Monthly Archives: February 2011

Do We Really Need More Churches?


This is often a question posed to church planters. Do we really need any more churches? Why not work through existing churches instead.

For example, this month, a new church in Hartford will start their weekly meetings. Does Hartford really need this?

I attend a young church in Hartford — and to get there Sunday mornings, I probably drive past a dozen churches. Does this make sense?

I think the answer is a resounding YES.

If you are interested in innovation in terms of reaching people and re-thinking what church can look like, or you are interested in conversion growth — as opposed to just sheep-hopping — the two places to look are new church plants and successful evangelical mega-churches. Those are the places where innovation and growth are happening.

This is the long tail effect of churches

I believe that the long tail effect is true — and good — when it comes to ministry and what I call “niche churches” or “micro churches”.  The idea that one church (or a dozen churches) will meet the needs of an entire community is simply not true — especially in the old paradignm of churches.

For years, most American towns had a lot of churches. A Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational, Baptist, etc.

The Catholic Church existed to reach Catholics while all the others kind of split the “protestant pie”.  But a part from some minor theological distinctions, the protestant churches were all pretty similiar: traditional (or from the 1980’s on, blended) Sunday morning worship, Sunday school, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, potlucks, etc.  

But some people work Sunday mornings. So who reaches them?

Well most likely it will be the church plant or the mega church.

So yes, there is room for more churches.

In terms of church typology, my current pastor has identified four quadrants that churches fall into. I think it is a pretty good framework in our day.  (see diagram above). One of the things you will notice is that, in most communities, there are plenty of churches on quadrant I and II, usually a couple of churches in quadrant III — and few or no quadrant IV churches. (Her model focused primarily on worship style and social policy; I have added in general theological perspective.)

I will write more about this particular dynamic later, but it makes you realize that YES — we can use more churches! Especially niche churches, innovative churches, and quadrant IV churches.


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Posted by on February 28, 2011 in Uncategorized


Grace Transforms

I am watching the 25th Anniversary Concert of Les Miserables on DVD tonight. I love this show. I’ve seen it on Broadway at least four times, love the music, and love the story.

At its core, Les Miserables is about the transformative power of grace.

(You can watch the musical version here… the actual scene begins around 7:22 into the video.)

Jean Valjean, a recently paroled convict, is offered shelter, food and hospitality from a kind Bishop and his wife.  In the middle of the night, Valjean steals a bunch of valuable items from the Bishop and runs. He is picked up by local officials, caught with the stolen goods, and returned to the Bishop. Not only does the Bishop not press charges, he actually gives Valjean additional valuable items.

This is beyond mercy and beyond forgiveness.  

It has been said that forgiveness is “not giving someone what they deserve” (that is, punishment… anger… etc) and grace is “giving someone what they don’t deserve” — that is, giving you the candle sticks after you already stole the silver plate. I think mercy is simply giving people what they need in the moment.

The American church, in my experience, is pretty good at mercy, okay at forgiveness — and lousy at grace.

To be honest, I think most of us don’t really believe in grace — except when we are the receivers of it from God.  We certainly don’t like to extend it — and we are even often told that it is unwise to extend it.

But GRACE is the model Jesus gives us.


Valjean is completely transformed by this simple act of grace and spends the rest of his life trying to live a life worthy of such grace.  I am convinced that this is the essence of following Jesus. Knowing we have received grace — not just forgiveness or mercy — we offer our lives in worship. And having received unmerited grace, we are COMPELLED to pass on unmerited grace to others.

Why do you think we have such a hard time with grace? Where have you seen it really lived out?

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Posted by on February 26, 2011 in Uncategorized


You’ve Got to Play the Cards You’re Dealt

Awhile back, I was part of a semi-regular poker game with a bunch of professors from a local university. I was invited by a friend and it was always a lot of fun. Never too competitive, great conversations while we played, and always good red wine.  It was a lot of fun.

One of the things I learned playing is that in poker, your only choice is to play the cards you’re dealt… or fold.

I believe the same is true spiritually.

About a year ago, I came to an important theological conclusion: the Christian life is very much about playing the cards we are dealt.  In other words, we are to LOVE, WORSHIP & FOLLOW JESUS WITH AS MUCH PASSION & INTEGRITY AS WE CAN GIVEN THE CARDS WE ARE DEALT — our only other option is to fold.

I call this “PLAN B THEOLOGY”.

Most of us to don’t get the cards we wish we had and we don’t get to write the script for our lives. For most of us, if we are honest, PLAN A is way off in the rearview mirror and now we have to deal with reality.

I know this doesn’t sound like a good thing, but I think it is actually very GOOD NEWS.  There is great freedom in living in PLAN B.

I know a lot of Christians who live with constant guilt and anxiety because their life doesn’t look like what they think it should. Others have simply been ambushed by life — a spouse has an affair, a lost job, a failed relationship, an addiction, a bankruptcy, an accident or terminal diagnosis.  None of these are PLAN A, but they are PLAN REALITY.

God doesn’t ask us to live an idealized version of life — He wants us to simply live the most abundant and full life we can IN REALITY.

Is divorce ever the PLAN A? Nope. But it happens and we have to make the best of it — or otherwise fold.

All God wants from us is us. Period. Nothing more.

He wants a relationship — and even more than He wants us to love Him, He wants us to know HIS LOVE.  

At least for me — and a lot of people I know — great freedom and grace and joy are found not in the longing for what SHOULD BE but in the acceptance of WHAT IS — and then the committment to follow Jesus in the WHAT IS.

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Posted by on February 25, 2011 in Uncategorized



Yesterday I mentioned in a post here the importance of mentoring.  I have written extensively before about mentoring on another blog (unfortunately lost now) and wanted to post a couple of tips and thoughts on mentoring here.

In no particular order:


If you want to have a good mentoring relationship, you have to kill Yoda.  Often when talking about mentoring, our mindset is to find a jedi-master like Yoda who can become our personal life coach in all things.  This is both unrealistic and unhealthy.  Instead, find people who can help you in specific areas. I have a different person mentor me in finances than in spiritual growth, for example.  Don’t look for Yoda becuase you will never find him.


The responsibility to initiate and sustain the mentoring relationship is primarily with the mentee, not mentor.  You should go to a person you would like to mentor you and ask them specifically.  And be sure to let them know that you are not asking them to be your Yoda.  For example, I remember going to a guy and asking him to mentor me in a very specifc area.  I asked if he would be meet with once a month for six months for one hour. He said yes to that.  He also told me that he almost never says yes to mentoring requests because most people don’t know what they are asking for or want some kind of open-ended undefined relationship.  The truth is that most people who you would want to mentor you are already too busy and committed — be specific with them, initiate with them, and then show up prepared when you meet with them.


Everyone should have mentors and be a mentor.  Do not ask someone to mentor you unless you are already mentoring someone.


Or, in other words, have lots of mentors.  Again, I have people who mentor me in finances, spiritual growth, church planting, relationships, restoration, culinary, etc, etc — all different people.


We need to broaden our understanding of mentors. Some are people I meet with or talk with regularly, but others I will never meet — or are dead.  For example, St. Ignatius (who has been dead a long time) mentors me in areas of discernment and vocation. John Ortberg, who I have only met a few times, mentors me on preaching and discipleship through his books, sermons, workshops, etc.  Bill Hybels mentors me on leadership and Nelson Searcy mentors me on organizational systems. Finance? Dave Ramsey — i just do what he says and it works.  But I also have mentors I meet with and know. Some are older, some are peers.  And I have people I mentor in different areas.  You need all of these!

Now in terms of finding someone to help you navigate to “manhood”, I think that some good mentors are that you will never meet include people like Dr. Henry Cloud and Dave Ramsey (finances is a huge part of the equation, I think) and John Eldredge.  But you also need some real live men to mentor you too.  Find people who are ahead of where you are who you respect their wisdom and insight and maturity in Christ.  Then ask them to lunch (you pay) and have a list of 3-4 questions that you want to talk about. After you meet, if there is good chemistry, ask them if they would be willing to meet and talk regularly.  Then go from there.

Thoughts? Anything I missed? Other suggestions?

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Posted by on February 23, 2011 in Uncategorized


Where Have All the Good Men Gone?


In a Saturday piece in the Wall Street Journal, Kay S. Hymowitz suggests that many men in their 20’s are living in an “extended adolescence”. The essay is adopted from her book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys”.  You can (and should) read the whole article here.

Essentially, Hymowitz argues, guys (too old to be called boys, not mature enough to call men) are living in this extended adolescence of bachelor pads, low responsibility, singleness, video games, etc. She suggests that this is not just a few guys, a rising phenomena and an identifiable demographic group.

Within the church world, this dynamic has been being talked about for a while.  Mark Driscoll regularly preaches against this “crisis in manhood” challenging “boys” to man up.  Pastors like Perry Noble (and others) have also made that a central message in much of their preaching.  Counselor and church planter Kit McDermott has actually been blogging this week about raising boys into emotionally mature men (here and here).

I think Hymowitz is largely correct (as is Driscoll, Noble & McDermott). And this certainly raises a serious challenge to people looking for husbands and partners, to the workplace, to the church, and probably to society at large. As a pastor working with 20-somethings for several years, I saw first-hand this dynamic at play.  Often the differences between high school ministry, college ministry and young adult ministry were blurred as the issues and attitudes wedre pretty similiar.

One of the interesting things is that this demographic might be here to stay. Adolescents, as we know it, did not exist prior to the 1930’s & 1940’s with the advent of compulsory high school. (There is a reason that groups like Young Life and Youth for Christ emerged in ’40’s).  Hymowitz writes:

Pre-adulthood can be compared to adolescence, an idea invented in the mid-20th century as American teenagers were herded away from the fields and the workplace and into that new institution, the high school. For a long time, the poor and recent immigrants were not part of adolescent life; they went straight to work, since their families couldn’t afford the lost labor and income. But the country had grown rich enough to carve out space and time to create a more highly educated citizenry and work force. Teenagers quickly became a marketing and cultural phenomenon. They also earned their own psychological profile. One of the most influential of the psychologists of adolescence was Erik Erikson, who described the stage as a “moratorium,” a limbo between childhood and adulthood characterized by role confusion, emotional turmoil and identity conflict.

This new suspended adolescence is very similiar.

I am not sure what the answer is broadly. But I do know that churches can play a significant role in helping guys become men and navigate through this period of time — just as the church as been helpful in helping kids navigate through traditional adolescence.

Here are some thoughts:


While I don’t always love Mark Driscoll’s style and even all his content, I appreciate that he teaches on these issues straight up. I think we need to be intentional about addressing these issues from the pulpit and teaching on the ideas of Biblical manhood, womanhood, etc.  We also need to address the tension and acknowledge this new extended adolescence. As part of that, we need to avoid judging. There is nothing morally inferior about this stage of life (any more than being an adolescent is a moral failure) — it just is. We need to not yell at people to “grow up” (often the approach), but rather help people navigate through this stage of life successfully.


Vision is powerful — without it, the people perish. As the church, we need to do a better job of casting a bigger vision and inviting young adults to be part of the greater vision. Great vision… great causes… will always be more exciting and interesting than beer, porn and video games. Sadly, few churches have cast a vision great enough.


Similiar to vision, but more on the individual level… we need to help guys discover their life purpose and how that purpose plays into a plan for their lives. We need to do a better job at exposing people to the ideas of vocation, calling and moral responsibility in the world.


As effective as teaching can be, 1-on-1 mentoring is really the thing that will make the most difference. We need adult Christian role-models — Christian men — to come alongside these guys and help them walk through this period. It used to be that fathers, uncles and grandfathers did this. Increasingly, there is no extended family, fathers are absent, and guys are left on their own. The church is the perfect place to mentor and walk with guys as they become men. This mentoring needs to include everything from spiritual discipleship, practical coaching (on finances, career, buying a home, etc) and life coaching.


We have to be willing to say the hard things to people. “Dude, you can’t spend your whole life playing video games and jerking around…” (etc etc)


As a follow-up to truth-telling, we need to challenge people (and help them) develop a “man plan”.  In other words, “what is your plan to become a man?” It might be okay to be in this extended adolescence st age 23 or 24… but not at 33 or 34.  So what is your plan to become a “man”? I’ve talked about this with guys in premarital counseling. Often they are “guys” and not “men” and I challenge them on what their “man plan” is.  I think this would be great language for churches to start using.


There is a reality (and a lot of complex factors) involved in this extended adolescence. And it has redefined what we expect from people in their early 20’s. Again, it is like adolescence.  We don’t blame the 16 year old for acting like a 16 year old — though we recognize that (a) a 16 year old 100 years ago had very different expectations; and (b) you can’t stay 16 forever. Are there some advantages to an extended adolescence? Possibly… and would even say probably. (That is a post for another day).  The point is to help people through it… if we start with judgement, we will lose the right to be heard.

I have believed for a long time that this age group is a sleeping giant — both in terms of the church and society at large. We must figure out how to engage and awaken this generation so that they can realize their full God-given potential.

What do you think?

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Posted by on February 22, 2011 in Uncategorized


Aging Sermons

Rob Merola had a great post the other day about HOW SERMONS CHANGE WITH AGE. I found the post via Scot McKnight’s blog.

Rob suggests how sermons might change from “A Young Person” to a “Not As Young Person”.  Here are some of his examples:

A Young Person’s Sermon >>>> A Not As Young Person’s Sermon

How to Live Without Regret >>>> How to Live With It 

How to Live With Those we Love. >>>> How to Live Without Them 

I Slew Goliath with the Sling and Stone. >>>> May our Warring Cease.

Becoming the Me I Want to Be. >>>> Accepting the Me I Am.

This We Believe. >>>> What if I Don’t? 

Money, Sex, and Power. >>>> Love.

By Grace Alone >>>> By Grace Alone

I thought this was really interesting. It also occurred to me that, at least by Rob’s calculation, I have aged a lot (spiritually) in the last 18 months — which is not necessarily a bad thing at all.

What do you think of Rob’s hypothesis? Any other examples of “Young” vs. “Not As Young” sermons?

Other thoughts?


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Posted by on February 21, 2011 in Uncategorized




One image/analogy that is helpful when thinking about life is that of journey… pathway… direction. ?And we often think this way when we are deciding what to do, who to be, etc. ?When we seek God's leading, it is often directional. ?Which way should I go?

That is very much the discernment process I am in right now.

But it occurred to be yesterday that another image is also helpful: a puzzle.

In other words, not just asking WHERE AM I GOING but also HOW DO THE PIECES FIT TOGETHER?

I have been thinking in terms of FOUR PATHS. ?But what if it is more like FOUR PIECES to integrate together? ?What if it is less either/or than about figuring out how to fit each element together? And figuring out the order in which they fit together? Because when assembling a puzzle, the best strategy is to start with the CORNER PIECES (corner stone?) and then the edges and then fill in from there.

I have assumed that each of the "paths" are mutually exclusive. ?But yesterday God showed me that is not necessarily true. ?It is possible that they all fit together.

Just some thoughts for today…
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Posted by on February 18, 2011 in Uncategorized