Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Goal Review

Every year about this time, I review life goals and set monthly and annual goals. In 2002, I wrote down 100 life goals at the encouragement of Mark Batterson at an Inward Bound Retreat. Over the past 8 years, I've accomplished some goals and added some others. I've never completely struck a goal off the list, but I realized yesterday that I might need to move a few to the "inactive" list. In 2002, I was single and working in the political world. In 2010, I am married and a pastor. It just means my goals have changed a little bit. For whatever its worth, here are a few that I've accomplished:
  • Take fencing classes
  • Establish a new National Wildlife Refuge
  • Produce Godspell
  • Write a book
  • Go on a pilgrimage to Israel
  • Oversee 30 small groups

And for whatever its worth, here are a few I moved to the "inactive" list yesterday. Which means I'd still love to do them, but they are no longer goals I am actively pursuing (since I'm no longer working as an engineer or policy advisor):
  • Walk on the moon
  • Perform on Broadway
  • Hold a cabinet-level position
  • Discover a new species
  • Start an engineering-based missions organization

Scenes From Oregon

It seemed we were always on the go...or on our butts being lazy...so I didn't get much play-by-play of our Oregon experience recorded on the blog. You will have to go to Twitter for that. But here are a few memorable moments.

Basically, when you take me to Oregon, there are three simple things to keep in mind. 1. Trees, 2. Guns, and 3. Food. As follows:

Hiking in the Redwoods. Zempel lore tells me that this is the Forest of Endor from Return of the Jedi. By the end of the hike I was wishing for one of those nifty speeder bikes.

Moving deeper into the Endor Forest (aka Redwood National and State Parks) towards the waterfalls. I pretty much find myself oscillating between total nerd out and worshipful moments when I walk on these trails. God is the best creator ever!

And this is how you know it's been a good day. It's not quite the dirt level of my biological engineering days out in the sugar cane fields of Louisiana. But you know you are in Oregon when you can pull these jeans right back on the next day for another excursion without so much as brushing the dirt off.

Now onto the food. After the cold, wet forests of Endor, hot caffeine is good. Dutch Brothers Coffee- it's a Zempel Family tradition.

And...Spuds and Linguica pizza at Abby's. Another Zempel tradition. I prefer Papa Murphy's; this is Ryan's favorite.

And here come the guns. Out shooting stuff. I might have left a clay pigeon or two in the Valley.

And finally, the Christmas light display at Shore Acres.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Blog Review 2009

I just spent the last couple of hours reading through my 2009 blog posts. It's not a complete journal for me, but it does give me a snapshot of the major events and guiding ideas for the year, and it's helpful as I set goals for 2o10.

Here of my top 10 favorite posts, in no particular order:

35 Thanks

"Oh Crap!" Moments

Products, Process, and the Art of Discipleship

Wear Out Your Welcome

What We Value

Melancthon, Luther, and Radical Courage

Small Groups are Great...?

Lessons From the Pig Farm

Jesus Spit

For a Cause or For Christ?

And for whatever its worth, I'm very thankful for the publication of Sacred Roads in 2009! A bunch of posts related to it can be found here: Tools for the Tour Guide.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


At the risk of sounding like a brown-nosing staff member, let me just say this: I love Mark Batterson. His new book, Primal, is the most accurate reflection of his heart and mind that he's written yet, in my humble little opinion. I wasn't even planning to write a review, but after reading it on my recent flight, I wanted to share a few thoughts. First, here are some of my favorite lines from the book:
  • Some of the sacrifices you've made for the cause of Christ might not even qualify under a second-century definition.
  • I couldn't help but wonder if our generation has conveniently forgotten how inconvenient it can be to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
  • I've discovered that when I've lost my way spiritually, the way forward is often backward.
  • What will kill you if you don't do it?
  • Establish an income ceiling.
  • God is awed by his own creation (HZ commentary: I had never thought of it like that before...but it's true)
  • Learn more, worship more
  • There is an awful lot of sideways energy in the kingdom of God. We're so busy arguing with one another that we don't have any energy left over to love our neighbors. What would happen if we spent less energy defending ourselves and more energy learning from one another?
  • All of us love miracles. We just don't like being in situations where we need one.
  • Our spiritual ancestors were martyred because they loved God more than they loved life.
  • Amo Dei!
Mark challenges us to bring a reformation in our generation by a radical return to the Great Commandment. And to be great at the great commandment. While not a strict exposition of the Great Commandment, Mark describes heart, soul, mind, and strength as compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy. I discovered that I am primarily a curiosity lover and after that a wonder lover.

Yesterday, as we were walking along a stream in Oregon, I found myself worshiping. It was an expression of love from wonder of creation.

Mark writes about this stuff passionately because he lives it purposefully. I've seen him up close and in the day to day, and I've watched him learn this from experience. If you can only read one book in 2010 (which would be lame, by the way), read Primal.

Amo Dei!

Building the Bridge as You Walk On It

One thing I love about cross-country flights is the ability to knock out huge chunks of reading. During my Christmas flight from DC to Chicago to San Francisco to Medford, I read Batterson's new release, Primal, and Robert Quinn's Building the Bridge as You Walk On It. Building the Bridge as You Walk On It isone of the 12 books I selected to read in 2010 as part of my leadership development focus. I guess I just got a jump start on the list! Here are some take-aways:
  • First of all, it would have been great to read this book before launching Operation Kaboom.
  • Reading this book has caused me to contemplate a few questions: 1) What are the things that only I can do? 2) What do I do best? 3) What do our leaders at NCC want/need? 4) What does God desire for our leaders at NCC?
  • Leading means walking in the tension of polarities (kinda reminds me of Walking the Small Group Tightrope by Robinson and Donahue)
  • Is my leadership focused on control or on being a catalyst?
  • Leaders disturb the collective script
  • Leadership is walking naked into uncertainty
Quinn examines eight practices that are necessary for effective leadership, and all of them are found in the tension of opposites: reflective action, authentic engagement, appreciative inquiry, grounded vision, adaptive confidence, detached interdependence, responsible freedom, and tough love.

After reading this book, I hope that I listen better to the people who lead with me, that I spend more time reflecting on where we are and where we need to go, and that I would find creative and meaningful ways to empower the leadership community at NCC

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Music List

Alright, so I seem to be in the mood for making lists-- must be a Christmas thing. Here are my favorite Christmas songs. I'm not sure why I think anyone would care a bit about this, but it's my blog so I'll call the shots:
  1. O Holy Night
  2. O Come All Ye Faithful
  3. O Come O Come Emmanuel
  4. Do You Hear What I Hear
  5. Hallelujah Chorus (okay, okay. I know it's in the Easter part of Messiah, but I'm going to count it anyway)
  6. The First Noel
  7. Carol of the Bells
  8. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
  9. Sing We Now of Christmas
  10. Christmastime is Here (from the Peanuts)
What are yours?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Christmas List

This is a re-post from last year, but I thought it was worth sharing again.

In no particular order, thirty Christmas experiences that I believe every person should have at least once.
  1. See The Messiah live.
  2. Participate in a live nativity.
  3. Get your picture taken with Santa Claus as an adult.
  4. Read the Christmas story as a family.
  5. Go to a multi-hundred-voice, over-produced spectacular Christmas production at your local Baptist mega-church.
  6. Participate in a multi-hundred-voice, over-produced spectacular Christmas production at your local Baptist mega-church.
  7. Attend a carols by candlelight service.
  8. Make a pilgrimage to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
  9. Leave out cookies for Santa Claus.
  10. Eat the cookies left for Santa Claus.
  11. Go Christmas caroling in your neighborhood or at the nursing home.
  12. Wear a really ugly Christmas sweater.
  13. Listen to someone yodel through Silent Night (I witnessed this at a Lutheran church in Oregon last Christmas...I am not kidding you! I saw "yodeler" listed in the program and started laughing. I was not disappointed).
  14. See Polar Express in IMAX 3D.
  15. Watch A Christmas Story 5 times back-to-back on TBS.
  16. String popcorn, cheerios, fruit loops, etc. Eat more than you string.
  17. Make a gingerbread house.
  18. Pack a shoebox for Samaritans Purse Christmas child.
  19. Send a letter to Santa.
  20. Watch A Charlie Brown Christmas (this one should happen every Christmas)
  21. Cut down your own tree after at least 2 hours of deliberation. Preferably a Charlie Brown tree.
  22. Give a gift to your post officer and trash collector.
  23. Go shopping on Christmas Eve.
  24. Finish your Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving.
  25. Give the gift of time to someone who really needs it.
  26. Kiss someone under the mistletoe.
  27. Fry the turkey.
  28. Play football with your family after eating the fried turkey.
  29. Decorate your house with something really outrageous and embarrassing.
  30. Read a bunch of children's Christmas books with friends.
What would you add?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I'm heading off-site today with the Team D (Discipleship) to do some logistical planning and creative brainstorming for 2010. Some of the big items on our agenda include:
  • Bible Reading Plan- we are encouraging NCCers to read through the entire Bible in 2010. But instead of following a generic plan, we are crafting one that makes sense in NCC world-- one that flows with our own unique liturgical calendar. I use the words "liturgical calendar" loosely.
  • Annual Leadership Retreat- we still don't have a theme. We've got the ideas and guts behind a theme, but haven't landed the words yet. Hoping to walk away with some creative ideas and timelines.
  • Operation Kaboom- need to take the next step of implementation-- write up some position descriptions and put together a strategic timeline for roll-out.

It's also the time of year where I start thinking about life goals and annual goals I want to accomplish in the upcoming year. It will be a good day. Thinking Air and Space Museum...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What I Would Have Told Myself

On Wednesday night, I picked up two of my heroes from small group ministry world- Dave Treat and Russ Robinson-- who are in town to do some consulting and speaking. We grabbed some dinner then gave them the tour of their lodgings for the next few days-- the Zempel house. Russ wrote several books that proved to be extremely influential for me personally as I was just beginning to think and dream and experiment with small group leadership, and I was thrilled about the opportunity to hang out with him for a few days.

As I sent Russ off to the Aladdin bed (named for the Aladdin sheets and comforter on the bed...and no, there are no children in our house...don't ask), I was in awe a bit at the situation I found myself in. I had a Christian ghetto small group nerd star struck moment. I thought to myself, "I wish I could have told the 20-year old version of myself that she would be hanging out with Russ Robinson. So she should hang in there! That a day was coming where all the hard work would pay off. To keep sweating, dreaming, praying, and crying out to God to become the best small group leader she could because a day was coming when she would find herself in the same car with amazing leaders like Russ Robinson and Dave Treat, picking their brains about discipleship, Biblical community, leadership development, and the future of the church. A day was coming when she would be important..."

I think it was coming, at least initially, from a place of genuine honor and respect, but it quickly morphed into something selfish and self important. And it was right about there that I stopped myself. And thought about what the 20-year-old version of Heather would say to me today. "Keep doing it because of Jesus. It's all about him. It doesn't matter if you ever write a book. It doesn't matter if you ever speak to a crowd. It doesn't matter if you ever get to eat burgers with Russ Robinson and Dave Treat or hang out with them for a weekend in DC. Only Jesus is important. Keep leading groups because you love Jesus and can think of no greater honor than becoming the answer to his prayer that his disciples would be one."

And that's when I realized the wisdom of my 20-year-old self. There is something about the purity and simplicity of that time that I need to rediscover.

Then I heard my 20-year-old self add, "Oh yeah. One more thing. Don't put Russ Robinson in the Aladdin bed. You are 35 years old. Get an adult bed."

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Romans 6:6

Romans 6:6 says, "Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin."

Isn't that a powerful thought? But it's not just a thought. It's a powerful way to live. Take a moment today and thank God for the cross. Thank Jesus for his sacrifice. And confess that you died with Christ and now share His new life.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Strategic Small Group Conference

There's still time to register for the Strategic Small Group Conference at Ebenezers Coffeehouse in Washington, DC on December 10-11, 2009. This is being offered at a very strategic time in our own growth at NCC (we are bringing them in because we need help), and I'm confident it will be a benefit to a lot of other churches, as well.

We are bringing in Russ Robinson and Dave Treat, formerly with small group gurus at Willow Creek Community Church, to help us explore the obstacles and opportunities that we encounter when leading small group ministries.

“Strategic Small Group Ministry Leadership” is a one-and-one-half-day facilitated workshop with six interactive 90-minute sessions that will help you implement:
  • Clear Ministry Objectives
  • Effective Point Leadership
  • Successful Coaching Structures
  • Ongoing Leader Development
  • An Open-Group Mindset
  • A Broad Bandwidth of Groups
  • Assimilation that Works
To Register:
Registration is by table, with up to eight participants from the same church at each table. Registration: $1499 per church/table. Email: events@thinkingsmall.net or call (847) 567-6961. If you want to split the cost of a table with another church, you can ask.

Also, check out more information here.

When God Spoke to a 7th Grader

It was 1986. My life goals included payload specialist with NASA, Broadway, politics, and I was still holding on to that dream of being the first female in Major League Baseball. I was a pretty good shortstop, after all.

Because of the teaching and discipleship of a youth intern at Cottage Hill Baptist Church, the previous summer had proven to be a turning point in my relationship with God. I started reading the Bible on my own, praying regularly, taking notes in a journal about what I was learning, and coming to the realization that my life was not really my own.

Theatre and sports were the primary competing passions in my life, but no one was playing ball in Mobile in the winter (though I'm not sure why-- the weather is the same then as in June), so Christmas season always offered a flurry of theatre opportunities for me to consider:

I was heavily involved in the Playhouse in the Park, where a young director named Laura Wilson cast me in my first show and helped me discover and develop my love for the art. So I considered auditioning for their Christmas show.

The multi-hundred voice youth choir at my church would be preparing for their annual Mobile Christmas Spectacular, so I thought I might audition for that.

Then I learned that South of the Saltline Regional Theatre was producing The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The decision was made. In my opinion, the role of Imogene Herdman was the most coveted role for any 12-year old girl. But my new decision quickly turned after a conversation with my parents as we considered the wisdom and the dangers of my stepping into the world of "adult community theatre." I reconsidered, did not audition for the show, and found myself back at the drawing board.

It was at that moment that it dawned on me that God might have something specific in mind about how I should invest my time during that fall/Christmas season. Church show? Or children's community theatre show? For the first time I can remember, I honestly and genuinely wanted to do what God wanted me to do. I prayed. I listened. I read. Nothing. It was a little disappointing to truly seek God for the first time and receive a resounding silence in response. Audition dates for both shows came and went while I listened. So I came to the conclusion that perhaps God simply wanted me to simply "be" and hang out with him during Christmas 1986.

Then the phone call came. It was Laura Roberts, who cast me in my first show at Playhouse in the Park a couple years previously, "Hey Heather, I don't know if you are aware of this, but I am directing The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at South of the Saltline Regional Theatre and I need an Imogene Herdman. Would you be interested?"

Would I be interested?! I about shot through the ceiling. Had my family known Laura was directing the show, there would have been no question in our minds about auditioning. It would have been a no-brainer. But I didn't need to know. God knew. Evidently, I didn't even need to audition! And I learned several important lessons in the process.

Now, I realize this story may not seem like a big deal at all. But for a 7th grade kid, it was monumental. I learned that God hears and answers prayer, but it usually isn't in the manner or the timing that we expect. I learned that God knows the desires of our hearts and they are important to him. I learned that God wants to get us where we need to go even more than we want to get where we need to go. And I learned that waiting in the silence is the place where God is working behind the scenes. I also learned that God loves the worst kids in the history of the world (for that one you need to know a little about the story of the Herdman kids).

Tonight, I'm in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever again. This time, I'm rolling on stage as the cantankerous Mrs. Armstrong. And I'm still seeing the fingerprints of God at work.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Book List- Theology

I'm posting book lists from previous year reading focus lists. In 2007, I focused on theology. Here's that list.

Again, I don't necessarily agree with the perspectives of all of these books, but I found them helpful.

Who Needs Theology? (Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson)
Great primer. Everyone is a theologian; the question is, "are you a good theologian?" This book offers tools, resources, and practices for thinking about God rightly. We use this book in Theology 101 at NCC.

Across the Spectrum (Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy)
Similar to the "Four Views" books, this collection offers perspectives on major doctrines from a variety of evangelical viewpoints. We also use this book in Theology 101 at NCC.

Bible Doctrine (Wayne Grudem)
This is an abridged version of Grudem's systematic theology. Intended for non-academic use. Grudem also includes a great list of theological books and resources from other perspectives that is very helpful.

Systematic Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective
(Stanley Horton)
This one has been used quite extensively in the Assemblies of God. If you are looking for a good introduction to Pentecostal theology, this might be a good start.

Renewal Theology
(J Rodman Williams)
Theology from the Charismatic perspective.

Christian Theology: An Introduction (Alister McGrath)
I'm saving the best for last here. Good, good good! I love this one and the approach.

The Christian Theology Reader
(Alister McGrath)
This is actually a new addition to the Zempel library, compliments of my seminarian husband. Companion to Christian Theology. Great stuff. I read it for fun.

Theology for the Community of God
(Stanley Grenz)
This might be my favorite. Community is the integrative motif.

Evangelical Dictionary of Theology
(Walter Elwell)
Great resource.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Book List- Communication

In 2008, I focused on developing my communication skills. The books listed here reflect a wide variety of preaching philosophies, but I found them all to be helpful:

Communicating for a Change (Andy Stanley)
The Passion-Driven Sermon (Jim Shaddix)
Preaching and Teaching with Imagination (Warren Wiersbe)
The Supremacy of God in Preaching (John Piper)
Between Two Worlds (John Stott)
Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln (James Hume, thanks for the recommendation Ben Arment)
He is Not Silent (Al Mohler)
Save the Cat (Blake Snyder- on screenwriting. And yes, that helped with sermon prep)
The Revolutionary Communicator (Jeff Medefind and Erik Lokkesmoe)
Finally-- good fiction. Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Twain, Potok, Tolkien, Lewis, Eliot, Hugo. I need to add L'Engle to the list. People that communicate truth through the power of story. I've been convicted that I need to read good stories so that I can tell good stories.

Preachers that were on my ipod: Andy Stanley, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Perry Noble, Steven Furtick, Craig Groeschel, Chris Hodges, Dino Rizzo, Francis Chan, Larry Stockstill. And watch a lot of TED presentations.

Preaching and Preachers
by Lloyd-Jones and Lectures to My Students by Spurgeon are obviously missing from this list and will need to be included in the next round.