Monday, April 26, 2010

Ancient Wisdom - Clement of Alexandria

"When the heathen hear God's oracles on our lips they marvel at their beauty and greatness. But afterwards, when they mark that our deeds are unworthy of the words we utter, they turn from us with scoffing and say that it is a myth and a delusion."
-- Clement of Alexandria

That will preach.

Go Orange

I've gotta admit. Orange has not always been my favorite color. Two letters. UT. That's enough to send you screaming for a while, right? Apologies to my friends at The Walk.

But this week, I'm all about Orange. Super excited about heading to the premier conference for children, student, and family ministries. I'm excited about hearing from some of my favorite leaders and connecting with some ministry friends. And on Friday afternoon, you can find me in "Room 8" talking about how messy community is.

If you're going to be there, I'd love to connect! Give me a yell.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why I Manuscript

I was meeting with one of "my girls" the other day-- I've got a handful of girls in my life that have fantastic leadership and teaching gifts and every conversation I have with them encourages me-- and we were talking about platform communication. She had recently taught at one of our larger venue environments, and we were processing message preparation and delivery.

Communicators use a variety of methods-- outlines, mind maps, manuscripts. I don't think there is a best way or a right way, and I think the methods we use can vary depending on the season we are in and/or the environment or audience we are speaking to. I personally have gravitated towards the manuscript. Here are a few reasons why:
  1. Manuscripts force me to say exactly what I want to say. For years I used an outline, and I found that I sometimes didn't quite nail exactly what I wanted to say. I knew the idea or the concept or the general principle, but I had not taken the time to skillfully craft the wording and massage it into statements and stories that would be memorable and meaningful.
  2. Manuscripts help me develop the logline. In screenwriting jargon, the logline is the one-sentence description of your movie that contains the hero, the antagonist, the goal, and captures the imaginations and resources of producers and later audiences. For most messages to be effective, I think they need a logline. If we can't boil our message down into one succinct statement, we need to keep working on it. Manuscripts don't allow me to avoid that process.
  3. Manuscripts help transitions flow. I discovered that I was terrible with transitions. Forcing myself to write out a transition word for word helped me connect the dots better for my audience.
  4. Manuscripts help me memorize. The reality is, I rarely use my manuscript during actual delivery. But the hard work and long hours of writing everything out actually locks the entire message into my memory better.
  5. Manuscripts outlive the message. I've found it helpful to have sermon transcripts that can easily be transformed into blog posts, articles, book chapters, and other forms. While they must be edited pretty heavily, it still gives me a base from which to write.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Five Reasons I Love the Protege Program

One of our Proteges, Jenilee LeFors, blogged her top ten reasons for loving the Protege Program today. That inspired me to blog my own list. Granted, hers probably comes with a higher level of credibility for potential protege applicants since she is actually in the trenches and not the one digging the trenches to throw the Proteges into. Regardless, here are the top five reasons I love the NCC Protege Program.

Andy Pisciotti
Andy serves in our Media Department and has cranked out some amazing work. He spearheaded most of the creative elements for our leadership retreat and has taken the lead on our new online training modules for the discipleship department. He filmed and edited a short documentary that was shown as part of the Tears series. He is also creating culture in our church by helping us gain a better understanding of the concept of story and challenging us to live stories that are worthy of the sacrifice of Christ and that bring him glory. He's leading a small group focused on that. Andy's attitude it off the charts.

Chris Howell
Chris works in our Discipleship Department, where he spearheaded our Garden to City Bible reading plan, led theming and content development for our annual leadership retreat, and served on Operation Kaboom-- a systematic re-build of NCC small group ministry. And speaking of re-building her also worked with another Protege to take our student ministry to the next level. He serves as a coach and a small group leader in our small group ministry and he is a regular blogger on He speaks at Uprising student ministry gatherings. Chris is an analytical thinker and strong discipleship skills.

Jenilee LeFors
Jenilee comes to us from Seattle where she served as a youth pastor and mentored girls from junior high through college. At NCC, she heads the weekend worship experiences for our kids ministry and worked with Chris Howell to build our youth ministry. Jenilee has been involved in re-branding our kids ministry, creating family worship experiences, and speaking at Uprising student ministry. She is actively discipling a group of middle school girls-- which happens around coffee tables and also in the trenches of life and ministry. Jenilee has contagious enthusiasm and positivity and keeps us laughing.

Kari Olney
Kari Olney is a pioneer. She was a leader at NCC before she became a Protege. After graduating from Gallaudet University, she entered the Protege program in our deaf ministries. She had the courage and confidence to join a team of all-hearing people to stretch our ministry. She spearheading Alpha in ASL, Catacombs worship in ASL, and outreach opportunities on Gallaudet University's campus. This is big stuff. I'm so proud of Kari for the heart she has for people and ministry and for her courage to plow new ground.

Ross Middleton
Ross Middleton serves as our church-planter-in-residence. That means we throw him into lots of different roles to learn skills he though he would never need to learn as a pastor. He leads the charge at our Ebenezers location where he serves as campus pastor for our Saturday PM worship gatherings. He leads outreaches and small groups strategically in the communities he wants to influence and serve. He organized our annual Easter Eggstravaganza-- the largest outreach we do each year. I love Ross's sensitivity to the Spirit and reliance on prayer.

These guys are not just interns. They are part of the team, developing culture, and making ministry happen. That's what I love about Protege Program.

We are looking for a few good Proteges for 2010-2011. If you are interested, check it out here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stewards of Story

In The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, Daniel Taylor submits that a leader is primarily the steward of a story.

As I was reading the book of Joshua last night, I found this fascinating: "Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel." (Joshua 24:31). In the following book, Judges, we read that later, "there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel, And the people of Israel did what was evil in the site of the Lord..."

They forgot the story. Joshua and the elders remembered the story and told the story. And as long as they did that, the people followed God. Once the story was lost, the passion for God was lost along with it.

As leaders, one of our primary responsibilities is to be stewards of the story. And not only that-- but to pass the story on to the next generation. How can we be better stewards of the story of God in Scripture and the story that God is writing in our communities? How do we incorporate this into our disciple-making process? How do we pass the story on to the leaders coming behind us and teach them to steward the story well?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Every Leader Needs a Gang

Ryan and I had the privilege of hanging out with "The Gang" yesterday. These are the people we count among our most trusted, loyal, and fun friends in DC. Or maybe the best way to describe it is that they are the friends that have put up with us the longest. For the most part, we all met in a small group back in the 1998-1999 year or in a small group that spun off of that group. When I think about the people who have been most instrumental in challenging me, inspiring me, and discipling me during my seasons of life and ministry in DC, these are the people I think about. Now, it seems we are all running in a million different directions, having assumed new responsibilities and leadership roles in our careers and leading our own ministries and groups. So our lives don’t connect nearly as often as I’d like. And yet they are still the people who I trust with my life, my spiritual growth, and my stuff.

They don't give a rip that I carry the title "pastor." It's not important to them. On the other hand, it's extremely important to them. They are willing to challenge me and ask me the hard questions because they want to see me finish well. They let me take the pastor hat off and stand spiritually naked before them...stripped of responsibilities, titles, and expectations...just me, stumbling forward in my faith, trying desperately but often failing to love Jesus and love people the way God created me to do that. They give me courage through that process...and the courage to pick up the pastor hat and put it back on again.

Every leader needs a Gang. It's the place where I attend small group. The problem is, we are often so busy that we lose connection with the very people we need to connect with the most. Ryan and I decided at the beginning of the year to launch a "black market small group" (the term we give to groups that aren't officially "registered" at NCC and therefore not open to the public) for the Gang would meet once a month. All of us are leaders of other groups or ministries; this gathering gives us the opportunity to spur one another on in our personal spiritual lives and in those ministries.

Who is in your Gang?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why Do We Lead?

We are reading through the book of Numbers right now in our Garden to City Bible reading challenge, and I'm really impressed with the leadership of Moses. I guess that sounds silly. Any of us who got our Vacation Bible School ribbons would be impressed with Moses-- the staff to snake and back again trick, the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and the smashing of the Ten Commandment tablets. But I'm impressed today with something different...

At least four times in the book of Numbers, we read that the people of God were angry with Moses and Aaron. On more than one occasion, the Israelites stood outside their tents and wailed and cried all night. How quickly they forgot the blessings and provision of God and the skillful and care-filled leadership of Moses.

Bottom line-- Moses' approval ratings were pretty much in the tank for his entire life. Zero. How did he lead like that for forty years?

I'm blessed with amazing small group leaders who regularly encourage me. Every now and then I'll get a random gift card in the mail from an appreciative NCCer. But Moses? He never got to go to Ruth's Chris on the dime of an Israelite in the desert. He never received an email letting him know how much his leadership meant. He just led disgruntled, complaining men who regularly wailed in front of their tents all night, kicking and screaming to go back to Egypt where they at least got free food. Forty years. How did he do it? Why did he do it?

The answers to those questions must be the reasons that motivate me, as well. I want to lead with the humility of Moses, the obedience of Moses, and the proximity to God that Moses experienced.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Training Module 2: Building Biblical Community

Creating Biblical Community from National Community Church on Vimeo.

This is Module #2 of NCC's Semester One Coaching Program. Watch the video (~12 minutes) and answer the following questions. Email your answers to your coach and schedule a coaching appointment with them to process your reflections. This module should take 25-30 minutes to complete.

Understanding Relational Spaces
  • Public Space- Community that is formed around shared experiences.
  • Social Space- Community that is formed around shared experiences and common interests.
  • Personal Space- Community that is formed around the sharing of personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
  • Intimate Space- Community that is formed around the sharing of private thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Reflection Questions:
  1. How is community currently experienced in your small group? What would you like for community to look like in your small group?
  2. When thinking about public, social, personal, and intimate spaces, where does your small group currently land? Where do you want it to be?
  3. Who is currently experiencing intimate space community with you right now? In what ways are they helping you grow as a leader and a Christ-follower?
  4. What relationships do you need to initiate or nurture to help you take your next steps in your personal development, leadership development, and spiritual growth?

Training Module 1: Leading Yourself Well

Leading Yourself Well from National Community Church on Vimeo.

This is Module #1 of NCC's Semester One Coaching Program. Watch the video (~12 minutes) and answer the following questions. Email your answers to your coach and schedule a coaching appointment with them to process your reflections. This module should take 25-30 minutes to complete.

  1. Who are you following? Who are the people directly and indirectly influencing your life?
  2. When you consider the four dimensions of discipleship-- seeking, learning, influencing, and investing-- which one are you growing most in right now? The least?
  3. What goals will you pursue in the next three months in each of the dimensions of discipleship: 1) Seeking, 2) Learning, 3) Influencing, and 4) Investing
  4. What was your primary motivation for leading when you started? What is your motivation for leading now?
  5. List three areas in which you would like to develop as a leader.

From Elevation to Garden to City

I just completed a behind the scenes look at the process for developing National Community Church's From Garden to City Bible Reading Plan. It all started at Elevation Burger in Virginia and then moved from coffeehouse to art gallery to coffeehouse to various odd and assorted locations as NCC's Team D, Teaching Team, and Creative Team pulled together a church-wide Bible reading initiative. The blog series is designed to share some lessons learned and strategies that might be helpful to others hoping to develop their own unique Bible reading plan.

Here are topics and links:

From Garden to City: Purpose
Understanding Your Unique Liturgical Calendar
Categorizing the Books
Involving the Teaching Team
Crunching the Numbers
Developing Resources
Assessing the Outcome

Assessing the Outcome

This is Part 7 of a behind the scenes look at the development of National Community Church's "From Garden to City" Bible reading plan. It's step-by-step through our process of developing our church-wide reading plan with the hopes that there are some transferable principles. Today, we talk about assessing the final product.

The last step in our process is one that we are in the midst of currently-- assessing the final product and the ways it's being implemented. For us, the ultimate win is that NCCers would establish a daily discipline of reading the Bible. Each of us on the team had slightly differing secondary wins-- to see people get excited about Scripture, to help people get a more comprehensive understanding of the major themes or stories of Scripture, to encourage people to dive into the lesser-explored sections of Scripture, to mobilize the entire church around the same topics and the same time, etc.

The one thing we've learned-- the plan isn't perfect. Some of the Psalms were rather arbitrarily assigned to certain months. We didn't plan well for our August missions series. Some of the books are read out of chronological order in ways that are confusing. It's got it's good points and it's negative points.

During the preparation stages, there were certainly moments where we felt like we were standing on Mt. Sinai as pieces of the plan were divinely deposited into our spreadsheet. There were other moments where we felt like we were throwing darts into the table of contents blindfolded.

Some of the main questions I'm asking now are 1) did the books fit with the seasons well 2) did our sermons track with the reading well? 3) how many people are engaging in discussions online, in small groups, and with friends? 4) where are series transitions awkward? 5) where does the chronology get muddled?

At the end of the day, we will be asking: 1) did people read their Bibles more? 2) did people explore sections of Scripture that they've never considered before? 3) did we consistently provide beneficial resources throughout the year?

We are having a blast so far...and my prayer is that our lives will be transformed by the Word this year.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Developing Resources

This is Part 6 of a behind the scenes look at the development of National Community Church's "From Garden to City" Bible reading plan. It's step-by-step through our process of developing our church-wide reading plan with the hopes that there are some transferable principles. Today, we talk about the resources we developed to supplement the reading plan.

After we developed the reading plan, we turned our attention to resources that would help participants remain engaged, educated, encouraged, and involved in community.

Here is a list of some of the things we've done:

  • Reading Plan Card- our media team designed a Bible-sized postcard with the entire reading plan on it for participants to keep in their Bibles.
  • The Story- I led the group experience "The Story" before the reading plan kicked off to get folks oriented. It covers the chronological story of the Bible over the course of three nights.
  • Small Group Guides- we have several small groups tracking with the Garden to City reading plan, so we provide a small group study/discussion guide each week. It contains suggested icebreakers, questions based on the readings, questions based on the sermon, prayer/Scripture memory challenges, and creative ideas.
  • Website- on We've included a daily devotional blog written by our staff team, videos on choosing a translation and how to read the Bible, and other creative helps for folks who want to engage. The devotional blog also contains book introductions to give readers a framework for understanding the cultural, historical, and Biblical context of the books we read. We've linked this with Twitter and Facebook where other forms of interactions among readers can occur.
We will continue to develop other resources on the website throughout the year. We are trying to be creative in how we brand our sermon series, resource our small group leaders, and develop instructional videos and content for the blog.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Crunching the Numbers

This is Part 5 of a behind the scenes look at the development of National Community Church's "From Garden to City" Bible reading plan. It's step-by-step through our process of developing our church-wide reading plan with the hopes that there are some transferable principles. Today, we talk about crunching the numbers for the finalized plan.

Crunching the numbers. That's where the process got ridiculous for us. Where we ripped our clothes, put ashes on our heads, and wore sackcloth. I exaggerate a bit. But only a bit.

What do you do when the plan looks perfect, and then you realize it requires a week of reading five chapters in Jeremiah a day? Or you've got ten days to cover a shorter thirteen-chapter book? For those members of the team that believed losing your salvation is possible, it came close. For those who embrace a more Reformed view of eternal security, it made us question those views as we felt ourselves teetering on the edge.

The crunching the numbers phase only lasted a couple of days, but it was a grueling few days. And we made the Protege on the team do the majority of the dirty work. It's a matter of taking the books, a calendar, a calculator, and dividing up the reading. The process really was as "simple" as that. Just dividing it out. We found we needed to make a few adjustments. We made some arbitrary decisions about where to put certain parts of the book of Psalms.

After we crunched the numbers, we put the whole plan into an excel spreadsheet and sent that to a few of our most trusted Bible study leaders. We asked them to review the whole thing to make sure we didn't leave out any 1) books or 2) chapters. That was important because we discovered we left out the last chapter of one book. At least we didn't leave out any books. Like Romans. That would have been a bummer.

Despite by dreary comments about this part of the process, I've got to recognize the sovereignty of God. It's amazing the way He worked in and through the whole ordeal. Some decisions that we thought were arbitrary prove now to be divinely led and inspired. And I think that's the key thing to realize and request when you are creating your own reading plan. Seek God hard about the plan he wants you to develop and the way he wants your congregation to uniquely engage his word. He is faithful.

The next step was developing resources to supplement the reading...

Experiencing Easter

I've been pretty much absent without leave for the past ten days. I took a break from some things to recuperate from the Easter madness. I'm discovering, however, that I'm still living in the miracle of Easter. For some reason, this year was one of the most meaningful Easters I've ever experienced.

I think pastors and church leaders experience Easter differently than anyone else. For better or worse. Worse is when you invest all of your time facilitating an experience for other people and realize two days later that you never experienced the presence of Christ yourself. Like the priests in Ezekiel 43 who were allowed to minister to the people in the outer court but were not allowed into the holy place to minister directly in the presence of God. I experienced one of those Easters a couple years ago.

Better is when you are in the privileged position of facilitating the experience for others and then you find yourself entering even deeper into God's presence and promises and blessings yourself.

This year was completely different than any Easter I've ever experienced before. It was the thrill of being a part of so many meaningful moments, sharing them with great people, and being caught up in the momentum of what God is doing in our midst. There's no formula for it. But I think the preparation of our heart makes all the difference. How is our heart oriented coming into Easter? Is it on task or people? On event or relationship?

My Easter consisted of working with an amazing team working on a meaningful Good Friday service; celebrating the birthday of a great friend in the midst of many other great friends; driving our Protege Andy around to our Easter Eggstravaganzas for filming; preparing baptism candidates and cheering for them as they came up out of the water; watching our Protege team going the extra mile over and over and over again all week; watching the sun rise over the Capitol on Easter morning; leading the charge at our weekend services at Ebenezers Coffeehouse; eating an amazing meal with some of my closest friends; playing cornhole until the sun went down; and sitting with Ryan on the front porch reflecting on our favorite moments of the weekend.

I think the way we experience Easter is determined by who we celebrate it with and in how we experience every other weekend throughout the year.

Friday, April 02, 2010

What is Truth?

John's Gospel gives us a detailed account of Jesus' interaction with the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. When asked about his identity, Jesus answered, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world-- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38)

And then Pilate turned around and went to the crowd to seek their opinion.

What is truth? It seems Pilate doesn't even stick around for an answer. In exasperation, he sighs what he thinks is a rhetorical question in the face of the one who is Truth incarnate. What is truth? And he turned around to seek the opinion of the crowd. What would have happened had Pilate lingered one more moment and stared Truth in the face?

Where do we turn for truth? What would it look like for us to stand eye to eye with Truth today?

Seeking Glory

I've been immersed in the Passion narratives for the past week as I've prepared for Good Friday services. Today, I found this passage to be extremely sad:
"Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God." (John 12:42-43)

To be so close and miss out on relationship with Christ because they were more concerned with approval from the Pharisees than worshiping Christ. That's one of the saddest statements in Scripture. My prayer this Good Friday is that God would chip away at my pursuit of man's glory and captivate me with His glory.