Category Archives: Blog Posts

Planning to have children? (Wayne Schmidt)

This past week our family gathered for Thanksgiving.  The celebration included our two sons and their families (they’ve blessed us with six grandchildren), as well as our daughter and son-in-law.  Our daughter has been married a few years and is approaching 30, so the question occasionally asked (and more frequently thought) was “Are you planning to have children?”

In our Midwestern culture there is an expectation that marriage includes children and there is anticipation (especially among grandparents) of when that day will come.

In early November I attended Multiplication Summit 2015 in West Michigan, my “pastoral stomping grounds” for 30 years.  I was attending, along with our Director of Admissions’ Aaron Wilkinson, because Wesley Seminary’s number one priority for “signature service” to the Church is to equip leaders for church multiplication.  Over a couple of days we toured a variety of church plants and sites, and learned from a diversity of leaders.  Kingdom creativity is truly inspiring!

As the name of the event implies, it was featuring ministries who are multiplying.  In fact, this was the challenge issued repeatedly throughout the Summit:

  • Multiplying “disciple-making-disciple” disciples. What that statement lacks in verbal precision it more than makes up for in missional  Jesus challenged His own disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  Disciples making disciples is at the heart of the Great Commission.
  • Multiplying churches that multiply churches. Local church leaders were asked to prayerfully and courageously commit their church to planting 5, 10 or 30 churches or sites in the days ahead.

In other words, the Summit seemed to be asking this question to both individuals and churches – “Planning to have children?”

Time for a reality check.  Most disciples do not make disciples, and most churches do not reproduce other churches.  I recently read the book Becoming a Level Five Multiplying Church by Todd Wilson and Dave Ferguson.  It provides a fascinating framework for considering where most churches in North America find themselves:

Levels 1 & 2 – these churches are either shrinking or surviving, which has developed “scarcity” thinking.  The authors estimate this is true of 80% of churches.

Level 3 – these churches are adding attendees through disciple-making and transfer growth, and exhibit “growth” thinking.  The authors estimate 15% of churches would fit this category.

Levels 4 & 5 – these churches are multiplying, and are characterized by “movement” thinking.  This would apply to less than 5% of local churches.

So a very small percentage of churches are “planning to have children.”  It may also be true that a small percentage of disciples who are intentional about making disciples.  The vast majority of disciples and churches will never reproduce, at least intentionally (a number do so through an unplanned and unwanted method – church splits).

Why (speaking now of churches)?

  1. Some don’t plan to have children because of the personal sacrifices involved. Multiplying seems like “losing people” rather than “fulfilling a purpose” which brings glory to God and growth to His Kingdom.
  2. Some fear the risk…which is real. Church reproduction has an infant mortality rate that seems all too high.  But a financial axiom that applies to many forms of investment is also true here – “little risk, little reward.”
  3. There is not vision-casting or strategic planning for it. Intentionality is needed because church reproduction is not currently happening as naturally as God intended.
  4. With age comes fading fertility. Most churches who reproduce do so early in their life cycle.  The longer they wait, the less likely it becomes.
  5. The church multiplication roles have been marginalized in many denominations. Books like The Permanent Revolution – Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church by Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim highlight the five roles articulated in Ephesians 4 – Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, Teachers (often referred to in the abbreviated form of APEST).  Churches (and unfortunately, Seminaries – something we’d like to help change at Wesley Seminary) have placed the emphasis on Shepherds and Teachers to the neglect of the other roles (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists) which often fuel disciple-making and church multiplication movements.

This list is not exhaustive, but illustrative.  And I don’t believe it is the final word.  In the week leading up writing this article, I interacted with leaders of three churches who are multiplying (with visions of dozens of plants and sites) and are raising up home-grown leaders who are Kingdom entrepreneurs.  They are planning to have children!

Is your church expecting?

Thanks Giving…Giving Thanks (Joanne Solis-Walker)


Growing up in a Hispanic church, we had Thanksgiving services and most of the testimonies started with Doy gracias a Dios por la salvación y el perdón de mis pecados. También por proveer el techo de donde vivimos, la comida y todo lo demás que tenemos y por todas las cosas que hemos pasado solo con la ayuda de Dios. [I thank God for salvation and the forgiveness of my sin. Also thank him for the roof over our heads, the food we eat and everything else we have and all the things He’s brought me through.] Really sweet memories!

Across the board, this is the time of the year where we are more prone to pause and give thanks to God for all of the blessings we’ve received. There are various lists going around on Facebook. For every day in November the person posts a different reason why they are thankful. These list include the mention of a spouse, children, family, friends, school, church, and the names of specific people who in some form or fashion are of influence.

I have my own list for Seminario Wesley and it would follow a very typical format. I’m grateful for:

  • That I know Jesus and that I know that Jesus loves me.
  • My husband, daughter, family, friends and my church who support the work I do at the seminary and extend grace more times than I care to confess.

I am thankful for the amazing body of students I journey with who contribute in so many ways to a rich learning experience. Talk about diversity! Have you had the opportunity to be under the same roof with Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Dominicanos, Panameños, Guatemalan, Ticos, Venezolanos, Salvadorans to just mention a few? Think about that experience when they gather together under one roof for residency. It’s a lot of fun!

  • We are getting close to being 10% of the Wesley Seminary student body.

I am also thankful for our adjunct professors, who also come from diverse Hispanic backgrounds. They give sacrificially and missionally to serve our student body. We have a 96% rate of adjunct retention, which is way above the norm for most seminaries and we are very grateful!

  • 100% of our adjuncts either have a Ph.D, D.Min or they are currently enrolled in a doctoral program. They serve BOTH the academy and the church! This is a real blessing.

The list goes on and on and on…Luigi has served above and beyond the call to help us re-launch our primary online courses…the leadership…nuestro equipo de trabajo…the seminary team…faculty retreat…the making of the calendars…Florida work retreat…Hispanic Heritage Month…iMET…ADAPE…fundraising…lots to be thankful for.

This exercise led me to thinking about the specific times Jesus gave thanks! Did you know His thanks giving revolved around three difficult scenarios?

  • In Matthew 15:35-37 Jesus shares a blessing over the loaves of bread and fish and thanks God for the food.
  • In Luke 22:14-20, He thanks God for the crucifixion through the blessing of the wine and the bread during the Last Supper.
  • In John 11:39, He thanks God who heard and answered His prayer, and as a result Lazarus was healed.

None of these were easy times. It was going to take a miracle to feed the multitude. The disciples had a good reason to be in panic mode.

In Luke, this was literally the last supper Jesus would have before the crucifixion. He knew He was going to die. That’s tough!

And then there is Lazarus who is dead. This was a very tragic moment.

As you will notice from my list and those published through social media, they remain upbeat. But we know there are many, many challenges we’ve experienced that may not make the public Thanks Giving list but that merit quiet moments with God to thank Him for hearing the prayers and responding. What’s on your upbeat list and what are those things in your life that had it not been for God…well…

So maybe our Spanish thanks giving testimony time started off with a combination of the very same things each time someone shared. Nevertheless, my Hispanic church family just about follows what Jesus modeled. Thank you Jesus for the cross, for hearing our prayers and for providing for all of our needs. Happy Thanksgiving!

Added Bonus: One of my faves during this season:



Just Say “Yes” (David Smith)


Recently I was discussing with several pastors the issue of finding and obeying God’s will. They all agreed how difficult it is to find His will as they made decisions. As we pondered the topic further, it was clear that in their minds the term “God’s will” sounded a bit distant and disconnected. As if “His will” is something God keeps hidden from them and they had to wrestle with Him to uncover it, much like Jacob at Bethel. Thus, I attempted to alter that paradigm for them, because I do not think anything could be farther from the truth. What if we made the statement just a bit more relational…I want us to learn to hear God’s voice. A subtle yet significant change to His will.

A great place to start would be the key parable in each of the Synoptic Gospels. Take just a minute and read Mark 4:1-9:

Jesus began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching,

Listen to this!

Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.

Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.

And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Often when I hear sermons preached or Bible Studies done on this passage, the discussion circles about the call of this passage to be “good soil.” But there is nothing explicit about this in the parable. There is only one imperative Greek verb in the whole passage. Sorry to sound like a Greek geek but in actuality there is only one command in the entire parable, it’s found in the word, LISTEN. The hallmark of being a Christ follower in this parable is simply listening to His voice. Let’s not make this more complicated than it is; just listen. As a matter of fact, the parable begins and ends with the same call; use your ears and listen. But that takes us to the next step, the implication to obey.

Now once we have the “listening thing” clear in our minds…let’s read one of the best known passages, Romans 12:1-2.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

As you probably know, this is a power packed passage, worth pondering and carefully exegeting. But let’s focus our attention to the clear cause-and-effect description given by the Apostle Paul. He is saying this, First, present your bodies as a living sacrifice (somewhat of an oxymoron)…then you be able to prove what the will of God is.

Think about this question, “Why do you want to know the will of God?” Be honest with yourself. Most people ask to know the Lord’s will so that they can ponder if they like what He is asking of them…or even worse, if they even want to obey. Let me make this as clear as I can, our task is not to consider the option of obeying or even mull over what part we like or will consider doing. Our act of faith is just to say, “Yes Lord Yes.” So, if you really want to know the Lord’s will, just say YES…and then ask Him what you have to agree to. Simply, sign on the dotted line and then follow Him as the faith contract begins to be written in your daily walk.

Finding the Will/voice of God is just saying YES, in advance of knowing what it is. That is true faith…and it will make your life so much easier to live. Temptations to disobey will cease to become a part of your walk, because you have already agreed to His will.


Give us ears to hear and hearts that are undivided towards Your voice Jesus,

Give us a holy walk that resembles Yours.


Now, Go with God

“You’re Welcome”-A Brief Look at Biblical Hospitality (Kwasi Kena)


Prior to my arrival to the Wesley Seminary at IWU, I served as a denominational congregational development coordinator. When I visited churches I often asked them to describe their congregation. As if reading from a common script, the church’s responses included descriptors like “friendly,” “hospitality,” and “welcoming to visitors”. Without much prodding, someone would then recite a laundry list of “hospitality tasks” the church performed.

We have greeters and ushers. We have lounge lizards (people who roamed around and greeted folks). We have good signage. Our nursery is top notch. The bulletin is “user-friendly”. We have coffee hour before (or after) service. We “mug” first-time visitors (i.e. give them a church coffee mug). We have lots of visitor parking spaces close to the sanctuary…and the list would go on. (Personal correspondence)

Each of those actions are good expressions that signal a congregation’s desire to make a good first impression. Beyond these acts of kindness, I encourage churches to consider how Christians have extended hospitality historically.

Jews functioned under a grand narrative that reminded them that they were once nomads and strangers who should extend hospitality toward others. The following Old Testament passage illustrates the importance Hebrews placed on hospitality. “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt” (Exodus 23:9, NIV).

New Testament Scripture equates hospitality to entertaining God’s messengers. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2, NIV).  Hospitality was a cultural expectation in biblical times, just as it is in some contemporary cultures.

My wife and I served as missionaries to Ghana West Africa for four years. In Akan, the most predominant Ghanaian language, akwaaba means welcome. As a visitor, we learned the depth of Ghanaian hospitality during our first visit. We arrived at our hotel late one evening; long after local restaurants had closed. Naively, I asked if there were any snacks or anything for sale from the hotel. The clerk, seeing how “new” we were to the country, told us to wait a moment and disappeared behind a door. Our stomachs would argue that she was gone much longer than the actual five minutes we waited.  When she returned, she led us to an empty dining room. She turned on the lights, seated us and about 30-minutes later the cook brought us out a delicious, made-from-scratch, fish dinner. It was then that we realized the desk clerk had awakened the cook to prepare a meal because two strangers were hungry. There was no commotion, objection or attitude exhibited by the cook or the clerk. Each person extended hospitality with a smile and genuine pleasure. Welcoming the stranger was customary.

As you think about the type hospitality you and your church offer, consider the following questions:

  • How often have you been a stranger?
  • What level of hospitality did you receive from others when you were the stranger?
  • How do believe U.S. culture regards strangers?
  • What value do you believe your local church places on hospitality?
  • Is hospitality a task or a lifestyle for you?

In her book, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine Pohl says hospitality is not an option for Christians, nor is it limited to those who are specially gifted for it (1999). Quoting from ancient church fathers, Pohl notes “In a number of ancient civilizations, hospitality was viewed as a pillar on which all morality rested; it encompassed ‘the good’” (1999, p. 5). Old Testament expressions of hospitality included support systems to protect aliens from poverty and abuse, opening privately owned fields to strangers for gleaning, tithes of grain set aside for the poor and sojourners, and the prohibition of exploitation of foreign workers by employers. There was a communal dimension to hospitality.

In biblical culture, the household was the center of social and family activity. Into that intimate space, Hebrews and later Gentile Christians such as Lydia (Acts 16:16; 40), cared for strangers. Food was an important aspect of welcome. To break bread (have a meal) with others was a covenant-making activity in some ancient cultures. In short, through hospitable acts like housing, feeding, and providing justice, people experienced what meant to be treated as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Given this short-list of highlights about biblical hospitality, I invite you to consider what welcoming the stranger should look like when we practice it in your churches and in your communities. What would happen if we extended hospitality to others as if they were our brothers and sisters in Christ?


Pohl, Christine. (1999). Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans

You can Learn a lot from a Preacher (Lenny Luchetti)


Every preacher has at least one primary strength from which all preachers can glean. I have been preaching for more than 20 years and teaching preaching for more than 10 of those years. I love listening to preachers who hit the proverbial ball out of the park in key areas, especially in areas where I strike out or get singles. Here are 7 skills we can learn from 7 different preachers. All of the following preachers have sermons that can be easily accessed on the internet.

Andy Stanley and Conversational Delivery: Stanley breaks many of the old rhetorical rules. At times, he talks too fast, uses too many hand gestures, and doesn’t enunciate well. Yet, tens of thousands of people listen to him live and online each week. Why? Because he replicates in the preaching event what happens naturally in conversation. He seems natural, conversational and, as a result, authentic. In conversation we don’t always enunciate, we talk too fast when excited, and we get overly animated with our hands. So does Stanley and that’s one reason why people listen to him. Preach like you converse and listeners will feel like they are in dialogue with a real person not a plastic pulpiteer.

Christine Caine and Passionate Testimony: Caine has grown in popularity as a preacher over the past decade, even in surprising circles where female preachers are not endorsed. Even naysayers sense the passionate conviction with which she preaches. She does not simply tell us about God, she tells us about her experiences with God. She sprinkles her powerful testimony into her sermons. But, she is careful to share her testimony in ways that help the listener know God, not her, better. Caine shares her story in a manner that helps listeners access their stories in light of the story of God as revealed in Scripture. Caine’s credibility and authority are anchored in her experience with God. The listener senses, “she walks with God.” Caine shows preachers how to be testimonial without being self-centered.

Fred Craddock and Inductive Progression: Craddock was a pastor and teacher of preaching for more than half a century. He recently passed away but not before passing on a legacy for those who dare to preach. One of the main hallmarks of his preaching was his ability to replicate for listeners the journey of joyful discovery he experienced while preparing the sermon in his study. Craddock contended that too often preachers reverse what happened in the study by starting the sermon deductively. They begin with the bottom line discovery it took them a week to discern in the study. This makes the sermon dull and boring. The listeners are handed the main thrust of the sermon at the outset and they have no reason to listen beyond the sermon introduction. Craddock, as well as Jesus in his parables, taught us the art of the inductive sermon by taking listeners on a journey of joyful discovery. Sometimes Craddock would hold back the sermon focus and resolution until the last minute of the sermon. Craddock’s sermons moved toward the focus inductively instead of starting with the focus deductively and proving it.

T.D. Jakes and Contextual Colloquialisms:  Jakes puts biblical concepts and narratives in the language of his people with power. He playfully connects the characters in the biblical text with contemporary images and situations. He is careful, when he does this, not to neglect the historical and literary context of the text. Instead, he contextualizes the exegetical realities of the text so that the world of the bible and the world of the listener are merged. So, Jakes might describe Moses as shedding his high-top Air Jordan sneakers because he is on holy ground. He might paint a picture of Pilate as a divorced politician coasting toward retirement. Jakes finds ways to contextualize biblical realities by using the colloquialisms of his people. He does this in ways that are faithful to the intent of the text and to the realities of his context.

Steve Deneff and Itch-Eliciting: Steve is my pastor so I have the privilege of hearing him on a weekly basis. His sermon introductions are lengthy. He will use the first 10-15 minutes trying to expose and elicit an itch in listeners that we didn’t even know we had. He exposes our assumptions and debunks them. Steve recognizes that the sermon introduction must elicit an itch the listener will want to have scratched. If not, the listener might not listen. Steve knows his context. Most of the congregation consists of long time churchgoers, people who might assume we already know what we need to know and live how we need to live. Steve has to work extra hard in this context to help us feel an itch we didn’t even know needed to be scratched. He does this masterfully.

Barbara Brown Taylor and Poetic Word-Smithing: There is no one alive who is better at stringing words together than Taylor. She weaves biblical exegesis into the sermon seamlessly without saying “look at my word study” or “check out the historical background of the text.” She is more subtle, more artful in her weaving of the “then and there” of the text with the “here and now” of her context. Taylor poetically words her sermons in a way that blurs the lines between the biblical world and our world, so that our story is caught up in the story of God. She is a manuscript preacher, so her delivery may not be charismatic enough for some. Her content, not her delivery, is her lead card. One gets the sense from listening to Taylor that she labors over every word to find just the right one to fit with all of the others. Listen carefully to the way she uses words to concretize concepts, to paint profound pictures.

Eugene Lowry and Tension to Twist: Lowry is a genius at developing narrative tension in the sermon. And just as listeners are feeling the tension of the biblical text, Lowry will pull a fast one and offer a new twist on a familiar passage. Here’s an example. I heard him preach on the familiar Mary and Martha passage in Luke 10. What is typically preached from this text is the tension between serving and Sabbath, between doing and being, between busyness and stillness. Lowry starts there but then digs deeper to create a new tension and twist. He pulls a fast one by revealing that Mary is not to be commended merely because she sat still at the feet of Jesus but because she was counter-cultural. Mary took on the posture of a disciple, a role reserved for men alone in her culture. Martha stayed in the kitchen doing what women did in that day. Jesus commended Mary not Martha. Lowry used tension and twist to help us see this familiar biblical narrative in a new light.

What skills from the preachers above do you most need to adopt in your preaching today? These skills are not the ones we traditionally learn from a basic preaching course. They are advanced skills that come with experience and intentionality. Go online and check out the preachers who possess the skills you need to enhance your preaching.

Serving Christ with you,

Lenny Luchetti

Are Your New Members Becoming New Ministers? (Charles Arn)

Eleven years ago my wife and I joined a new church. I remember how alone I felt on Sunday mornings in those first few months. My wife was a better “joiner” than I. She had made some new friends and seemed well on her way to calling the church “our church.” But it wasn’t quite as easy for me.

Then, one Sunday morning an announcement appeared in the bulletin for the All-Church Work Day in two weeks. “Why not?” I thought. That Saturday I arrived at 8:30 a.m., and was assigned to help paint Room 14. When I walked in, I found two other people working away. We introduced ourselves and spent the next 3 hours painting doors, closets, walls, and floorboards. Of course, you can’t be in a room with two other people for three hours without conversing. And it was a good time. But, what happened next Sunday was even better. I found that I had made two new friends. Alex walked up to me and playfully asked, “Say, is that blue paint I see in your ear?!” And later Megan came up and introduced her husband and children to me. Ten years later, I still call these people friends.

The first 6-12 months of a newcomer’s association with your church are both important, and perilous. The “friendship factor” is the key ingredient in whether newcomers become long-term attenders, or just slip quietly out the back door. Research shows that the average “active member” makes over 7 new church friends in the first 12 months, “drop outs” make only 2.

The best way to help newcomers make friends is to help them: 1) get involved in a small group, and 2) get involved in a ministry role/task. Of course, these two recommendations apply to every member not just new members. Let’s take a look at church ministry roles/tasks. (See my earlier article, New…Works, for more on small groups.)

The chart below is a quick reference guide to help you determine how well your church is (or is not) involving members in ministry. Note that items #7 – #12 are specifically for newcomers. To assess your church, first fill in the blank at the top left on line 1—your “Total Church Constituency”. (OK. I realize it looks something like a tax form.) This number reflects your overall church family; that is, a combination of church members plus regular attenders. Next, determine in which column your church falls on lines 2—18. All the numbers are percentages. Calculate your percentages based on your “total church constituency” (line 1), unless otherwise noted.

If you find your scores fall primarily in the left columns, the focus of your lay ministry is probably inward, and your people see themselves as “workers” with a church job. The farther your scores are to the right, the more likely you have an outward-focus and your people likely see themselves as “ministers” in mission. It is on the right side, obviously, where effective ministry occurs.



You are safe to assume that newcomers are “relational introverts.” Most are not comfortable around new people or unfamiliar situations. Therefore, go out of your way to personally invite newcomers to:

  • help in church-related projects. Special activities that are already on the church calendar (i.e., decorating for Christmas, painting the church, repaving the parking lot, re-carpeting the nursery, etc.) are great opportunities for newcomers to help out and make new friends in the process.
  • go on special church outings and events. Invite newcomers to any family camps, mission trips or summer picnics. In fact, ask them for help in the planning process, as well.
  • assume a responsibility in a class/group. If the newcomer is already part of a small group (hopefully so) ask if he/she would be willing to help bring refreshments, photo copy handouts, occasionally host the meeting at their house.
  • serve as greeter or usher in the worship service. I recommend multiple usher and greeter teams that rotate (each team is on for one month, then off for two) so you can involve more people, especially newcomers. (In fact, I am convinced that ushers and greeters don’t all need to be members!)

Tap into the power of building friendships through appropriate places of service and you’ll find many more newcomers beginning to feel like your church is “our” church.

Asking the Right Questions (Patrick Eby)


Sometimes the difficulties we face are centered in the kind of questions we ask. I am not talking about the questions we ask to make trouble, but I am talking about questions we ask that lead us to the wrong goal. In the classroom, there is no such thing as a “stupid” question, but in life the questions we ask can get us into real trouble.  I want to think about three of those questions.

A cacophony of voices

We live in a world where everyone has an opinion and everyone thinks they are right. Anyone who engages in the debates at some level knows the angst one feels as you see some of your friends yell at each other on Facebook. You know the friends who can find something wrong in almost anything someone posts. The goal is not communication or problem solving, it is total domination. The goal is to have our voices heard. The goal is to win the argument. The goal is to convert the world through the tip of our pen. The question we ask out loud or in our inner being is “How can I be heard?” What do I need to do to help them see the truth? Don’t get me wrong, this is a laudable goal, but the results are just adding another voice to the cacophony.  Or, in the words of Steve Deneff, “You scream so loud they cannot hear you.”

So, what question should we ask? I think it should be centered on the ministry of reconciliation to which we are called. The focus should not be on winning, but on healing. Maybe we should ask, “How can I be a peacemaker?” How can I bring a voice of healing and restoration to a world torn by violence? This, of course, is not an easy question to live out. Some people love the fight. You will have to choose your places and times of engagement much more carefully. You may need to withdraw when you realize the path is not to peace, but to a louder conversation. In our conversation we should seek to show the love of a Father who loved the whole world and yearned for reconciliation.

A world of danger

Danger, death, and disease have been the constant companions of our world. No generation has escaped the grip of grief, but we now live in a world (especially in the West) where we think we can cheat these three forces. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to live in a world where medicine is healing many of our diseases and extending our lives. I yearn for a world where justice flows down like a river. I not only yearn for it, I am trying to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. But, we should never get to the place where we think a safe world is the main goal. What happens when we make this our main question, “How can I be safe?” One of the main things that seems to have happened is the rise of anxiety. It seems like the desire to protect ourselves from every evil has led to a collective anxiety. Maybe part of the problem is the 24 hour news cycle that lets us see every tragedy in real time and the fear that follows when we think, “What if that happens to me? How can I be safe?” If safety is our main concern we will never find peace.

So, what question should we ask? I think it should be centered on the sure knowledge that God loves us, and that a perfect love drives out all fear. The focus should be on facing fear with courage, instead of withdrawing to a safe place. Our question should be, “How can I overcome fear to fulfill God’s call on my life?” Whenever I think about this I think of Martin Luther King Jr., who like his namesake, chose a more difficult path, a path filled with threats, in order to bring justice to others. The safe path for Martin Luther King Jr. would have been to move to England and enjoy the blessings his fame had brought. Instead, he marched into the battle with a message of love and non-violence believing that his message would cost him his life. Do I want to be safe? Yes.  Do I want it to be the main question that keeps me from going where God calls me? I hope that our answer is no.

A world of entertainment

In 1985 Neil Postman wrote the book Amusing Ourselves to Death which is “a prophetic look at what happens when politics, journalism, education, and even religion become subject to the demands of entertainment.” I don’t know that we need Neil Postman to tell us that we live in a culture consumed with happiness, but maybe he helps us to see how our desire to be happy does not lead to happiness. Maybe we don’t need him for that either.  How many times have we decided to be happy and the result was boredom? How many times have we decided to go to the latest movie only to be disappointed? For me, there is an inverse relationship between the expectation of happiness and the actual experience of happiness.  What this means in real life is that although I expect the new Star Wars movie will be great, I will probably leave the theater disappointed. Our question is, “How can I be happy?” How can I find those moments of joy in a life that is filled with the mundane? Unfortunately the question opens us up to all of the marketing in our society.  If you drive our car, eat our food, play our game, you WILL be happy.  All you need in your life is our product. And most of the time (if not all), we have bought into the lie that happiness can be found by pursuing happiness (or entertainment). Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for leisure and entertainment, but when we live for the weekend, for entertainment, we often are left less than satisfied.

So, what question should we ask? I think it should center on our purpose, not our pleasure. The focus should be on why I am here and how can I help others. Our question should be, “How can I be holy?” Holy? What does it mean to be holy? That word is so difficult to define. For me, holiness is learning to live out the two greatest commandments: love God and love neighbor.  When the questions, “How can I love God?” and “How can I love me neighbor?” replace our desire to be happy, an interesting thing happens. We discover happiness or maybe a deeper form of happiness that we call joy. When I invest my life in others I find the peace and contentment I never find in the things that promised me happiness. When I go to church for ME, to have MY needs met, I often leave with complaints of being let down, but when I go to express my love for God and my friends, I often leave feeling I have experienced a little taste of heaven.


The questions we ask matter. They often lead us down a path away from true discipleship. I would challenge you to examine your questions. Can you think of other questions that we ask that lead us down the wrong path? If you have any please post them to give us something to work on together. Maybe together we can begin to ask the right questions.


What Does “Best” Look Like? (Colleen Derr)

What does “best” look like?


There was a book a few years ago that suggested that what we do on Sunday morning should be the “best hour of the week” for everyone who attends.  And at first glimpse that sounds like a great idea.  The best hour would mean it would be exciting and attractive. People would be motivated to attend and mark it as priority on their calendar.  It would also mean that they would remember it all week, talk about it, and tell their friends about it: “You have to come with me, it is the best!”


But how do you define “best”?  What does best look like?


My daughter shared with me a recipe for the “best pancakes ever”!  She has been bragging about these amazing made from scratch, diet friendly pancakes that she loves.  Said she could eat them every day and would choose to make them even if they weren’t healthy.  For three weeks she would ask “have you made the pancakes yet?” and I would have to respond “no”.  She couldn’t believe I hadn’t tried them and would insist I was really missing out on something amazing.  Last night I decided it was a good evening for eggs and pancakes for supper.  I followed her directions exactly, mixed up the batter, pre-heated the frying pan, and made those pancakes.  And they were awful – not just not the “best”, but terrible.  I ate them anyway but have no need to ever make them again.  What’s the deal – did I make them wrong or miss an ingredient?  No – it’s just that her definition of “best” and mine aren’t the same.


Now I’m not confident that what we do in our ministries should be defined as “the best hour of their week”, but I do believe that what we do should be excellent.  What does it mean to be excellent in our ministry?  How do we achieve that?  Is there a “secret recipe”?  No secret recipe but certainly some general guidelines to move from mediocre to excellent:


  1. Start with prayer – Ask the Lord for wisdom, vision, and insight to see what is possible and then pray for the courage to do it!
  2. Seek the Spirit – Understand that even with courage the power to achieve what is possible is greater than our own.
  3. Think about it – Once you have a vision for what is possible, what your people can achieve, and who they can become, think about the “how”. What needs to happen?  Be diligent in your preparation.
  4. Be genuine and humble – Check your motivation and make sure it is the right one. And then be honest, open, and humble with those you serve beside and those you lead.
  5. Do everything on purpose – Be intentional and deliberate about what you do, what you say, and how you do and say it!
  6. Together in community – Recognize that none of us is excellent alone; we are excellent together. Each part of “the body” has a valuable role to play – and it takes us each doing our part in harmony to be excellent.
  7. Stay on target – It is easy to get sidetracked with really good priorities, plans, and agendas. But no matter what we do, it must all point back to the Gospel message. Titus 3 describes what is excellent and how to achieve it:


“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (Titus 3:1-9, NIV)

This passage also reminds us that the source of excellence is the mercy and grace of God, the sacrifice of His Son, and the renewal of the Holy Spirit.

The “best hour” – may not be the goal but doing everything with excellence so that the name of the Lord is praised and His message of love and hope is heard – YES that is an excellent goal.


CHANGE LEADERSHIP & Should Leaders Be The Source of Change? Maybe Not. (Dr. Bob Whitesel)

Complexity Leadership Theory (CLT), ever heard of it?

Actually, most of my students are studying it, but they don’t know it.  Basically (and this is very abbreviated) “complexity leadership theory” believes that leadership is a “complex, dynamic process that emerges in the interactions of people and ideas” (Sims & Lopes, 2011, p. 63).  By this is meant that CLT recognizes that leadership is a complex matrix (or Mary Jo Hatch would say “collage,” 1997, p. 54) of traits, abilities, skills, behaviors, relationships and influence processes.

This is exactly the leadership mix you will find in these postings:

But, an important contribution of “CLT” has been that leaders shouldn’t make or force change.

CLT says leaders create change, “not by making change happen but by evoking change dynamics among people who work and learn together. The focus on leadership, then, shifts from the individual as a leader to the actions of leadership that foster creative and productive learning within organizations.  Thus, leadership is fundamentally a system phenomena.  Leaders enable the conditions within which the process of adaptive leadership occurs but are not themselves the direct source of change (Marion & Uhl-Bein, 2002, pp. 389-418; Sims & Lopes, 2011, p. 63).

In other words, leaders create an environment when change (within certain change boundaries) is okay.  Leaders don’t force the change themselves, they are “not themselves the direct source of change” (Sims & Lopes, 2011, p. 63).  Rather, leaders foster an environment where change is welcomed, is expected and is encouraged.  Think of creative companies today, such as Apple Computer, whitch engineers the local environment to say “think outside of the box.”

So, if you are a student in a current course or a facilitator of a leadership group answer the following question.

  • How might you create an environment for change in your organization (supposing you were welcomed to do so)?
  • Write a few sentences about how you (or maybe some leader you observed) helped create an environment where change was welcome.  Just share some brief examples of how church leaders can encourage a organization-wide (i.e. system-wide) openness to change.

Hatch, M. J. (1997). Organization theory: Modern, symbolic, and postmodern perspectives.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marion, R., & Uhl-Bein, M. (2001). Leadership in Complex Organizations. Leadership Quarterly, 12(4), 389-418.

Sims, B. D., & Lopes, J. P. (2011). Spiritual leadership and transformational change across cultures: The SLI leadership incubator. Journal of Religious Leadership, 10(2), 59-86.

This post was adapted from w/ 1,000+ leadership articles. Receive weekly updates by following this library of leadership insights, curated by Dr. Whitesel.

Thoughts on Church and Migration (Luigi Peñaranda)

I must admit that the picture of the little boy whose dead body was being carried by a Turkish police officer opened my eyes. It woke me up. It forced me to see a reality that many of us, perhaps inadvertently (maybe intentionally), have been ignoring. But the church needs to pay attention. Issues of migration pertain to the church because God is particularly concerned with doing justice to the landless (those who do not enjoy the same rights as residents).

In a very real sense, the church itself is to be a migrant community, commanded to scatter (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts, yes the whole book!). In another sense, Christians are “politeuma en ouranois” (citizens in heaven; Phil 3:20), or as Hauerwas and Willimon (1989) suggest, a colony of “aliens trying to stake out a living on someone else’s turf” (p. 11). Jesus deterred some from following him, noting that foxes and birds have a place to reside, but not the son of man and, by implication, not his followers (Mat 8:20). If any community should understand the life of a migrant, it should be the church. But do we?

It is encouraging to hear that, in the midst of rampant reactions with xenophobic undertones, many Christians are loving and serving destitute migrants. Parishes and religious communities have been summoned to host landless families. Good Samaritans are loving their neighbors.

Though, for a moment, the world’s attention is on the European crisis, soon the media will forget. Will the church forget?

In reality, the problem is pervasive. According to the 2013 International Migration Report produced by the United Nations, 232 million people lived outside their country of origin during that year. That is, in 2013, 3.2 per cent of the world’s population were migrants. Things have not gotten better, and the repercussions of these massive dispersions are far reaching.

The church needs to hear the voice of the displaced ones. That entails, not only to respond to the humanitarian crisis, but also to rethink or reassess our theology of the “migrants.” Here are some thoughts to generate some dialogue:


  • Why does the story of “the fall” in Genesis 3 end with “the Adam” being driven out of the garden? Regardless of one’s reading of that text, the question still stands.
  • The Pentateuch talks quite a lot about the “strangers” or “resident aliens” (the Hebrew word is “gar”). There were provisions for them. For instance, they could celebrate Passover (under some conditions; Ex. 12:48; Num. 9:14), they were not to be oppressed or abused (Ex. 22:21-27; 23:9; Lev 19:33), they were to rest on the Sabbath (Ex. 23:12; Lev. 16:29; Deut. 5:14), some of the products of the land were to be left so that they could satisfy their hunger (Lev. 19:9-10), they were to be loved (Lev. 19:34; Deut. 10:18-19), they were to follow the same laws as the “citizens” (Num. 15:16), they were to have access to food and clothing (Deut. 10:18), they were to experience justice and to receive a timely retribution for their work (Deut. 24:14,17). How can the church appropriate these passages?
  • The “stranger” in the land, is often in the same category as the poor, the orphan, and the widow. God takes particular interest in doing justice to all of these people. What does that mean for us today?
  • When the church asks the question “who is my neighbor,” is it trying to justify herself like the expert in the law did in Luke 10?
  • Why is a corporation treated as a person and a migrant often is not?

God…don’t let us fall asleep…again!



Hauerwas, S., & Willimon, W. (1989). Resident aliens: Life in the Christian colony. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2013). International Migration Report 2013.