Questions I get Asked

Questions I get Asked

Through my work with both and, I get asked many questions over and over about ministry candidates.

After the character/walk with Christ questions, there are a few that seem to make the top of the list. The questions are similar for a 21 year-old resident as they are a 32 year-old ministry leader. If you are thinking about taking your next step in ministry in 2018, ask yourself these. What are your answers? Does your resume, the stories you tell, and your current supervisor see your track record similarly?

// What have they built/started?
// What have they led?
// What was the shape of the ministry they inherited and how did they leave it?
// Do they hustle, have passion? Do they have drive?
// Are they coachable/teachable?
// Do they understand themselves with tools like the enneagram, DISC, Strength Finders, or Thinking Wavelengths?
// Do people follow / do they show signs of being an influencer?
// Do people want to hang out with them?
// Will they engage in conflict or are they a peacemaker? Can they resolve the conflict they have gotten in to?
// Can they think strategically about complex situations and systems?

The end of a calendar year is a great time to get a truth-telling friend or co-worker and do some self-evaluation. Even if you are staying put in 2018, a few hours of this is good for your own development.

A Lead Pastor's Take on Residency

A Lead Pastor's Take on Residency

Discovery Christian Church in Broomfield, Colorado (Denver) is several years into building a residency program.  Recently, I *sat down with the Lead Pastor of Discovery, Steve Cuss, to talk about the unique view a senior pastor brings to such an endeavor.  Discovery averages about 900 people on a typical week and is about fourteen-years-old.

Can we begin with an overview of where Discovery has been in terms of residency? We started residency in 2015 with one resident from Nebraska Christian College in Omaha. She began mid-year in January in our Worship Arts Department, and we added a second resident that summer onto our Children’s team. In 2016, we expanded by adding residents to our Youth and Discipleship departments. Currently, we have a total of 5 residents, and there is always an overlap between who is new and who is doing a second year. I can’t really keep up with it, and that’s why I’m glad we have Renae Loring, who serves as our Pastor of Global Ministries and Leadership Development.

You’ve mentioned that you view Discovery as a teaching church. What do you mean by that?Yeah, we see ourselves as a development church. I came to Christ as a teenager from a complete blank slate—an unchurched home. When I went to a Bible College, I got a 22% on my Bible Entrance Exam! I couldn’t put Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the correct order, for example. But, I did have a youth pastor that very quickly put us on the front lines of ministry; we had high ownership of the church service as teenagers. I’m sure we were pretty bad at it, but we really believed the weight of the church was on our shoulders.

Almost three decades later, I can draw a straight line from that leadership development to my skills today. So just like my youth pastor did for me, I want to make sure we don’t set the bar of excellence too high so that a residency cannot be involved. In order to be a teaching church you have to ensure they have the opportunity.

So, this model is much like a teaching hospital, right? For example, one doctor doesn’t walk into the room alone; rather, there’s a line of younger people in lab coats learning alongside him.Yes! The other added bonus of being a development culture is how well it develops our current leaders. Leaders don’t grow if they are not developing people, so I see two sides to the development coin.

What do you hope are the outputs? What are your expectations upon a student completing this program? I guess we have a few goals. One is to add to what they learn in college. Some pastors are quick to say things like, “I wish they taught me ____ in college,” but honestly, that has never made sense to me as there are some skills and experiences that can only be learned in the trenches of ministry.

I hope our residents learn to fail well, to build a resilience for what is a very tough role, to learn to engage with actual unchurched people, to understand themselves better, like what makes them tick or what ticks them off—just some base level self-awareness, and to learn some significant skill and craft in the process.

What does that look like? Well, yesterday, I took two of my residents to a lunch with a local Muslim imam and an urban African-American pastor to talk about racial injustice and systemic poverty. I’m constantly asking people I schedule meetings with, “Can I bring my residents along?” The week before we were teaching those same residents how to walk onto a stage after a worship song and lead what is next.

So, I expect our residents to come away with a broad range of skills for ministry. Most of all, I expect our residents to be brave and to continually step significantly out of their comfort zones and depend on God in their ministry.

From where does your motivation to do this come? After college, I served as a hospital chaplain for a year and did 4 units of “Clinical Pastoral Education.” The basic premise is to put a ministry student in a trauma-filled environment for a year in order for him or her to learn who he or she really is. I discovered a great deal about myself and how I perceive the world—what I am afraid of, etc. I come from a tradition that didn’t know what to do with a shadow or dark side. This experience really opened my eyes to the power of God which is available when I offer him my dark side, temptations, fear, etc. This experience motivates me to broaden our students’ experiences in becoming more self-aware.

It takes a commitment to fail positively, especially publicly (on stage, etc.) for residents. How have you determined where the line is for acceptability? Oh man, this one is very difficult. It helps that we have communicated to our congregation that “we hold excellence and development in tension,” and also that “everyone of us is in development.” I am better at preaching than our residents partly because of gifting, but mainly because I’ve done it more often. My first years at Discovery I had some really cringe-worthy sermons. Ha! So, will we have some uncomfortable moments from our residents? Yes. But, someone has to let them do this in a safe environment.

Surely you follow these “fails” with evaluation and coaching, right? Yes. I don’t think we have a handle yet on the “acceptable line,” but I look for courage and vulnerability. If a resident is courageous, willing to put himself or herself out there and give it everything, I’ll generally go to bat for them every time. If the resident is moving toward comfort, I’ll turn the heat up a good bit instead.

If a church your size is considering residency, what would you say to their senior pastor? Well, first I’d say, don’t do it to get cheap labor. You will have to truly invest in people, not extract from people.

Secondly, I’d say that you need residents to keep you young and open to new thoughts. Be open to their ideas that they share in meetings and in other settings. The energy our residents bring is fantastic!

Thirdly, if you want to grow as a leader, bring on a resident. If one of your key leaders needs to grow, make him lead a resident.

What are the ingredients required that go into making a successful residency? Logistically, you need money, housing arrangements, and a firm commitment from your staff to develop students. Then, you need a bit of time to figure it out. Assess your situation and realize what does your team and church intuitively do that is worth passing on, and then turn that into some sort of training path. It does not have to be formal, but it must be intentional.

For us, it is a 9-month class that meets every other week for 2 hours, and also a monthly lunch and a monthly meeting on spiritual health. That’s a purposeful commitment that is real. Lots of man-hours and personnel dollars go into this.

It helps a great deal, too, if you enjoy your residents’ company. I always look forward to time spent with my two residents; they are both outstanding, quality people.

 For a church your size to have a potentially deep bench seems like an added blessing to the process, yes? Yes! When I hire from within, I get excellent people who inherently get the culture but don’t have outside training. When I bring someone from outside, I get great fresh perspective and high adaptability, but cultural fit challenges.

With a resident, I get both.

 To learn more about Discovery’s residency program email Renae Loring, Director of Leadership Development.


*By this, I mean I emailed him questions, and he answered them…but you already knew that.

Six Comments to the College/Seminary Grad Looking for a Ministry Role

Six Comments to the College/Seminary Grad Looking for a Ministry Role

An Open Letter to the Recent Grad who Desires to Be in Vocational Ministry,

Congrats on the accomplishment of your education!  

After 14 years of ministry, I have soaked on this question for the last eleven years, both inside and outside of Christian higher education, primarily on the practitioner side.  

Here are my bullet points from which I talk everyday all day about, blogging, coaching, pleading, and preaching to others:

// YOU ARE NEEDED. Church leaders at advancing churches (those where the Gospel is being advanced - they’re not just getting bigger in size) They are looking for a version of you 6 years from now. Seems like every day I hear a version of,  “We are looking for someone who is 29-32 with 6 or 7 years of experience having built a ministry and led some stuff…”

 Which is somewhat like looking for an almost extinct tiger. 

// YOU NEED A VISION for what your contribution might be in the Kingdom in six or seven years. I’m not saying everyone needs to be a mega church pastor, or have a record deal, but what could your maximum effectiveness look like deployed at a local church seven years from?

// HOW CAN YOU GET TO THAT POINT? Let’s work backward from seven years from now.  Approximately, you are about thirty years of age at that time.

// YOUR BEST/NEXT STEP is a two-year experience on staff at a church that is advancing.  

No matter the denomination, theological viewpoint, or area of the country, you need to be serving in and around the type of ministry that interests you. You need to be barely in over your head, but within arms-reach of a gifted leader who is willing to coach you and/or has a track record of developing leaders. And by that, I mean, vocational ministry leadership. I’m all for YWAM and other gap-year programs; I’ve helped fund many, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I am talking about the developmental/coaching plan for who you could be two years from now…

// AT THE END OF THOSE TWO YEARS you will be hirable and potentially will be employed by that same church.  It’s vital to choose wisely where you’d want to do this two-year experience. More than likely, this church won’t let you walk if they can avoid it. You are one of them; they’ve already deeply invested in you. 

// SPEND 3-5 YEARS in full-time ministry.  So, whether you stay at the church where you did your residency, or you choose to move on with a great reference from people who wish you weren’t leaving them, it is your decision. At this point you are approximately 6 years in. You have become the rare white tiger that is so difficult to find.

There are not many, and The Kingdom needs you to do this.

I really hope you could give God a  couple of decades of servant leadership in the local church. That seems like stewarding back the gift of the amazing education, mentoring, prayer, coaching, and counseling that you’ve received from the Kingdom.  We’re all in this. We’re all rooting for you.

You may begin this as an undergraduate, online college student, post-seminary graduate, or one with no education at all. I’m less and less confident that it matters. What does matter is that you submit to someone who can develop leaders, and who wants to see you become this for the Kingdom. And give it two years.

My experience has been that anyone who wants to do this with his or her life is going to have opportunities if he/she walks this road. There are thousands of churches looking right now for a version of you that is six years away.  They are big, small, urban, rural, plants, mega-churches, progressive, stuck, reformed, charismatic, uptight—all of them that are advancing are looking.

From what we read, there are about 20,000 churches that are advancing amongst the other quarter million that are in decline.  I sure hope you choose to give a couple decades to one that is advancing.  That’s where we need the best leaders we can find in the Kingdom.

I’ve also seen many allow student debt, life experiences, hardheadedness, parental pressure, zip code, and poor advice from those that don’t fully understand this scenario drive potential church leaders toward a different path. These are the ones who leak out of the pipeline on their way to becoming a church leader with 6 to 7 years of experience. They went to the wrong place and quit, or they got fired, hate the church, and think it’s useless. I have friends like this, and I’ll bet you already do, as well. Just last week a pastor told me he was the only one left from his class of 60+ in 2005. No wonder seasoned leaders are as rare as an endangered species.

So, man, that’s my most passionate pitch. We could close with a power song from the 80’s or a clip from my favorite movie to inspire you onward, but I’ll do all I can to help you achieve what you believe God has for you.  I just see God at work in what I describe above.

Might your phone ring in the next 37 seconds with the perfect God-ordained opportunity? Yes. And might he choose to do all sorts of things to guide your path in a miraculous way?  Yes. From where I sit that is exactly what He’s doing, because the journey of my last 25 years around this stuff is a miracle, and I’d love to help in any way I can..

If this resonates with you,  hit our website and complete the application, and let’s see where it takes us.  Most will pay you a stipend and help you find housing in a host home (we coach them, too).





Six Reasons Church Creatives Should go see Mayer's "The Search for Everything" Tour

Six Reasons Church Creatives Should go see Mayer's "The Search for Everything" Tour

John Mayer is the second-best worship leader I’ve ever seen.  Here are six reasons every worship leader at a reach-oriented church should get a ticket and go see this current tour, “The Search for Everything.” Take a critical eye, take your senior pastor, and make some notes.

1. Age. Seems like every church is trying to do a weekend service that connects with Millennials as well as sixty-year-olds. Here’s an artist that actually achieves it.  All ages are at “The Search for Everything,” and they all have their hands in the air swayin’ to the music.

2. Programming. It’s an old-fashioned term that’s rarely used on a church staff anymore, but it’s also a lost art in many churches. This show is hung on themes (quite literally projected in white on black so all of us could keep up). The pacing of the concert drew us in and took us on a journey. There were moments of anticipation, acceleration, and then descent. There was just enough talking to build rapport. A great worship leader knows that not everyone is with you at the downbeat. This will take some work.

3. Craft. It’s about the guitar and an all-star band. As guru Stan Endicott would say, these are the types of people who’ve spent four hours a day for decades working on what they love, and it shows.  It’s excellence first, and it is excellence that anyone can appreciate.  You don’t have to be a musician to understand what’s going on, and that’s a key learning for us all.

4. Production. You’ll see some very creative uses of IMAG and imagery in story-telling. It took me a moment to get my brain around what they were doing creatively, but the video still served the purpose of video in a large venue (we could see & we were drawn in). It was loud, it was exciting, the lighting reflected the very character of the One who made it. It was tasteful, artistic, and it could have been way more, but there was no need. It served each moment.

5. Engagement. When John says, “sing it with me” there’s no doubt from the front row to the top of the third balcony everyone is all in with lines from familiar songs. Great artists know how to build the type of rapport that it’s about “us” and then it becomes about something different altogether.

6. Authenticity. Who doesn’t love an artist that is so in the moment that tears come down his face as he plays his guitar? Where does that passion come from and how is that sustained night after night? I’m not sure, but that’s the place where sideman Isaac Sharkey lived in the moment. He stayed humbly in the shadows until it was time.  These artists loved what they did, they did it well, and it showed.

We will never have the built-in motivation that an A-list artist gets in an arena.  There’s nothing like $200.00 tickets, planning for weeks, baby sitters scheduled days in advance, and getting to your seat early tend to motivate humans to lean in. But we have something that The Search for Everything will never have. We have the King of the Universe to make famous, and the highest of motivations from which to draw.



Where Are the 29 Year Olds? (In one of 3 places)

Where Are the 29 Year Olds? (In one of 3 places)

Over the last eleven years I’ve been in a church leadership conversation that sounds something like, “We’re looking for someone who is probably 29 – 32 years of age, and has built a ministry and ready to take their next step. Know anyone like that?”

No matter the role in a church, this seems to be the center of the target when it comes to looking outside for the next team member. When churches have depleted their internal pipelines, and connections, it’s time to go out and hunt.

I was asked just this week: Where are the 29 year olds who could join our church staff?

From my first-hand accounts, they are in one of three places:

1. Locked Down. They are doing great in their ministry role. They are challenged, they are moving “up” organizationally, and have a clear path ahead of them for the next several years. They’re the Worship Pastor who might be an executive pastor someday.  They were the  middle school, and now high school, pastor who desires to be a teaching pastor someday.  They were the 4th/5th grade director, now they’re over all elementary and they can see the day when they could become a Family Ministry Pastor.

You get the idea.

2. They quit 6 years ago.  Unfortunately, this 29 year old took the wrong path at age 23. I’ve written before here on four dangerous paths to begin. Early in ministry they had limited exposure, and therefore, limited understanding, of what the future could be. I’m not talking about size of church, or pay scale. I’m talking about ministry effectiveness. They took the role they could find. They listened to a voice they shouldn’t have. They wake up a year in and they began to thnk if this is ministry I’m not doing it…

I pitch vision every day for those beginning in ministry to start in a place that is obsessed with advancing the Kingdom. These are the types of places that shape a future vision.

We expect young leaders to have a vision for their ministry. How about those of us who are older start having vision for what the young leader could be someday, too?

I’m convinced those that get through the first three years of ministry have the emotional intelligence, and pain tolerance, to do this the next fifteen or twenty years. Some will do this for a lifetime. This is what the Kingdom is crying out for…a leader with just a little experience, to go to the next level.

A friend recently said, “The wrong time for a new mom to evaluate her parenting skills is in the first weeks after delivering her first child.” The same is true in ministry. We must coach young leaders through these early years. 

We are losing too many this way, and this is on those of us who are twenty years ahead of them.

3. They were never there in the first place.  The local church needs leaders who could have done anything with their one and only life. The college Junior & Senior awakening to a call of ministry has a couple of options before them:  1.) Seminary or 2.) Para-church.

Number one leaves them deeper in debt than they already are, and some may argue too much of this too early will only make them that much more irrelevant to their peers. Option number two puts them on a path that will take them someplace other than your church staff.

We need another path for them.  This path can be you and your church.

I would challenge that we must create option #1 above on your team. We have to find those with the most potential, and begin them early on your team in residency. Lay out a developmental path that will help fill in their gaps so they can continue to grow and raise their lid of knowledge, heart, and skill.

Someone on your team must champion this. They have to take on the role of coach, and not just supervisor. Young leaders need both. Having a vision for the youngest on the team, with the most potential, will help answer your question in a few years: where are the 29 year olds? They will be right there with you.

I Was 22 Once...

I Was 22 Once...

I was reminded today that I was age 21 - 28 once.
I was in Church leadership. 
I was sitting at the exec table (although we didn't call it that at the time).
I was making all sorts of decisions about the direction and the future.
I was within arms reach of older and wiser leaders who didn't let me die.

So everybody knocks millennials, but it makes me wonder do we have a shortage of millennial leaders or do we have a shortage of older and wiser ones allowing them to sit at the table?

Probably both.



The Power of a Hand Written Note

The Power of a Hand Written Note

Someone told me early in ministry to never forget to say thank you in a meaningful way to volunteers who served with me.  It was a few years later, with the advent of AOL (remember those days?), that I would begin to learn the power of the hand-written note as electronic communication began to rule.

Bob led our vocal team at the time, and he was the best at writing detailed and personal letters to all who sang during our weekend services. This was a lot of work, and one that bore much fruit. 

While I have not taken my letter writing to Bob-levels I did take up the tasks of trying to write each person a thank you. I would soon pass this on as a “must-do” to other team members.

Over the years, I’ve walked in to offices, cubicles, and kitchens of those I’ve written. Many times, I would see the note from me pinned up, or held in place with a magnet.  I think these continue to resonate to this day for a few reasons:

-       Everyone loves to be thanked. No matter how large or small the task.

-       Snail mail worth opening and keeping is rare. For several years, we have checked the mail (down the street) maybe once per week.  99% goes in the garbage. When we get a note that is hand written it is a treat and a keeper.

-       A personal note builds community. It is way more than a text, email, or social media message. It says I wanted you to know that this act of kindness meant something more to me

If you struggle to write (and don’t we all) here are some tips you may find helpful:

-       Schedule it in your calendar. Like all things that are important you must make this a priority. If you lead a large team you aren’t going to get all them a note every week, but how many would you need to write to get to all of them in a month?

-       Buy a nice pen. A development consultant told me this once and I believe it. It doesn’t have to be an expensive Mont Blanc, but find a pen that you like. It will make the experience better.

-       Keep a list.  Try to rotate through your long list of volunteers, donors, or team members. This way you aren’t writing the “favorites” over and over, and everyone gets to experience this blessing.

-       Pray for this individual while you are writing them.

My wife and I are both privileged to be engaged in ministries around many amazing people. We both lead some volunteers (although she leads many many more than I do these days). We both continue to see the power of a hand-written note in expressing thanks and building teams. 

We also love receiving them because we know the intentionality that it takes to write them.




If blogs, conferences, books, and tweets were the answer to leadership development I think we’d be in good shape.  What’s made the difference in my personal life and development over the years is coaching. It takes a “real person” sitting across the table, on the phone, or looking through a video camera from across the country, reminding me of what I said I was going to do, and asking me how it’s going.

It’s with that in mind that Leadership Pathway offers a second year of Coaching Huddles designed especially for those who’ve been in ministry less than three years. The emphasis of these gatherings focus on how to begin the habits and actions to be a life-long learner. They are limited to ten or fewer, and are delivered over zoom video conferencing.

Click below to get more information. Space is limited we kick off again in July.


Nobody Gets There on their Own

Nobody Gets There on their Own

Someone sent me this picture last week. I think this is about 1987. That's my home preacher, Wayne B Smith, in the center front. I sat on the aisle, house right, row 5 for most of my life up to age 18 and was deeply affected by watching hundreds (or was it thousands?) respond to the Gospel.

To the left of Wayne is my big brother. He was the first guy dumb enough to sign me up to be "staff" at his Kids Min Day Camp when he was a kids pastor.I was also inspired by his work ethic, and "can-do" mentality. This typically meant he just didn't go to bed when his ministry had a big event. I would shake my head and go shoot basketball in those days.

To the right of Wayne is a guy named Wally Rendel. Wally still preaches to this day in a church that is advancing. He has encouraged me greatly about how to help college aged young adults in to ministry, and he's doing it. His wife, Barbara, had me play in the band on some Easter services when I was in high school. Wally and Barbara are like second parents to me.

The guy in the very middle is Jim Burgen. Jim was Wally's youth pastor in those days. I think Jim was the first guy to put me in a band for a youth group thing. As I recall they all knew what they were doing, and I just kept the key boards turned down. (except for that helicopter sound affect on that one tune from my DX-7). Jim is now a preacher at a little church in Boulder, CO.

I could go on...

It's the Monday after Easter. I hope your Sunday was a great one. I was reading last night in my social media feeds, and in texts, about how many were at this church and that church, and how many baptisms happened all over the country.  If you're a church leader I bet your social media feed was similar.

Big days tend to make me reminisce about all the people that asked, loved, encouraged, and kicked me over the last 25 years. Nobody gets to where they are alone. If you're like me it actually takes more than just a village to help you along the way. There's probably not a picture large enough to include all of these folks who've meant so much to me over the years from KY, Vegas, Michigan, Chicago, Omaha and now Denver. 

I got a couple of texts "thinking of you" and those are the best. So I'm texting a few today as well. Hopefully you are in the yard working, or riding a bike, or playing catch with the kids, but you are already thinking what are we doing Sunday? Take a moment and make the list, and shoot some thank you texts out before you take off in to next week.

If you're like me the list is a long one...Kristin, Bart, Greg, Schneids, Andy, Saul, Jim, Ronnie, Gene, Bob, Amy, Curtis, Bill, Rick, Ben, Jim, Laban, Matt, Aaron, Jordan, Jeff, Bruce, Katie, Tim, Paul, Sean, Mark, Nate, Scott, Andy, Don, Megan, Lance, Nancy, Steve, Sammy, Lindsay, and just a few moments ago a guy named Jim made this list.

If I sat here longer I would think of more I'm sure. Like you, I'm off to next weekend planning.

Happy day after Easter.


Core Competencies

Core Competencies

About five years ago I did a series of roundtable lunches with senior leaders of churches. I asked them two questions:

What are you looking for in your next hire?
Why did you, or your executive pastor, have to fire someone on your staff?

After speaking with about 80 leaders across denominations, and from churches of all sizes we landed at about 150 general answers. I took this spreadsheet and had it printed at Fed Ex Kinkos (it was quite large) and hung one copy on a co-worker’s wall, and hung one copy on my office wall.

The goal was to boil down this list in to a common set of core competencies or soft-skills. I wanted to boil this off to five. I think we got it down to twenty something.

There are probably a thousand competencies to doing ministry this is not meant to be exhaustive (so please no hate mail about Biblical training and discipleship) keep in mind that this list assumes a lot.

For one, it assumes theological education is handled elsewhere for those that want to preach and teach. It also assumes that most of the core issues of personal spiritual growth are handled as well.

We were assuming a lot, but we landed on this list for a few reasons:

First, this is what church leaders told us. After all, what is needed in the field is a question that the Church owns. Not colleges or seminaries. This is theirs to answer.

Secondly, the landfills are full of discipleship materials. There are plenty of people on that topic.

At the end of the day, the Kingdom is spending billions on education and discipleship, and I’ve always tried to get at the core issue of why aren’t there enough leaders, and why are we still under-preparing the ones we do have?

Third, we were seeking to answer the question: Why do people get fired? And what ends ministry careers early at churches? In other words, where are the gaps in the skill preparation of how we are preparing people for ministry.

The gap does not appear to be in theological education.  We're good there. Our seminaries are full, and there's a ton of content on line.

The gap does not appear to be in discipleship. You may argue that there aren't many disciples and that's fine, but I'll point you to this week's list of books and resources, and last year's landfills. 

So where is the gap?

My co-worker Andy Dykhouse boiled this list down (below), and we’ve been tweaking/running on this list for four years. They are broken into thirds and build upon one another. It's a big list, and this is why we need two years of residency just to address the topics and coach through them.

This is the list that eventually led us to launch 

I’m curious what do you see that we are missing? Email me let’s talk about it.


Self Care


Time Management


Taking Initiative

Fail Forward



Work Ethic


Decision Making

Managing Details

Courageous Influence

Personal Finances

Gospel Presentation


Passion for Personal Growth

Bible Application

Lead a Meeting


Think Strategically

Developer of Others

Team leadership

Conflict Management




Culturally Proficient

Four Dangerous Paths for Those Entering Ministry

Four Dangerous Paths for Those Entering Ministry

Four Dangerous Paths

 A Christian College senior sat down in my office in February of his last year of undergrad studies in ministry, and was perplexed. Like most of the good ones, he’d spent the better part of the last two years on a developmental path of part-time ministry under the guidance of a great youth pastor.

“I don’t know which of these opportunities I should pursue,” he said.  He’d had several different churches approach him about his post-grad plans. He had narrowed down to the final two. I knew of both churches. Church A had the right zip code, and the right salary for a college grad who was married with a child at home already. Church B was less attractive on the surface with a not so great address, and substantially less of a salary package.

I knew Church A well and I knew that the last five staff people who had finished their time there left on bad terms, damaged, and dropping out of ministry. My knowledge of Church B was that most staff members were put on a developmental path, and the ones who left had gone on to plant churches supported by the home church. 

This is a very real snap shot of what some 20 to 25 year olds face when making a first ministry decision. I get asked daily “where are all of the talented 30 year olds who’ve been in ministry for seven years and built something?” Many (most) chose the wrong path and they didn’t make it to the check point. 

I’ve seen four reoccurring paths that I’d call “dangerous:”

1. THE ROCKY PATH.  This one I’ve already described above as Church A. We’re not sure what’s wrong, but there sure are a lot of dead bodies of former staff people littered on that road. It leads nowhere, and is full of quick sand, and toxic waste dumps. Most do not survive. Meet someone who began on this path, and they barely like Jesus three years later, let alone the church.

2. THE WORLD IS FLAT PATH. Best practices from conferences and leadership resources are suspect at best. This church is not necessarily “old” but can be. If you meet a leader who joined this team and stayed a decade they can be a pretty angry individual. They’ve learned how to blame everyone around them for where they find themselves. They know what’s wrong with that big church across town. It hasn’t “really happened” for them yet, and they are stuck. On the surface, they appear to be “faithfully sticking it out,” but internally it’s a mess. In moments of tearful-honesty they will admit they wish they could do something else with their life. I typically am thinking and you want me to send you a youth pastor candidate?

I’ve heard one or two retired pastors tell of how they started in ministry. They started on this path.  I drove four hours each way and preached for 19 people every Sunday and they could only pay me in fried chicken and sweetened tea. For every one of these stories I’ve heard dozens/hundreds who never made it beyond the World is Flat Path. They did two or three years and switched professions.

3. THE RED-BULL-GO-PRO-PATH. We’ve all seen the exciting video of the skier going straight down a cliff with no path at all. Are they skiing or just falling? We can’t tell.

This church staff is making the news because of their amazing growth and sexy innovations. They are young, they are fun, they are cool, and if their new hire can make it down that mountain with no helmet they will have a great story to tell. A new green hire into this path MUST go in with an outside coach and someone to help them stay sane. These young bucks are the ones who get asked back to speak at Seminary because of their marque employer. But beware this path is marked with stories of divorce, cancer, and burnout.

They typically tell me that there is amazing stuff going on around them, but when they get honest they have burned it at both ends for so long they can barely remember their name, let alone why they got in to ministry in the first place.  We must come alongside these high potential leaders before they kill themselves. These are the ones who need a developmental path more than anyone. Three years of development, then go jump off that mountain with a Go-Pro and they might survive it!

4. THE "NO GUIDE" PATH. This is very similar to number 3, but it looks safer from the outset. Many have gone down this path, there’s a map, and there are even clear markers. It doesn’t appear to be dangerous, but the missteps early on are many. Those on this path make the same mistakes that others have made over and over. That’s why this path can also be called the Path of the Stupid Tax. Those on this path are often wondering if they are going the right way.

Those that were LUCKY ENOUGH to live this path and continue on think it’s fine, and actually almost a good thing, that those younger on their team are paying the stupid tax. Many are casualties of this path. With no plan, and no developmental help, these young leaders try, fail, and are eventually kicked off the path. We all know that pain is a great teacher, but let’s face it, there’s plenty of opportunity for pain on down the road.

We must help these young leaders avoid the dumb mistakes we made. We were lucky. Let’s admit that.

I’ve heard many who I’d call ministry veterans recount a conversation with a young leader trying to make a vocational ministry decision. They pray with them, they do a great job listening to them, and then they say well intentioned things that are not helpful like “Well give it all to Jesus and I’m sure you’ll make the best decision.”

 We need to guide, coach, beg, even push the youngest and most talented to the best developmental path before them. It could be less money (or no money), or a less desirable place to live, but it might keep them moving forward longer than what the average is currently.

Full circle back to my story above…I told this college senior to go find where the last four or five staff people were and come back and report to me. Sure enough, he’d looked far enough under the hood to realize that something was not quite right. I asked him, “What do you ultimately want to do some day?” He replied with, “Advance the gospel, preach, and plant churches.” I told him his choice appeared obvious. He had to go to some place with a track record of that with its young staff.  Two years later he’s still on his way to doing just that.







Part 2: If I Like the Music at Your Church That's a Problem

Part 2: If I Like the Music at Your Church That's a Problem

I must say I was shocked last week at the amount of hits, conversations, and sharing part one of this post caused. I’m a minor-league blogger at best, but when anything goes “20x normal,” that’s a lot. While I don’t mean to stir up a circular conversation about worship style, age, and whom Sunday morning is really for, I do want to follow up with another observation because it just drives me even more to stay after a passion point for me.

I began ministry in ’92 and was fortunate to be around some great guys in ministry whom I have written about before. Even though I didn’t know it, and we didn’t use the terminology, I spent my first few years in what I’d call “Church Leadership Residency.”  I had a ton of feedback, a safe place to fail, and strong people around me that allowed pain in my life but wouldn’t let me quit.

I think about all of innovating that I was a part of in those days. There was a plethora of quantum leaping, in terms of ministry style, vision, and values that I was sitting at the table helping to shape. I was too young to be there…but I was. The people I was working for and being mentored by were anciently old. Most were 35 to 45. Ha! Many remain friends today.

The angst around "age" in the church is still real, and we must keep talking about it. I get it, clichés like “age is an attitude,” have some truth. There are plenty of influencers who are my age and much older and always will be. I mean, I guess I would hire Bono to be a worship leader.

But, it’s amazing when I think back to the types of decisions I was leading out on at a volatile church of 600, and then subsequently, at a church of 2,000. People a decade ahead of me surely were wincing, but then again, when I look back, they weren’t that old either.

It’s as if today we are so afraid that a twenty-something is going to do exactly what we did in the 90s!

Today, those of us who have opportunity to wield influence to help churches get younger at the leadership table must continue stepping up on this issue. This is another reason why I’m so passionate about and helping churches begin residency. I repeatedly meet students who spend a couple of years in residency and then wind up being hired at those churches. I see this at some of the largest churches in America and some advancing smaller ones, as well.

Many students haven’t finished their undergraduate degrees yet are sitting at leadership tables because the 35-year-olds have been working a developmental path with them, and finally after two years, they trust them enough to have them lean in and lead out, much like I did!

Last week I was flying out of Denver and had some time to kill. The shoeshine stand had no line and my shoes were in desperate need, so I hopped up on the seat. Darwin, a fun, older gentleman began his leather polishing artistry and then asked the showstopper question, “So, what is taking you to Pittsburgh?” And I had to explain that I was flying across the country to help a church find a worship leader because they’d been looking for a long time and couldn’t find the next staff member.

Like most, he was shocked. “I’m a Baptist from Oklahoma City,” said Darwin. “You know, if you’re born in OK, your card is punched Baptist or Pentecostal, and I know I ain’t that, but I had no idea it was hard to find a pastor these days.” He went on and on asking all the questions about Slingshot and what we do to serve churches.

“Seems to me we’ve gotta get more people going in to ministry. That’s a shame,” he said.

I told him I couldn’t agree more, but we will have to invite the 8th grader like I was invited.  We are going to have to intentionally coach the twenty-somethings like never before. We are going to have to allow them to influence it, just like someone allowed me to do the same.

I may not like where they take it, and I may not like the music. That’s ok, too.

If I Like the Music at Your Church That's a Problem

If I Like the Music at Your Church That's a Problem

If I like all the music at your church that’s a problem. I’m 46. You shouldn’t be aiming your Sunday morning expressions of worship and outreach to dudes like me. If you do that, then that actually means you are spot on for 36 to 56 year olds, and there’s probably very little real measurable evidence that lost 20 somethings are being found at church.

The church is still having the same conversations we had in ’92 when drums first arrived on the scene in my band at my church. Or in ’93 when we introduced “drama” into the service, or in ’00 when I was taking drama out, or in ‘97 when I killed a choir by accident (sorta wink-wink), or when we first faded to black, or dimmed the house lights, or rented moving lights and set the fire alarm off, or turned our bad system up louder and louder, or put in a video projector that weighted a million pounds, was as big as a VW van and cost six figures.

The conversation comes from our own brothers and sisters in Christ. More frequently today it’s even coming from leaders of other churches, and it goes something like:

I don’t like it and this ain’t right.

Christians even younger than me are sniping at leaders in their 20’s because they don’t like it. They don't like the form, and they just wish it could be like it was in the ______ (fill in your decade). Used to be you had to be super old and the janitor at the church to snipe at a young worship leader and try to get them fired. No more. 

Story time:

For the past couple of years I have gathered up some college kids and pilgrimaged back to where I spent a good deal of time in the 90s doing ministry.  The phone pics of my last visit are posted here.

I gotta be honest, the low end is so freaky loud it makes my chest hurt, the lighting is an assault on my senses, and I don’t know the music and I hardly keep up.  I looked at the college kids I was with and I mouthed, “this is awesome” in the middle of the opening tune. They laughed.

But I stood there with tears in my eyes thinking two things:

First, I know that what we did in the late 90s SUCKED compared to this. I am not delusional. But I looked across the aisle, and a diverse church of all colors and ages are singing out best they can. So I put my hands in the air (which I don't do often)  just like that twenty-something cool Asian guy across the aisle and yelled out “thank you God.” Many of these people have no idea even how to worship (do I?), and most are still new to religion.  I mean, until 12 minutes ago they didn’t know there was such a thing as “Christian” music.

Secondly, I get tears in my eyes and try not to cry in front of these college kids, and I think I played a little part of this. God used me and some of my best friends to lay some track. See, I remember the first time in the old room when we faded to black and someone asked “Why did we do that?” I remember when goofy music and static par cans were cutting edge ministry.  It was different it was changing. God was reaching people and he was using us in our own little way.

Now thousands upon thousands of people know Jesus at that church because some leaders continue to be more concerned about those not yet there. What if we hadn’t pushed as hard as we did in those days?

And I also remember Christian people saying “I don’t like this.” Just like they’re saying in 2017. 

If you are catching the heat at your church please understand that forty-six year old privileged Christians like myself will be fine. If I like the music at church that seems problematic. I don't care if 50 is the new 30 it's still 50, and there's not a ton of future for your church when everybody is 50.  And honestly, can we be real...this is about 12 minutes of my week, and...shouldn’t I be serving in the nursery or parking cars anyways?

So in the midst of all the sniping and negativity that flies around, here’s an encouragement to worship leaders and pastors who are reaching out and reaching downkeep creating, keep innovating, and keep reaching out to lost people who are younger and younger. Figure it out cause this is one you - you have the ball.  Some of us are tossing it to you.

There aren’t many of you doing it today, but you know what? I’m actually believing there were fewer of us doing this in the 90s!

Keep turning it up. Keep boldly asking guys like me to help fund the thing that’s going to move the needle on evangelism and discipleship in your church. Challenge people like me to serve somewhere, and hey if it's not in the auditorium it won't be as loud anyways, right?




The Lumineers, Chasing Awesome, & Sunday Mornings

The Lumineers, Chasing Awesome, & Sunday Mornings

I haven't seen the Lumineers live...yet.  Mainly cause if I can't sit on the front row I don't wanna go. I'd rather pay hundreds for a good seat, than to sit up stairs looking down at the top of HVAC ducts in an arena, and I don't have hundreds for a good seat.

What a great time to be in your twenties! (those of you who are in your twenties). I watch the Lumineers and I realize rock n roll is now acoustic, authentic, unpretentious, approachable, and it's about fair trade coffee, being vegetarian, and good conversation.

The Rolling Stones were in their early 60's before they valued such things.

Yet some things remain the same when you're in your twenties. I watch the Lumineers (on my TV from home) andI come back to what we all still have in common:

// Gathering
We want to be with a large group for something bigger than ourselves. We have stuff in common. We're going to stand in line, stand in the rain, we won't be denied. When I watch on my TV with my fair-trade-free-range snacks I am at a distance. If I was in the middle of the crowd we would be together and I would belong.

// Anticipation
The lights go down, we stand to our feet and scream.  It's crazy, but it's still universally true. What's going to happen first? What's going to happen next? My daughter told
me about "this and that, how cool, how awesome..." after seeing the Lumineers recently.
She sounded like me and my friends a couple decades ago. 

// Joining
When prompted and led well we join in and sing our guts out. We continue to do this don't we? And honestly here's a thought: the BEST PERFORMING ARTISTS know how to get us to join in. my twenties it was Dave Matthews and Sting, in my thirties it was John Mayer. This might be cheesy, but I'll never forget Prince leading an arena together with the house lights up and only an acoustic guitar. Now it's the Lumineers and there's nothing like it!
// Craft
Stuff done well like the arts, killer audio, great visuals, amazing lighting, musicianship, singing on key, programming that paces well and takes a crowd on a ride, and working at it and thinking it through, practicing til your fingers bleed, writing a great song, decades of preparation,
...and three and a half minutes of payoff where everyone joins in cause this is awesome.

Now...those of you who know me well know that I WILL pay hundreds to sit behind the plate with Kristin and the kids, and sing take me out to the ballgame a bit pitchy (speaking of things that never change).

You also know that this is not a post about a band that I love (although I have listened to Cleopatra often...mainly cause I think my son in law sounds just like them).

Those of you who know me have already filled in the blanks and you know I'm poking at what we seem to have lost on Sunday mornings. We oughta own these things. If it can be better on Sunday morning it ought to be. Look at a peacock, a sunset, and the color of your kids eyes, and then explain why Sunday is lame.

Church guys will say, "people in their twenties aren't drawn to __________ " (fill in the blank of what Church guys don't want to do).

But man, I watch a video of thousands camping out and screaming their guts out to Cleopatra & I wonder if I believe all those blog posts, tweets, and experts who've led us to abandon awesome when Christians get together.

I'm not talking about "entertainment" on Sundays. Those of us that lit the fuse on that stuff back in the early 90's cringe when we look at where it took some of our friends. But a response that just ignores what "normal" is, is just dumb, it's weak, and appears to be just lazy.

Don't do what we did in the 90s. Do what you do today.

I get to be around these awesome college students who are thinking about ministry, and I continue to tell them to work hard, glorify God, have a deep understanding of the Word, love people, Love Jesus, but also do the best you can with your craft and in a phrase...CHASE AWESOME. I can't own this conversation. This is for the twenty somethings on stage Sunday morning. Those of us who are a couple decades ahead should cheer them on, help pay and pave the way, show them the mistakes to avoid, but inspire them to get after it.

Nobody is going to fill an arena to sing their guts out to uninspired and predictable. The Lumineers and their management folks know this.

Nobody is going to fill a church for uninspired and predictable either.

The Friday Review

The Friday Review

I got a new computer last week. (btw check out Apple's leasing program...) and this led to cleaning out old apps, notes, pics, and videos of cats.

I came across this Evernote from over a year ago.  The notes were from a lecture by an Anglican priest named Todd Hunter. I was at a gathering about residency in Chicago. This lecture followed up with some good butt-kicking by a personal coach which led to some big admissions and decisions.  

It was challenging, affirming, and soul soothing.  If you do anything around coaching, traveling, living on the road, selling, consulting, higher-ed, trying to impress others, etc etc then you know that so much of your life can easily be disordered desires as described below.

The grammar is incomplete...but you'll get the idea....

How do we find safety and security in this culture? vs. How do we ground in God?

"I am always safe in the Kingdom of God” Don’t ever make yourself secure on other people’s back. If I have to have a bad conversation…I just remember I’m always safe in the Kingdom of God.

The Lord is my Shepherd…Fill me with Love, help me be present in this group of people, give me the gift of teaching, this is not rhetoric.  You then can secure me for your good. But if i’m trying to root myself in your  thing. 

"A failure of nerve”  Freedman, a jewish rabbi spoke of a “A non anxious presence.” Healthy leadership has capacity to obtain clarity about their own vision and they have capacity to separate themselves from emotional processes (sabotage).   How do i react to emotional processes, how do i expose and be vulnerable. 

So we can’t let an egalitarian vibe se us aside. We need leaders.  How do we put ourselves on the line?

Ignatius spoke of “indifference” is a key way to deal with leadership malpractice. we have an attraction to created things (health, agreement, people liking us) it pulls us towards us instead of God.  

We can secure ourselves to our sword (Peter) but this is a disordered desire. But if we are going to lead well in this era from an inside out holiness then we have to deal with disordered desire..  

The only thing we can desire is God. EVERYTHING else is indifference. This is kinda like Jesus preference “let this cup pass…” even Jesus had a preference…these things must become an indifference.  I want to know Gods will and do it.

We must have an ongoing relationship with the spirit of God. I do not need approval of people to be safe and secure.


Stuck on Residency? Here Are Three Guiding Principles

Stuck on Residency? Here Are Three Guiding Principles

The title for this post could be “You Should Start a Residency Program at Your Church Even if You Aren’t Ready” because I know some great churches who keep putting off pulling the trigger.

I blogged here before about the importance of residency, and why churches should move beyond short internships. Recently, I’ve had a few conversations with church leaders that I know would be great providing oversight to a resident leader, but they simply couldn’t get approval from their executive teams. “We’re not quite ready,” is the typical response.

If you answer yes to the following questions I think you church is the type of church that should jump in:

Is our church advancing?
Is our church a place where I believe someone could learn best practices for ministry?
Do I have a staff member who has proven they are a developer of people?

Let’s face it, you can talk about it, write some sort of curriculum, and try and engineer out all of the issues. But guess what you’ll be doing at the end of the first year of residency? You can guess that you'll be changing and tweaking it! So don’t spend too much time on isolated development because you will have gaps.

Church Leadership Residency is a journey. It’s one leader coaching a younger leader on how to navigate ministry. Education is linear…experience is fluid and will be forever changing based on temperament and personality of those involved.  


Since “activator” is in my top five of Strength Finders, allow me to help push the topic by offering simple concepts of how to do get a residency going:

1. Start Small. I think one idea that keeps churches locked up on this topic is that they study marque residency programs at massive churches (there are a couple out there & we need dozens more) that have been running for a decade or more, and they know they can’t do that.

Here’s my encouragement: start with ONE resident. See if you can form best practices and take great notes for the future.

2. Find Partnerships, Coaches, and Models. They’re out there. I’m personally working on Leadership Pathway. We will have coaching helps, and a program available by fall based on the learning of the last four years.

3. Choose the Developer & Avoid the Need. If your average church attendance is around 1250 (give or take 500 people) you probably have somewhere around ten to thirteen FTE on the team. Some of these teammates are killing it, and some probably need help in their week-to-week ministry.

My advice is to identify the staff member who has proven to be a developer of people and start there. This may be the strongest/best looking department on the team, which may cause questions.

Remember: you must want more for the resident than from the resident. This is not about helping out a weak ministry.

Here’s the reality: all day everyday folks like me are in conversations with churches of 150 to 15,000 who cannot find what they are looking for in their next hire. Disruptive change in how we prepare next leaders is a critical need in the Kingdom with no short fixes.

Don’t put this off another year. Like a lot of leadership moves you’ve made…you’ll never actually be “ready.” This will take a small risk with a lot of vision.

The Perfect Ten

The Perfect Ten

"...and not only be a great singer, but also killer musician, a pastor of people, kind hearted yet excellent, administrative but artistically minded, creative, a songwriter, and put others before themselves, amazingly talented yet humble..."

And so begins another conversation with a church leader looking for the gifted worship leader that they cannot find. 

Every day I'm speaking with leaders who are looking to make a worship leader hire. I do this work with The Slingshot Group, who is a leader in these efforts with churches nationwide.   

Reality is, when looking for talent, we all want "everything." But none of us have that skill set. To help all of us, I developed this worksheet.  It is designed primarily for those in churches smaller than 2,000.  If this is you...take a look and see what you think.  

Let me know how you think it could be better. 



Kingdom Assignments

Kingdom Assignments

Occasionally I hear a story about "someone who went somewhere and preached for 45 years..."

Those stories are great, but they are few and far between. Our world grows smaller with each generation. 

My wife and I have viewed life as a Kingdom assignment. Most Kingdoms have a King, and the Kingdom I serve is no different. He tells us what to do and we do it. Even at the risk of relationships, family, friends, favorite restaurants, life routines, and the like...

Along the way I've had some amazing people help me discern, pray, and think through these Kingdom Assignments. This is why I love my work with Slingshot - it enables me to pay this forward.   

Sometimes we could all use help as we navigate our next deployment.


How Well Do You Know...

How Well Do You Know...

I remember I was about 35 years of age and was sitting in a boardroom (or was it bored room?) watching a friend lead a church through Paterson’s Thinking Wavelengths.  Up until this point in my life I had done some spiritual gifts tests, some other personality types of things, but had never seen this version of this test.  It was a light bulb moment for me as I began to have thoughts like “no wonder I get bored once things are built and running more smoothly…” etc. etc. I was lost in my own world and of no good use to the board room the rest of the day.

Who knows, maybe I was just in a place to listen. Maybe I was more open that day to hear what I needed to hear, but it was a game changer for me.

We all live and lead out of perspective.  Perspective is gained through experiences. Those experiences that transform us the most tend to be the ones of which we are most passionate. That day in that boardroom was a transformative experience for me, and one which continues to be an area of passion for me.

Risky statement:  “Team fit issues are always the employees fault.”

Many days a week I hear I just don’t fit in here. Or it’s expressed as they’re just so…and I just am…and it’s time to move on…and when I look at their work history they’ve moved on every 18 months for the past eight years and I wonder are they learning anything or are people today as clueless as I was 11 years ago?

It’s amazing how many 45 year olds have never taken Meyers Briggs, DISC, Strength Finders, or have even heard of Thinking Wavelengths.  And yet they are going to run to the next employer with all this pent up angst that no one understands them.

If you haven’t invested in these types of tests today is the best day to do it.  If you haven’t sat with someone who has known you for a decade or more and asked them to affirm or deny the results, then today is the best day to do it.

Knowing who you are beyond the surface, AND understanding the implications of it in your work history will save you the same frustration at your next place of employment. God has uniquely wired, crafted, and gifted you to be of use in His world. This is His story that we are characters in. Understanding your perspective and part will help you take the next best steps.

Don’t learn these lessons the hard way like I did. If you are younger than 35 and reading this you have a head start on me. That’s a good thing.

The Green Room Read

The Green Room Read

Merry Christmas church leader…perhaps by now you are in to your 3rd, 4th, or 11th Christmas Eve service at your church. The greenroom eats have all been picked over. You ran out of Facebook and Twitter posts during the last service.

Here’s a thought: consider making a calendar reminder for the 27th or 28th to do some work on you for 2017. Don’t wait until the first day back – January 3rd – to decide how to improve in 2017. By that day you’ll be off and running. The demands of that week and a new year will be on you.

Your development is on you. No one is going to force you to get better in leadership, a craft, a personal discipline, or relationships.

If you had a painful employee review (or a good one) this past year pull it out and take a look at it. How much of that is true is about you? Where do you need to get better? Is a lack of skill inducing stress and waking you up at night? Are you yelling at your kids more this year than last because there’s a disappointment in your ministry?

Your employer, and your job is not your problem. Well I can’t speak for you – allow me to say it this way: my boss and my employer has never been my problem, but I've always had a me problem.

For me another book, blog, tweet, or conference is always nice to have, but I’ve found that coaching is the key. I wrote about it here. If your employer won’t pay for one you may have to. I know that I did and it was one of the best work related decisions I have ever made.

Pull some truth-tellers around you and get a plan together. Who knows…some of them may be right across the green room from you even tonight.