Get free email updates as I write new articles:

The Difference Between Launching and Orbiting

Space Shuttle LaunchIf you’ve ever watched a space shuttle launch, you know that it’s an enormous production. A ton of preparation goes into the event, potentially millions of eyes are watching, and there is a tremendous risk being taken that results in the payoff of having a shuttle in orbit. And when you see the shuttle on the launching pad, you realize that most of the stuff that starts up into the atmosphere is fuel. As the shuttle nears its orbit, the nearly empty fuel tanks fall away. Once in orbit, the shuttle gets to coast with little effort.

Launching requires huge teams of people making sure that everything is precisely calculated. It requires huge amounts of rocket fuel to propel it upward at very high rates of speed. And every split-second of launching is filled with great risk. A single mistake can be quite costly.

Orbiting is literally when something falls toward the earth and misses repeatedly, creating an arc that resembles an object in flight, but the truth is, it’s much more like floating than flying. Or as Buzz Lightyear might put it, orbiting is basically “falling with style.”

We’re in the launch phase of Grace Hills Church. Right now, we’re carefully planning every single detail the best we can and leaving the results in the hands of the Holy Spirit. We’re taking risks. We’re consuming a lot of fuel (funds, that is) and requiring a lot of people to be intensely concentrating on various aspects of ministry to make sure we launch well.

I’m not afraid of failing to launch. I’m not worried that people won’t come or that ministry will cost more money than we have. What keeps me more concerned is our human tendency to prefer orbit over launch. We like to fall, to coast, to see things happen effortlessly. And when we make the transition, in church leadership, from launching to orbiting, we begin to quickly lose momentum and we are at the mercy of the forces outside ourselves to keep us going.

Does that mean we’ll just stay in launch phase forever? Yes and no. No, we won’t always advertise as a “brand new church in Northwest Arkansas.” But we want to maintain a launch mentality in other ways. As we reach the elusive mark of maturity as a church body, we will need to be seizing upon new opportunities, venturing into new ministry territories, and purposely taking new risks in order to have momentum along the way.

Churches that are always moving, building, and remodeling understand this. Churches that are hiring new staff, launching new initiatives, and starting new services, venues, and campuses understand this. Churches that are serious about reaching the next unreached people group around the world understand this.

So my challenge would be, keep launching. No, you can’t always start over as a church, but you can always be in the starting mentality. When we get so big that we’re too confident in our resources to risk anything, we’re merely orbiting. Orbiting works for a while, but orbiting requires zero momentum and never takes us anywhere new.

What does your church need to do today in order to get back into launch phase?

This image or video was catalogued by Kennedy Space Center of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under Photo ID: KSC-96EC-0997 AND Alternate ID: GPN-2000-001877.

Does Rick Warren Endorse Chrislam?

Saddleback ChurchNo.


It’s a funny thing. Since we’ve announced that we’ll be planting a new church in cooperation with the new Saddleback Network and that Rick Warren has endorsed and sent us, I’ve gotten quite a few questions about the controversy over “chrislam.” I’m not going to link to any articles – Google tells the story, and it’s a sad and frustrating one.

The rumor is that Rick Warren and other prominent religious leaders are promoting a new belief system known as chrislam, which is a kind of twisted entangling of Christianity and Islam. Let me make a few things clear…

1. Rick Warren affirms that Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved for eternity. Here’s what Rick says about the issue: “If you can be saved without Christ, missions is a crock. We’re better off not to go.” This is from a recent interview between John Piper and Rick Warren in which Rick had an opportunity to set the record straight on a number of issues.

2. That Saddleback is involved in “chrislam” is crazy. The church hasn’t removed any crosses from the property. They haven’t put Koran’s in the pews (they don’t even have pews). They don’t teach from any Islamic religious traditions. In fact, Rick and the church affirm that we must be more clear than ever before that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven in light of an increasingly pluralistic society.

3. “Mature” Christians should really be more discerning. It’s funny how often I hear Christian leaders encourage believers to be more “discerning” about doctrinal error and how we should be “exposing” false teaching. I agree (and so does Rick Warren), but what’s sad is that there doesn’t seem to be any expectation that mature believers should be equally discerning about malicious, unfounded gossip. If our favorite guy on the radio or television quotes a verse and slams a leader, it must be true. Sadly, plenty of believers continue to quickly latch onto the latest hype over guys like Rick Warren, and I believe it grieves the Holy Spirit and breaks the heart of Jesus who has to watch His own body divide in this way.

If you’ve spread the “chrislam” rumor, or any one of hundreds like it, not only about Rick Warren, but about any other Christian leader, here’s my advice:

  1. Repent.
  2. Apologize to the leader.
  3. Confront the sources of malicious gossip. Ask them if they’ve verified their words, gone to the source, or approached their work of “exposing” in a way that would line up with Jesus’ clear instruction to go to a leader one-on-one first.
  4. Spread the truth.
  5. Talk about Jesus more than your favorite (or least favorite) Christian leader.
  6. Light a candle. It’s much more productive than standing around shouting at the darkness.

You have no idea just how forgiving Rick is, and this is because of his understanding of just how forgiving Jesus is. If you’ve ever watched a depiction of the trials of Jesus, you’ve felt what I’ve felt. Why didn’t He just defend Himself? Why didn’t He set the record straight and beat the dog-snot out of those false accusers? I’ve often felt the same about Rick. But at the end of the day, there’s a greater goal to be accomplished. I’m proud of Pastor Warren for deciding to spend his time and attention on the spreading of the gospel for the redemption of the nations rather than defending himself against every false accusation.

Make no mistake, Rick Warren loves Muslims deeply!! If you don’t, you have a problem with Jesus who loves Muslims even more than Rick does.

If you’ve been the center of unfair criticism, consider yourself blessed to be so identified with Jesus. And if you’ve handed out the criticism? Thank God that Jesus died to fully and completely forgive you and to grant you His smile when you trust Him!

Casting the Vision for a New Church Plant

This past Sunday was an exciting day for us. We’ve spent months dreaming and planning for the planting of Grace Hills Church. We hauled our belongings across the country, then stayed with some friends while waiting for the closing on our home purchase. We booked a storefront meeting room at South Walton Suites, just blocks from the headquarters of the world’s largest retailer. We bought coffee from Starbuck’s and sweet refreshments. We set up our projector, arranged the chairs, and checked the facility over to make sure everything was lined up properly.

Then we waited.

The twenty minutes a church planter waits between getting set up and seeing the first person walk through the door seems like an eternity. Would anyone show up? Would we be packing everything up and heading home early with a lot of donuts to eat? (One must find the positive in such cases.)

We were thrilled to greet the first family, then the second and third, and so on. In all nearly forty people came to hear what Grace Hills will be all about, and most gave us very positive feedback and an indication of a desire to continue on this journey with us.

We will do three more meetings like this one, plus some foundational launch team teaching. Our hope is to reach a new wave of potential launch team members with each month’s meetings and activities, which requires quite a bit of work and a ton of just loving on people in our community. We welcome the opportunities that lie ahead and we can’t wait to dig deeper and move forward.

All of that preparation could have seemed a waste had no one shown up to hear the vision. But the preparation could also be a waste if I failed to capture the heart of what God wants to do in northwest Arkansas. Implementation may be the bulk of the workload, but casting the initial vision well is crucial to the gathering team. And it will remain important over the long haul as well, since “vision leaks” (according to Andy Stanley) and needs to be repeated at least every six weeks through various mediums.

So how do you cast a vision for a new church? I’ve never taken a class on the subject, and I’ve never read a book focused specifically on the subject, but as I prepared and delivered this first vision message to my new friends, these are some of the principles I tried to implement:

Start with the Biblical Purposes

Vision has to do more with what we see happening than what the ancient Scriptures have to teach, but any vision that God will bless must absolutely be rooted in His Word. For me, this meant starting with the purposes for which God birthed the very first church – evangelism, fellowship, ministry, worship, and discipleship. So I shared from the Great Commandment (Matthew 22) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28).

Tell a Story

I wanted our crowd to know that starting this new church wasn’t merely the fulfillment of any denominational program quota. Rather, it was the culmination of everything God has done in my life thus far. His calling, my eduction, our experiences, and all of the connections we’ve made led us to the conclusion that God was instructing us to plant Grace Hills Church in northwest Arkansas right now.

Portray the Future

I can see Grace Hills five years from now. I don’t know where we will meet or what our campus will look like yet, but I can see people being rescued, redeemed, refreshed, and revived. I can see addicts being freed, marriages restored, parents and kids unified, and leaders developing to maturity. I see Grace Hills demonstrating God’s love in tangible ways and shocking people with the scandalous grace of a forgiving God.

Set the Agenda

Most people know what our church believes doctrinally, at least in a general sense. We believe in Jesus, His atoning death and resurrection, the Bible as God’s perfect Word, the Trinity, etc. It’s in our faith statement. I was more concerned with communicating our core values since it is our core values that communicate the DNA of our church. I want potential launch team members to understand that we’re purpose driven, that we celebrate creativity, and that we will embrace people with habits, hurts, and hang-ups. These are values that require even greater “buy in” than our core doctrines.

Lay Out the Plan

Leading people is more than inspiring people. Anyone can say the right words and offer inspiration. But mobilization is tough. Follow through is the ticket. Casting a big vision is essential to the survival of a new church, but following a plan and a strategy are vital as well.

Remain Flexible

In other words, while you tenaciously defend your vision, keep a loose grip on some of the details. I learned in Mark Batterson’s book Wild Goose Chase: Reclaim the Adventure of Pursuing God that God is elusive. He wants us chasing Him in all of the turns and crazy loops He takes us through. If you want to grow spiritually, you’ll be ready to make tweaks the moment the first meeting is over.

Love People In Jesus’ Name

If you don’t love people, don’t begin to plant a church. Don’t cast a vision. Don’t rent a facility. Do something else with your life until you realize that people are the mission. If you understand God’s purposes, you can envision the future, you can communicate clearly where you want people to go, and you love them deeply on Jesus’ behalf, then go! The kingdom needs you for such a time as this!

A Few Thoughts on Multi-Site Churches

Branching OutI have just left the staff of a church with eleven campuses and many more to come. While at Saddleback Church, we helped Mars Hill Church start a campus right in our own neighborhood, unselfishly. We Christians love to do two things with trends: a.) jump into them too quickly and b.) criticize them too harshly.

I see plenty of arguments against the multi-site trend, and while I think it’s good to hear the criticisms so that we evaluate the tough questions, let me throw out a very important and often overlooked fact… people are lost, dying, and going to hell without the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Multi-site churches piping in video can’t be personal can they? I could easily argue a big fat YES, but I won’t. I’ll just remind you that people are lost, dying, and going to hell without the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Multi-site churches are treating the church like a fast food chain that offers franchise licenses. I think this one is a silly arguement. Why? Because people are lost, dying, and going to hell without the gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe we need more franchises opening.

Multi-site ministry is a fad that too many churches are jumping into who aren’t really ready for it. Yep. I’ll agree with this. Some churches are doing it that perhaps shouldn’t be, but… people are lost, dying, and going to hell without the gospel of Jesus Christ. How I wish every church should be accused of being too aggressive and trying too many methods to reach the lost.

Multi-site ministries make existing local churches feel insulted, intimidated, or ignored. I really do hate this one. I can sympathize with the feeling. But if people are lost, dying, and going to hell without the gospel of Jesus Christ, then maybe we should really be cheering (when we hear about the new “campus” coming to our neighborhood), “Yes! Help is on the way! Let’s get this great commission fulfilled together!”

Jesus promised that His kingdom would expand and fill the land. The great goal of God is to “fill the earth with His glory.” Why is it that we’re so touchy about having “too many churches” in any particular locality? I thought the goal was to permeate, infiltrate, and keep on spreading the gospel and planting churches until everyone is reached. I think there is plenty of room for more churches of ever shape, size, and flavor.

Maybe we need a reminder that people are lost, dying, and going to hell without the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Graphic by Laura M. K. via CreationSwap

What Good Is Your Church Anyway?

Light BulbI recently read the quote of a skeptical unbeliever that stopped me in my tracks…

The church is a parasite. It owns the best property, doesn’t pay any taxes, and doesn’t help anybody.

As a Pastor who loves the local church rather deeply, everything in me wants to argue. Who does this anonymous skeptic think he is? He’s just never been to the right church! But sometimes arguing with someone’s perspective is rather pointless. In the end, it’s better to be introspective and ask, is there any truth here?

Jesus came into a religious culture in which people thought they were doing just fine. People with real hurts, hang-ups, and habits were frustrated and flocked to Jesus because the established religion of the day just didn’t have any real power. So Jesus challenged His disciples to think differently about faith. He preached the Sermon on the Mount for several reasons, but one was to sort of set the record straight. Throughout the discourse, He keeps saying things like “You’ve heard it said that —, but I say to you —.”

Right after the beatitudes, Jesus sets the record straight on what disciples should look like. He makes it clear that there is little point in the pointlessness that characterized the religion of the day. It’s useless to act like salt but not be salty. And it’s foolish to pretend to be light and yet to brighten nothing. So He describes what we should be…

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world — like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

~ Matthew 5:13-16 NLT

In other words, refuse to be irrelevant and useless. If you’re going to claim to be salt, be salty. And if you’re going to claim to be light, be bright enough to light the way for others. If you’re going to call yourself the church, make sure you’re a useful church, a life-changing church, a church that fulfills God’s purposes for you in a real and relevant way.

There are some important lessons for the church to learn from Jesus’ words about salt and light.

Salt does at least these 3 things…

Salt Preserves

When we lived in southern California, there was no such thing as country ham. But in the south, they hang them from racks in the grocery stores, unrefrigerated. How is it possible to leave pork hanging in the warmth of a store for weeks on end? Salt. You rub enough salt into the meat and it will last for weeks.

The church should be a preserving agent in its cultural surroundings. We can close ourselves off and complain about how bad the world is getting, or we can determine to be bright spots in the middle of the darkness. We can preserve our culture from decay as we live out God’s purposes in the midst of it.

Salt Irritates

Ever cut your foot in the sand at the beach and then step into the water? It stings! Salt irritates, but it does so in a healing way, not a hurtful way. The church has been quite guilty of irritating the world in a way that turns people away from God, but Jesus would have us instead to irritate the world in a healing way. It is irritation that causes an oyster to turn a grain of sand into a pearl, and sometimes its our persistent irritation, our resilience and unwillingness to give up on our community that turns to its healing.

A salty church says, “We’re not going away. We’re going to keep loving and serving you no matter how resistant you are because we love you and we want to see change happen.”

Salt Flavors

I always knew you could add salt to food, but I never knew just how much until I met my wife. She’s cut way back, but when we were first married, I watched her salt her salads. Why? Because salt flavors. And we should flavor the lives of people around us. The gospel may offend some, but heaven forbid that we in our personality and approach should push people away from the hearing of the gospel.

Jesus also calls us light. I like what Jesus does here. First, He identifies us with His identity. He is “the light of the world” after all. But I also like that He labels us both salt and light. So His goal isn’t to get us to doubt what we are, but rather to realize what we are with a challenge to live it out.

Light Permeates

Ever light a candle in a totally darkened room? A little bit of light goes a very long way. I’ve spent time in Mammoth Cave in central Kentucky. When the tour guides turn all the lights out, it’s the darkest place on earth, but when they strike a single match, that tiny light fills the room. And so ought we to fill the earth.

Light Exposes

People all around us are trapped in sin and its devastating secrecy. Shame and guilt keep people shrouded in darkness, but our light can expose all of that darkness and set people free.

Light Guides

Imagine landing a plane on a runway at night with no runway lights. Or cruising through the busiest intersection in town when all the traffic lights are out. Light guides.

It’s great to know and understand our identity the way Jesus assigned it to us, but what do we do with it? Here are three BIG words we need to keep at the forefront of our minds as salt and light: SPEAK. LIVE. ACT. As salt and light, we need to speak the gospel, live the gospel, and act out the gospel, joining God on His timeless mission to redeem the world to Himself.

We deserve hell for our sins, but God forgives us when we place our trust in His Son Jesus, His death on the cross for our sins, and His resurrection to life. Not only that, but God then proceeds to call us to join Him in His great work of reconciling a lost and hopeless world back to Himself. There is no greater privilege than living out our purpose as His salt and light.

What good is your church, anyway? Are we really satisfied with merely meeting on Sunday and “having worship?” I hope not.

Graphic by Matt Gruber