Friday, July 31, 2009

Dimensions of Discipleship

At NCC, we build our discipleship strategy around four growth areas, or "dimensions of discipleship," that we pull out of Acts 2. We want to help people become life-long seekers of God, learners of his truth and ways, investors in his kingdom, and influencers of culture.

Seeking is the spiritual dimension of discipleship. It's about growing closer to God through the practice of spiritual disciplines, the discovery and implementation of spiritual gifts, the development of the fruit of the Spirit, and participation in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Learning is the intellectual dimension of discipleship. It's about growing closer to God as we develop the mind of Christ. It's about knowing Him more so that we can love Him more. Learners engage the Bible through reading, study, memorization, and meditation and seek to understand and build their lives around the core doctrines of our faith.

Influencing is the relational dimension of discipleship. It's about growing closer to God as we live in the community that he has created us for. It's about influencing other Christ-followers through the practice of corporate worship and discipleship and it's about influencing the culture around us through missions, service, and evangelism.

Investing is the stewardship or financial dimension of discipleship. It's about discovering our God-given assets as a Christ-follower and leveraging them for Kingdom purposes. It's about investing our time, gifts, resources, finances, and energy so that our calendars and checkbooks reflect God-centered priorities.

Colors of God

This morning, I deemed today "Bring Your 15-Year-Old Brother-in-Law to Work Day," and dragged Joshua Zempel into the office to help with pre-weekend planning. As we drove Screech (my new name for my shrieking car) to Ebenezers, Josh asked, "What color do you think the world would be without God?" He proposed that the world would have no color at all. I'm still pondering it.

What color would the world be without God? What color would the world be without you?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Butterflies in the Stomach

My 15 year old bro-in-law Josh is back in DC for a visit, and it looks like we're in for a day of fun and frivolity at Hershey Park tomorrow. And butterflies in the stomach. Ugh. While I tend to be a thrill-seeker in many areas of life, I'm not all that excited about the kind of thrills that strap you in a chair and send you through loops at 70mph. I wrote about it last year.

Here I sit, planning our day tomorrow, feeling the butterflies in the stomach again. See you on the other side...

Monday, July 27, 2009

New Coaching Structures

Alright, here's one for all the other small group geeks out there. NCC is currently re-thinking, re-imagining, re-visioning, and re-building it's small group structure. We will keep the anchors of semester system and free-market small group philosophy in place. But we need a new skeleton. We need a new structure for coaching for and caring for our leaders.

Would love to know what kind of coaching structures you are using, what's working, what's not working, etc.

I had to throw in a little Bear Bryant love with the picture! :)


In rock climbing, there is a gutsy, dangerous move called a "dyno." It happens when you cannot make the next move without removing all contact points with the rock face. In laymen's terms, it would be called a leap or a jump.

I just did a dyno.

For the past year, I've been sensing that we need to make some changes in the way we coach and care for leaders at NCC. Seven years ago, I created a system of zone leaders and team leaders to provide discipleship, pastoral care, and leadership development to our small group leaders. In short, our small groups at NCC have outgrown the structure that was created to support them. So we need a new plan. So today, I blew it up. Operation Ka-Boom.

I'm sure most leadership books would encourage having another plan in place, a transitional team, a slow fade process...but sometimes, you just have to go for it. Today, that meant a dyno. And I'm looking forward to what's next.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Honor the Past; Embrace the Future

National Community Church is a place of constant change. With a demographic that changes approximately every 2 years, we find ourselves constantly re-thinking, re-imagining, and re-building. I believe that part of the art of leadership is honoring the past while embracing the future.

Let me put a disclaimer out right now. I'm much better at embracing the future than honoring the past. Some of you are better at honoring the past than embracing the future. The first step in navigating this particular leadership challenge is to know your tendencies.

I think we see the balance as we read the transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua in the end of Deuteronomy and beginning of Joshua. The leadership of Moses is honored-- never had there been a prophet like him, he had the privilege of seeing God face to face, no one performed the signs and wonders that he did. His accomplishments and character are acknowledged, honored, and celebrated.

As Joshua takes the helm of leadership, we see a new vision cast and new direction given. Joshua reminds the people of their story, honors the legacy of Moses, but spurs them on to the next step.

I certainly don't have it all figured out, but I think honoring the past means celebrating the people and the moments that God has used, interpreting for a new generation their importance, and holding onto the principles and heart that laid the foundation for the future. Embracing the future means communicating the vision of the future as clearly as possible, leading in the tension of confident humility and humble confidence, and having the courage to release our preferences and opinions.

A lot of problems in our churches would go away if new and younger leaders would honor the past and if older leaders would embrace the future. For those of us who lead the transition from past to future, we must learn the art of leading in the change.

Half baked thoughts on Friday afternoon.

Monday, July 20, 2009

What We Value

What do you value most on the first night of small group? The number of people who show up? Or the one life that begins the process of change?

In the 1700s, the spiritual climate of a generation was shaped by two important figures- George Whitfield and John Wesley. Both preached to huge crowds and led high profile ministries.

George Whitfield was regarded as the best preacher of his time, and he has left us a legacy of Biblically rich and stirring, convicting sermons that are as relevant today as they were then.

John Wesley was a good preacher, as well, but he prioritized investment in people over the sermon. His legacy can be found in people-- the millions of followers in churches all over the world that have been left in his wake.

I'd personally rather be a John Wesley than a George Whitfield-- a legacy that is found not only on some dusty bookshelves, but in the everyday, walking around lives of people. But that's harder to do because you can't see the immediate success. Recognizing that his legacy was dependent not only on his own gifts and abilities, but also on the gifts and skills of those he discipled, Wesley organized his followers into groups called “class meetings.” At each meeting, the participants shared what they were learning from Bible study, what they were praying for, where they were struggling, and where they were growing.

Wesley also invested significant time and energy in the development of young preachers. Even today, you can visit the chapel that he built at Bristol in which he installed a glass window above the sanctuary from which he could watch his young emerging ministers preach. Afterwards, he would meet with each of them and evaluate their progress.

Over 200 years later, we see the powerful results of Wesley's vision to prioritize people. Wesley’s movement brought us the United Methodist Church, the Methodist Church of Great Britain, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Wesleyan Church, representing millions of Christ followers today.

So what should we value most-- how many people show up? how well we led a group discussion? We tend to value most the things we can measure most readily and easily, but placing priority on those things might short-circuit the greater purpose of our group. If we value the growth of one person-- no matter how small or how long it takes-- we will build the Kingdom of God through people.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Baptism by the Bay 2009

Getting excited about Baptism by the Bay this afternoon! Since we don't have a church building, we have to get creative about how we handle baptism, and I think that has resulted in celebrations that are much more meaningful and memorable. In the Fall, we do a baptism after a Catacombs worship celebration. In the Spring, we do a baptism on the Saturday night before Easter. And in the summer, we have our Baptism by the Bay-- the biggest and most public event. And it's one of the things that reminds me every year why I do what I do and makes me feel so privileged and humbled that I get to do it.

It also makes me re-think how we help people grow in their faith. Baptism prep fell under my portfolio 4 years ago when I came on staff with NCC full-time. Now, we are bigger with more and larger locations. But we are preparing people for baptism the same way. I'm re-imagining it.

What do you do to prepare people for baptism? What are other churches doing?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Leaving Well

We say goodbye to a lot of NCCers every year. It's exciting to say goodbye to good leaders like the Lunds or the Coons or the Kittermans who follow their passion and the call of God overseas. It's bittersweet to say goodbye to our students and interns who are with us for just a few years or even months. And it's hard to say goodbye to those who just don't feel like we are the right "fit" anymore.

This is perhaps one of the best reasons to leave I have ever seen.

Thanks for your leadership, DeAndre. We are going to miss you. I'll be sad not to see you at Command Central at Union Station on Sunday mornings. But I commend your decision and honor your integrity and leadership.


While I'm feeling energetically drained, I'm also feeling giddy (Heather Zempel is experiencing an awful lot of emotion today!) The giddiness is coming from my brand new ESV study Bible! This is the first study Bible I have purchased since high school. And that one was New King James Version. I figured it was about time to invest in a new one with new notes and new translation.

For whatever its worth, I typically read out of something like NLT or NIV. Study out of NASB. Stretch by reading out of Message. And now I'm excited about diving into ESV.

I know it's probably weird-- especially considering how consumeristic we can get in the US about religious goods and services-- but there is something about purchasing a new Bible that re-invigorates my desire to read it and study it.

Energetically Drained

Do you ever feel completely energized and completely drained all at the same time? That's what the past week has done for me. I've been absent from the blog but present in the following:
  • Entered into 25 hours of roundtable discussion with 40 disciple-makers, mentors, and coaches about the future of spiritual transformation and discipleship.
  • Hung out with one of my best friends and awesome zone leaders, Leslie.
  • Ate a pulled pork stuffed potato at Corky's.
  • Ate some Christie Cookies at the Opryland Hotel.
  • Taught my 20-month old niece the fist bump.
  • Completed audio and video recordings to accompany my upcoming study, Sacred Roads.
  • On a related note, got a copy of the almost final draft for my upcoming study, Sacred Roads!
  • Bought my first pair of Pumas. (that's not very important, but I thought I would throw it in)
The conversations on discipleship were enough to leave me energetically drained, and I hope to capture some more of those thoughts later. In the meantime, I'm getting ready for Leadership 101 and Baptism by the Bay!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nuggets from the DMC

I'm sitting in the Scarritt Bennet Conference Center in Nashville, Tennessee talking with 40 of the most humble yet brilliant minds in the area of discipleship and mentoring. It's the Discipleship-Mentoring-Coaching Summit (DMC). I'll blog more extensively about it later, but here are a few nuggets:
  • Who do you love so much that you are praying for them every day to become more like Jesus? Who loves you so much that they are praying for you every day to become like Jesus? Who do you love so much that you cannot allow them to continue living the way they are? Who loves you so much that they cannot allow you to continue living as you are? We haven't loved each other enough to tell the truth.
  • The younger generation has heard about the love of God but not the fear of the Lord.
  • Are we performers or are we prophets?
  • There can be no life change without life exchange.
  • The more time you spend in front of people, the more time you need to spend alone with God.
  • The way you measure fruitfulness is the extent to which you have invested in the 3rd and 4th generations (2 Timothy 2:2)
  • The martyrs did not just die for a cause; they died for a person.
  • We should not have hope in what we can do but in who He is.
  • It is more important to be prophetic than relevant.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Principles and Parables

The Pharisees found comfort in living according to principles. Preaching principles. Holding people to principles. They measured themselves by the checklist. In response, Jesus did not teach principles but taught in parables. He scrapped the checklist and invited us into a story.

And yet tonight, as I prepare my message for this weekend, I find myself reducing the parables of Jesus to...principles. Turning the stories into checklists.

Something about that doesn't settle right with me.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Wisdom from C. S. Lewis

This challenges me:
"There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, exploit."

Looking forward to talking about the Good Samaritan story at NCC this weekend.

In the Land of Cherry Pie and Sunscreen

I'm absent. With leave. Spending a little time with my family in Mobile, Alabama this week. Enjoying all the usual things- cherry pie, chocolate pie, coke in glass bottles, BBQ, fried fish, beach, running around in 150% humidity, connecting with friends. Love it.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Making Disciples

"Disciples cannot be mass-produced; they must be handcrafted."- John Ortberg

Check out Monvee, a diagnostic tool that helps customize spiritual transformation for individuals. I'm fascinated and plan to find out more.

What I'm Reading

I should really write an entire post on each book I've been reading recently, but it's July 3 and I don't have that much discipline. So here's a snapshot.

Just spent 9 months in Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart, and that's making my head spin in more directions than I can count. At NCC, we want our small groups to function as disciple-making communities, so we are constantly re-thinking and re-imagining how to do that. My zone leaders and I originally decided to dig into Renovation of the Heart for the purpose of focusing on our own spiritual growth (and each of us got a significant butt-kicking in that process). Nine months later, we are also thinking through the lens of spiritual formation in the groups we are responsible for. We may have some minor methodological shifts on the horizon.

I spent a month in Leviticus. It all started, well, about a month ago, when I found myself defending the importance of the book and spouting all the reasons Christians should read it. And I gave that speech twice in one week. That made me think it was time to revisit the book. I get excited about something new every time I read Leviticus, but my overwhelming takeaway in June was gratitude. I'm so thankful for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, for the atonement, and for our ability to approach God. I'm so thankful that my day as a minister does not consist of draining blood and twisting the heads off of birds.

One more- Math and the Mona Lisa. Alright, so I haven't quite finished this one yet but I'm close. My two favorite museums on the National Mall are the National Gallery of Art and the Air and Space Museum. Art and Science. I'm weird. Both prominently display Math and the Mona Lisa in their bookstores, and I've been tempted to buy it for a couple of years. I finally got it, and I'm loving it. It's good for the creative juices, so I'll just leave it there and maybe post more on it later.