become selfish and egocentric. Rather it’s a challenge to stand with conviction and communicate strongly what God has made clear to you as a leader.

My friend and coach, Shawn Lovejoy, just released his new book on the subject simply called Be Mean About the Vision: Relentlessly Pursuing What Matters. Here’s how he defines this…

Being “mean” about the vision is being intentional about the vision. It’s purposefully protecting the vision over time. Being mean about the vision is living it out daily in our lives, keeping our hearts focused and aligned with it. It’s communicating that vision with clarity and energy. Being mean is moving in a consistent direction, and recognizing when the vision begins to drift. When you’re mean about the vision, you will also protect it at all costs. You won’t allow what I call “vision hijackers”—people who want to derail the vision—to throw things off course. When you’re mean about the vision, you’ll intentionally keep the vision as the epicenter of all you are and all you do.

I know leaders who, right now, need to take the big risk of upsetting, offending, and even losing people for the right reasons. Four thousand more churches will close this year. A few will do so because of changing demographics, but most will close because they’ve spent too many years focusing inwardly, refusing to change the way they communicate. And often, these churches full of good people are led by good people who simply won’t dare to push the boundaries.

And I’ve been there. Looking back over twenty years of ministry, I can spot moments when I folded, when I ignored issues, when I gave into the vocal minority and slowed our progress. Those are the moments when stagnation occurred. And I can also see moments when I pushed forward and stood up for the vision God had given me. Those are the moments when growth happened.

Here’s my challenge to any leader who feels stuck…

You’re the leader! God has called you to this! He’s given you an assignment that involves the expansion of his kingdom in the community around you. Lost people are going to hell without the good news and your church has the saving message they desperately need. You don’t need to be a bully, but you do need to take the risk of leading forward, confidently, even at the cost of being misunderstood, criticized, and maybe even ousted.

What do you have to lose? Determine to get to God’s throne without the regret of missed opportunities to bring more people into his family!

Buy Shawn’s Book

Can You Share Your Vision in An Elevator Speech?

ElevatorThere are often crucial moments when we have an opportunity to be vision-casters with people, one-on-one. It may be a car ride making a visit, coffee with a fellow member, or a staff meeting with five extra minutes at the end. It begs the question, could I state my vision for my church if I only had a few floors to travel in an elevator with someone?

You see, vision is great, but it needs to be transferrable. Members of a church should be able to share their church’s vision with their friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors, but they can only share a vision that has been concisely articulated from their leadership. And a vision isn’t “reaching people” or “glorifying God.” Those are eternal purposes, universal to every church. A vision (in an elevator speech format) would be more like…

We’re going to be a church that wraps our arms around the broken with an abundance of both truth and grace. We’ll have a multiplying network of small groups where people can really bear each other’s burdens. And we’ll gather in the middle of the marketplace for passionate worship and relevant teaching each week. The community will be better because we’re here – marriages will be fixed, education will improve, and people with all kinds of hurts, habits, and hang-ups will find healing and recovery in a new life with Jesus.

That’s my elevator pitch. What’s yours?

photo credit: nycbone

Dream Bigger – Ask More

“You do not have, because you do not ask.” (James 4:2 ESV)

James the Apostle had the spiritual gift of bluntness. We’ve received the benefit of his brutally honest thoughts, such as when he answers a common question with such a common sense answer. Why don’t I have? Because I didn’t ask. And he goes on to point out that often when we ask, we’re doing so for selfish reasons.

I want to challenge you today to do some pretty important things.

Dream Bigger

Whatever it is you feel is God’s will for your life, think bigger. It’s a virtual guarantee that God is already thinking bigger. His vision trumps ours every time, so it’s a good challenge to try to keep up with Him.

Consider God’s Glory

As you dream, dream for His glory. The purest motive possible is the motive of the nations being made glad in the light of the glory of God. Why are you dreaming what you’re dreaming? For a nicer home? A bigger reputation? Or the glory of God?

Sometimes when our dreams don’t align with God’s will, we expect Him to adjust His will to our desires. We ought to be thinking just the opposite – how can we adjust our desires to His will?


The most common word for “pray” in the New Testament literally means “ask.” In fact, the word ask is a more literal translation, but pray came to us from old English and we’ve hung on to it as a religious word. So dream in a way that is aligned with God’s will, then ask Him to bring it to pass in your life.


Ever heard that phrase, “Plan your work, then work your plan?” I believe that we should join God in what He wants to do in, around, and through us. We have the privilege, by grace, of cooperating with the actions of God.

So get started.

Pastor, What’s Your Timeline for the Next Year?

When we started the work of planting Grace Hills, we developed a timeline to established what we hoped to be doing for the first six months – our “pre-launch” process. It looked like this (except it included July and August – couldn’t find that version):

Grace Hills Timeline

Lately, we’ve grown and I’ve been quite excited about what God is up to. But when someone asks me what our vision is, I struggle to answer. This isn’t because I don’t have a vision. I can very quickly and in a passionate voice tell you the people we hope to reach, how we hope to reach them, and what we aim to do for the kingdom. But in terms of actual growth – numerical, physical, and otherwise – I have a hard time articulating specifics about the future. I think part of the reason is that I haven’t had a timeline. I risked moving away from the entrepreneurial spirit that drove me week after week in the good ole’ days.

So last week, during a coaching session (which have been absolutely indispensable as we have moved forward), Danny asked me what my timeline looked like now? What timeline? That was just a launch thing. Then it hit me… there was tremendous synergy and excitement during those six months because we were aiming for the last dot on that timeline – LAUNCH! There is incredible power in building momentum toward what is “next.” So if we can’t articulate what is next, we’re probably in trouble already.

We worked through what should be some faith-based but realistic expectations about our growth. If our attendance has grown by an average of 100 in the last eight months (141 to 243), and that growth continues at that pace, we will be out of space at the theater by April or May of 2015. So it’s time to prepare. At the end of the coaching hour, I had scribbled away a full page of notes about all that we want to implement and accomplish in the next twelve months…

  • Implement our “next steps” series of one-time classes introducing people to Maturity, Ministry, and Mission.
  • Formalize a team of advisors with both spiritual- and business-savvy to offer input and, more importantly, prayer for our future.
  • Double the number of small groups we currently have by “spontaneous generation.”
  • Take the church through a fall campaign to go deeper and put down “roots,” which we hope to do in 2015 in a physical sense.
  • Take an offering of money, but also commitments, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to prepare us for our next space.
  • Secure a new location by January and start the work of preparing it for weekly services.
  • Launch into the new location on Easter of 2015.
  • Watch Journey Church in Siloam Springs launch on Easter as well (our daughter church led by our Planting Resident, Michael Smith).

Will it all happen, just as we’ve charted out? Who knows? We faithfully proclaim the gospel and leave the results to the Holy Spirit, so while we prep the soil, plant the seeds, and water the crops, it’s God alone who gives real growth. But I’d rather count on a wisely-derived estimate than nothing at all, believing that God wants to bless us in this way. And I’d rather make adjustments as we go than arrive at that place where we need to do something by tomorrow but can’t possibly pull it off in time.

I’m excited about what the future holds for Grace Hills. I’m even more excited about what’s happening in the Kingdom of God at large. While many churches are struggling, some of whom are suffering from the self-inflicted disease of inward focus and others who have abandoned a biblical gospel for a cultural one, I also see a wave of healthy churches being planted and others being revitalized. I’m optimistic.

If you’re a Pastor, let me ask you, what’s your timeline? What do you want to accomplish in the next year and how are you leading your people through the process? Share below. Share elsewhere. Or just go get pen and paper and get started!

10 Ways to Raise the Spiritual Temperature of Your Church

ThermostatThere is a cold, hard fact I remind myself of often as a Pastor. No one does more to determine the spiritual temperature of my church than me, the Pastor. It’s part of shepherding. I’m the lid. I’m the limit.

I define passion as the heated desire with us to do or to be something. Paul talked about being on fire (ready is prothumos or “on heat”) to preach (Romans 1:17) and told Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God within him” (2 Timothy 1:6). I believe Pastors are the primary thermostat when it comes to the spiritual temperature of the church.

That doesn’t always mean a lukewarm church is led by a lukewarm Pastor. There are always exceptions. Sometimes passionate leaders lead apathetic people – just ask Moses. And sometimes apathetic leaders have passionate followers – but usually not for long. But since I’m writing to Pastors and leaders, I’ll simply say that if you’re frustrated that people don’t seem passionate and driven enough, you must start with a check of your own temperature.

When you find yourself in a spot where you’re leading a lukewarm body of people in a mission that demands passion, there are some things you must do to change the game. Fair warning – preaching at people out of your frustration isn’t one of them.

  1. Get alone with God. Absolutely nothing kindles passion within you like time with Jesus. He loves the church far more than you do – enough that He gave His life for it in a way that you never could. HE is the ultimate source of passion for ministry.
  2. When you get alone with God, repent of sin in your life. What I mean is, do a soul-searching, dark-dusty-corner-sweeping inventory of what might be distracting you from the main business of your calling. Whatever you find, repent of it.
  3. Pray more often, longer, and more personally than ever. I don’t believe God is offended by passionate praying. He is offended by flippant prayer that fails to recognize His supreme power and authority over all things. Go boldly and often!
  4. Talk to a mentor or coach. I’ve been encouraged through some of the darkest moments of my life in leadership by some of my greatest heroes on earth. Everybody needs models, mentors, and friends.
  5. Share your vision again… and again. Remember, vision leaks and the tank runs empty every six weeks or so. So cast your vision to key leaders individually, to teams collectively, and speak the language of your vision to the whole body regularly.
  6. Love people. If you don’t love people, you’ll get angry with them for letting you down and failing to help you accomplish your goals. But if you love them, it’s no longer about what they can do for you – you’re suddenly concerned for their own lack of joy and growth.
  7. Diagnose and remove leadership lids. One of the most important laws of leadership that John Maxwell has ever spoken about is the law of the lid. If you’re an 8 on a scale of 10, you’ll never lead others beyond a 7. So grow. Don’t be the lid.
  8. Go first. If you want people to have a servant’s heart, serve. If you want them to be people of prayer, pray. If you want bold evangelists, share Jesus. Never expect others to do what you as the leader have an unwillingness to go first in.
  9. Change the game. Change forces people out of their comfort zones and often provokes new growth, even when it’s painful. The moments when I’ve grown the most in my life have always been times of transition.
  10. Empower other leaders. Moses led well, but his leadership really took off when Jethro helped him get organized. Good churches are led by passionate leaders, but great churches are led by passionate teams of leaders.

It always starts with something spiritual – worship. Nothing stirs the fire of God in our hearts more than worship, praise, and prayer. The best place to start raising the temperature of your church is in your own heart, and the best place to start doing that is on your knees.

photo credit: Lars Plougmann

Why is 2013 Going to Rock at Grace Hills?


2012 was an awesome year for Grace Hills! Angie and I arrived in northwest Arkansas with a big dream and have continued to be amazed at the great things God has done this year. We launched on January 15 with 176 people in attendance, far exceeding our goals and expectations. And in the last year, we’ve baptized 30 people, launched more than a half dozen Grace Groups, and have performed hundreds of hours of service to the northwest Arkansas community in partnership with local organizations. It’s been a good year – a year to celebrate – so glory to God!!

What’s coming in 2013? I don’t know. If that sounds strange, understand that I always approach the issue of “long range planning” with hesitancy because of the unpredictable variables. We don’t know who will come to be part of us in the next year, what will happen in our economy, or what unforeseen opportunities will arise. That’s why one of our core values is to “stay fast, fluid, and flexible. There are no sacred cows. We embrace the pain of change for the win of seeing more people meeting Jesus.”

While we remain flexible, we also believe strongly in vision, so we do plan, but we hold those plans with a loose grip. So here are a few of my intentions for 2013 based on the vision I believe God has given me as Grace Hills’ Lead Pastor…

  • Grow a GREAT Children’s Ministry! We’re welcoming a new staff member on January 1 – Meredith Chapuis – who has a big vision for what God wants to do in Grace Hills’ kids. We’re going to create a better environment, improve on an already great teaching system, and reach more kids and families.
  • Launch more Grace Groups, and get everyone into a group that we possibly can. We hope to have 12 groups going strong as soon as possible. We have a loose group structure. There may be men’s groups, women’s groups, singles’ groups, etc. but there will also be groups mixed with all kinds of people. If you’re part of Grace Hills, pray about hosting!
  • Discover the purpose of life as we take February and March to go through a major, church-wide spiritual growth campaign called What On Earth Am I Here For? It’s based on the tenth anniversary re-release of the best-selling nonfiction book in American history outside the Bible, The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren, and thousands of other churches will be doing the same study at the same time.
  • We currently offer a Newcomers’ Lunch, which has been very effective and successful at introducing people to Grace Hills, our vision, our values, and what it means to be a member. In 2013, we’ll launch two follow-up classes: Maturity Matters (an introduction to the basic habits for growing spiritually) and Ministry Matters (where people can explore how God shaped them to serve Him).
  • We would love to launch a full-blown Celebrate Recovery. Grace Hills has already become a place where people with hurts, habits, and hang-ups feel accepted and welcomed. But we need to go further and offer solutions for healing in community.
  • We keep doing some things we’ve done well – serving the community outside the theater walls, creating an environment where unchurched people feel comfortable investigating the faith and connecting with believers, and getting involved in messy lives in hands-on ways.
  • We hope to plant another church, or at least be heavily involved in the planning phase. We always intended for Grace Hills to be “born pregnant” and be a teaching hospital for multiplying new churches for the Kingdom, and we want to stick to that vision.
  • We may just move, physically. The movie theater has been a great place to start, for plenty of reasons, but we’re also testing its limits in terms of housing all that we do on the weekend and all that we wish to do during the week. I see a possible new, leased facility as a place to start and launch new groups and ministries. We will remain committed to both gathering and scattering, and a better space would be a great tool for doing both.

As I wrote before, I don’t know all of the unplanned and unpredictable opportunities that God will open before us in the upcoming year. What I do know is that I’m ready to see God move in a fresh and powerful way in the northwest Arkansas community to awaken people to the reality and the life-changing power of the gospel.

If you’re part of Grace Hills, I want to challenge you to adopt this vision as your own. As you give your time, talent, and treasure to see the dream become a reality, God is going to show up and do powerful things so that God ultimately gets the glory and the credit. Let’s spread the fame of Jesus so that the least, the last, and the lost can come to know Him!

2013 is gonna rock!