Whatever It Takes

I wasn’t sure what was going to happen last Wednesday night.

I had prayed a lot and I knew our leaders were praying too.

I had challenged all of our students to bring one friend. “Plus 1” we were calling it.

I tried my best to show from Scripture that following Christ necessitates inviting others to follow Him as well.

I promised that the gospel would be shared and their friends would have a chance to respond.

Our office had sent out reminder emails, Facebook posts, text updates and gathered supplies. (My administrative assistant is amazing!)

We were offering lots of FREE food and exploding watermelons with rubber bands. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?!

We also gave incentives for meeting certain attendance goals. Pies in the face. Getting slimed. And the thing no sane adult looks forward to–a Lock-In.

I’m not sure what else we could have done.

I was confident it would be a good night, but there’s always that doubt. There’s always that question of “What if nobody shows up?”

I mean, I’ve certainly been a part of events that didn’t go as planned and I’m sure I’ll be a part of more in the future. Haven’t you? You pray, work hard, get commitments from people who say they’re going to come, and then they don’t show up, a projector breaks and it rains. Total bummer.

And in this case, it’s middle school. We’re depending on parents. So if we have a student who is iffy about coming, a parent can say “get in the car, you’re going. You’ll have a great time!” Or, we could have a student who really wants to come, but a parent gets off work too late to get them there, doesn’t feel like bringing them, or makes the student stay home to get homework done (I’m not against doing homework, by the way). There are lots of factors.

All to say, in faith, I was believing it would be a great night!

So what happened?

We had a Wednesday night attendance record and 5 students prayed to receive Christ! Amazing!! And for breaking 1 goal and coming within 1 person of another (We had 139 in attendance and the second goal was for 140. I showed some grace.) I and 3 other leaders got a pie in the face. And gladly, I might add.

It was a FUN night. Lots of laughing. Lots of celebration. And we will be doing another night like this in the near future.

Some might criticize and say, “Oh that’s gimmicky. You should want kids there who want to be there. Kids who have the right heart. And just preach the Word. Stop all the shenanigans.”

Sure.

No doubt.

I hear ya.

But often times it takes doing something you don’t want to do, or even doing something for the wrong reason, to be exposed to a message that changes your heart.

So if playing a crazy game and getting pied in the face brings a student out who wouldn’t have come otherwise, we’ll keep doing it. At least 5 students are glad they came. Their eternity has been altered. 

Also, we do this kind of night once every couple months. It’s not an every week thing.

And don’t forget, Jesus didn’t just walk around preaching. He performed miracles, hung out with people and gave away a lot of FREE food. 

Bottom line: We need to have a more “whatever it takes” approach to life and ministry instead of doing the “same old thing” and expecting different results. 

What could you do differently for your next event to see extraordinary results? What do you need to change in your life personally to see some change? Have you truly exhausted every opportunity and option to do your part, or are you being stubborn or lazy and just praying that God will do something miraculous?

What happened last Wednesday night was an “Only God” moment. God was the one who brought the students, changed hearts and made the night a success. He gets all the glory. But at the same time, there was an incredible team of people that He used to accomplish the night. Those people get all the credit.

So, thank you volunteer leaders! It’s a honor to serve with you each and every week.

Thank you Parents! It’s a privilege to partner with you to reach and grow your students for Christ.

Thank you students! I pray you continue to catch the vision that life isn’t about you, but is about serving others and inviting others to follow Jesus. Keep it up!

Let’s continue to pray for God to do incredible things in our lives and ministries and work hard to see them happen. Let’s do whatever it takes.

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Grabbin’ Exponential Quotes

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Exponential East conference in Tampa. Exponential is a conference dedicated to church planting and multiplication. Rather than each local church focusing solely on getting larger, this conference desires that more churches are planted, campuses are launched, leaders are developed, etc., so more people can be reached for Christ. It’s about the capital “C” Church (the Kingdom) growing. Pretty sweet.

With that said, Exponential invited over 175 speakers (not just the big name Christian leaders in America, but little known leaders from around the world who are making a significant impact) and offered 150+ workshops that complemented the conference objective. I attended workshops on discipleship, evangelism, leadership, creativity, vision, being missional, cultural engagement and much more. To say I was mentally drained after the week is an understatement. But it was sooo good! It was refreshing. And it stretched and challenged me in just about every way I could be, which is always healthy.

Since the majority of you who read this were not at the conference, I wanted to give you a taste of some of the content in a tweetable format. If you’re a church leader you’ll eat this up. If you’re not, it should be encouraging to you that leaders are having these worthwhile conversations.

Here are my top 25 quotes from the week!

1. There are 3 reasons people don’t share their faith: 1) Fear. 2) They aren’t passionate about Jesus. 3) They haven’t seen Jesus “work” for them in their life. – Jeff Vanderstelt

2. Christians who are seeking another Bible study to fill their time are normally just using that as a substitution for obedience to God. – Jeff Vanderstelt

3. You choose who you lose. Stop worrying about making everyone happy. Instead, make the right people unhappy.             – Steve Stroope

4. Does your prayer life match the responsibility God has entrusted to you? – Joby Martin

5. Passion moves people’s hearts, not rightly exegeted texts. – Shawn Lovejoy

6. Your role as a leader is to raise up other leaders. It’s not about you just sitting in an office and coming up with ideas.         – JD Greear

7. You want your team to have buy in not just compliance. – Steve Stroope

8. The best vision is a shared vision. Let other people contribute to its development and then let them own it and run with it. – JD Greear

9. We have to care more about how our people are doing than what they are doing for us. – Joby Martin

10. The stuff that wears you out and that you aren’t good at is someone else’s unique ability. Learn to delegate. – Steve Stroope

11. Leadership is anticipation. It’s solving problems before anybody knows there is a problem. – Steve Stroope

12. The cross is not a tragedy it’s a strategy for His kingdom come. – Danielle Strickland

13. What if the lack of growth of the American church has more to do with the leader’s idolatry of success and bigger buildings than it does with the hard hearts of the people? – JD Greear

14. People aren’t primarily moved or changed by bullet points or sermons. They are changed when you give them a different story to live into. – Michael Frost

15. God captures not by force, but by the imagination of his fallen creatures. – Michael Frost

16. “What we need in America is multiplied weakness; tear filled pastors.” – Derwin Gray

17. Encoded into the DNA of suburban American is “be safe”, “build houses,” “renovate your kitchen,” “send your kids to the best schools.” Left to their own devices they will be sucked into the American dream. The only thing that will draw them out is story….Stop only telling people that Jesus died on the cross for their sins. Tell them what it could look like if they lived like Jesus. Tell them the story of God and what it could look like if they saw heaven. – Michael Frost

18. We often never become who God has created us to be because we allow ourselves to be who everyone expects us to be. – Dave Rhodes

19. Influence is what happens when everyone is gathered. Impact is what happens when everyone is scattered. – Dave Rhodes

20. Jesus didn’t just come and die on a cross. He lived before us. Why? To show us how to live. – Hugh Halter

21. Close proximity to people doesn’t mean you condone their behavior. It just means you are with them like Jesus was.       – Hugh Halter

22. To be self-righteous is to think that others’ sins are worse than yours. – Hugh Halter

23. In today’s world nobody belongs anywhere because everybody belongs everywhere. – Michael Frost

24. A transactional gospel translates to people who don’t need discipleship. It’s simply a transaction. I receive Christ and I get out of hell. We need to recover the full gospel. Follow me. Come and die. It’s all of life. – Bobby Harrington

25. Jesus is not a footnote to our story. He is the story. – Derwin Gray

What a Life…Happy Birthday Dean Smith!

Dean Smith.

Does this name mean anything to you? To thousands of people it means the world. Sadly, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, he passed away 3 weeks ago. He would have been 84 years old today.

Dean Smith (Coach Smith to those who knew him) was the head basketball coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels for 36 seasons. His coaching accomplishments on the court are widely known and respected. His teams won 879 games, 2 National Championships,13 ACC Tournament titles and appeared in 11 Final Fours.

While those numbers are remarkable, his greatest legacy is who he was off the court.

I’ve often heard it said that “success is when those closest to you say the best things about you.” If that’s true, Dean Smith is one of the most successful people ever to live.

Through reading numerous articles, blogs, tweets and quotes from journalists, players, coaches, staff and others associated with the “Carolina Family” I’ve realized it will be difficult to find another Dean Smith. It will be difficult to find another person who was loved by so many for who he was. Those closest to him truly said the best things about him.

He was extremely humble.

He modeled and expected excellence.

He was a man of integrity.

He fought racial discrimination and helped to integrate Chapel Hill.

He was deeply shaped by his Christian faith and it propeled him to speak out against social injustices.

He had a remarkable memory which helped him to remember people’s names and details about their lives.

He genuinely cared for people. Not just cared about people. Not just cared what he could get out of people. Not just cared when people were useful to him. Not just cared for people when they were around. He truly cared for people. And not just some people. He cared for all the people he came in contact with.

I had the privilege of playing for a high school basketball coach, Ed Wills, who was a manager on the 1993 North Carolina National Championship team. Coach Wills was the one who taught me how to shoot the correct way. He brought to our team years of basketball knowledge. Looking back now, I realize many of the lessons he worked to instill in us were undoubtedly learned while at Carolina. And for that, among other things, we were fortunate and I am thankful. I’ll never forget a few conversations with Coach Wills as he recounted his relationship with Dean Smith. Coach Wills wasn’t a star player on Carolina and to Dean Smith that didn’t matter. Dean Smith knew his name. Knew his family. Knew about his coaching career. Kept in contact with him after he left Carolina. Dean Smith was only a “phone call away.” And Coach Wills was one of thousands who could recount a similar relationship. Remarkable.

In a world where most everyone cares about “being known,” or “knowing the famous,” Dean Smith was a breath of fresh air. He knew thousands of people, and yet the mailman or grocery store bagger felt valued by him.

And what’s remarkable is that he didn’t just show the intention to care about people. He tangibly showed it. He wrote letters. Made phone calls. Remembered names. Gave gifts. Gave of his time.

He wasn’t hurried, distracted or too busy.

He was consistent.

He was a person of power that could have made himself more powerful. Instead, he leveraged his power to help others.

He was present.

Were he alive now, I doubt he’d ever trip over a crack in the sidewalk from staring at the latest status updates on his iPhone. He wouldn’t have been concerned over what was going to happen tomorrow. He would have focused on today. He would have focused on what was right in from of him. Who was right in front of him.

I could obviously go on and on. What a life.

Happy Birthday, Dean Smith!

May more people live with integrity. May more people live out their faith. May more people genuinely care for others. May more people live in the present. And might “I” be a part of those “more people.”

A collection of articles about Dean Smith can be found here.

Have You Asked Yourself These 3 Questions?

I had only been serving at Bell Shoals for a couple of weeks when Gary Payne, our current Executive Pastor, came into my office. He checked in to see how Rachel and I were adjusting to the constant state of sweat we now found ourselves in as new Floridians. We chatted about ministry for a while. And then he shared an illustration that hasn’t left me since that day. Here’s basically what he said:

“Have you ever been to the mall? Unless you visit often, you don’t always remember exactly where every store is located. So what do you do? You find the nearest map. And that map shows you a layout of every store in the mall. You find the store you want to go to and head for it. Right? No. After finding the store, you have to find a star that says, “You are here.” Then you see how you are going to get from where you are to where you want to go. Effectively leading your ministry requires you to ask three questions: Where are you now? Where are you going? How will you get there?”

Now Gary intended this illustration to guide me in leading my ministry. And it has. It’s an excellent exercise I regularly go through. But I don’t only use it for ministry. I’ve used it in many other areas of my life. You can too. Let’s break it down a bit.

Where Are You Now? Evaluation.

Maybe you are in the ideal place right now. But for most, there is some area of our lives that we would love to do better. The difficulty is that we love to make ourselves feel good about where we are. We’re good at justifying. We don’t want to admit we may be deficient because to do so we would have to own it and take some level of responsibility. And that’s hard. That hurts. Whether or not your current circumstances are outside of your control is irrelevant. There is something you and I could do to make it better. To start we have to get real. Get honest. Stop the excuses. Stop blaming others.

We will never get to the ideal place we desire if we aren’t honest about where we currently are. Because denial is an impediment to growth. So let’s get real. And get specific. It’s what’s best.

Maybe one or more of these is you:

-I’m 30 pounds overweight.

-I’m hanging out with the wrong crowd.

-I rarely if ever exercise or strive to eat healthier.

-I’m not currently on a budget.

-I struggle with watching porn.

-I don’t give regularly to the church.

-My ministry has lost 3 volunteers and 30 members in the last 6 months.

-I can’t remember the last time I prayed, read the Bible or went to church.

-I have very little satisfaction at my job.

-I’ve only spent 3 quality days with my family in the last 3 months.

-God has gifted me to___________.

Where Are You Going? Vision.

Where would you like to see yourself in 5, 10, 15, 20 or 30 years? If you could do or be something and not fail, what would you go for? If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? What picture of the future would you like to see come to fruition in your life? What do you dream about becoming reality? These questions get at what milestones you want to accomplish. And once you have them, you have a preferred future to strive for. Here are some examples:

-I will one day be the leader of an organization.

-We will be the most accepting ministry environment anyone ever enters.

-I will run a marathon this year.

-I want to never look at porn again.

-I want to write a book.

-I will spend 1 day a week focused exclusively on my family.

-I will live by a financial budget and seek to raise my level of giving.

-I will tangibly serve others and lead my family to do so.

-I passionately love God and allow him to lead me in every area of my life.

-Our ministry will raise $100,000 to help feed impoverished children in our city.

How Will You Get There? Strategy.

Lots of people live their life without a plan. They think they will eventually end up where they need to be. Not true. People end up at less than ideal destinations every day wondering what happened. This is really the most important of the three steps. Without it you will be a miserable dreamer always wondering “why.” Develop a strategy that will take you from where you are to where you want to be. It’s going to consist of a lot of “start doings” and “stop doings.” It also requires discipline. So if you’re serious, then commit for the long-haul. It’s a journey.

-Throw away the junk food in your pantry. And go shopping for healthier options. Commit to only bringing healthy options into your home.

-Get new friends.

-Set your alarm earlier so you can exercise and spend time with God.

-Find someone who understands finances and can help you accomplish your goals. Create a budget and stick to it.

-If your current job is a bad fit, start looking for one that allows you to thrive.

-Upload software on your computer to prevent you from looking at porn.

-Go to college or pursue some other form of education.

-Regularly read and study business or ministry leaders to help you work towards your vision.

-Write out your plan, then tell someone and have them hold you accountable to it.

I may not know you or your story. But I do know that the people who made it to where they wanted to be didn’t accidentally arrive there. They evaluated where they were. Had a vision of where they wanted to go. And developed a strategy to get them there. You can too. Just remember the map at the mall.

You Don’t Know It All…And That’s Okay

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The older I get the more I realize I don’t know it all.

When I was younger, I thought I knew it all in at least a couple of topics. You did too (or do too) I’m sure. But then I went to college. And then to grad school. And then I moved from North Carolina to Florida. I met new people. I read more books. I used Google. And each day I realize more and more how little I know. But I also know more now than I’ve ever known before. How can both be true? Because the saying that your grandparents told you isn’t a lie: “The more you know the more you realize you don’t know.”

It’s a bit overwhelming, but it shouldn’t crush you or me. It should cause us to be humble in admitting we don’t know it all and hungry in pursuing what we want to know. Unfortunately the opposite often happens. We live like we know it all. We become arrogant and full of ourselves with what little bit we do know. We stop learning. We stop growing. And we start projecting an image of ourselves to others that is less than appealing.

Leaders struggle with this maybe more than anybody else. We think admitting we don’t know it all isn’t okay. We think it might show that we don’t know anything “at all.” We think it shows weakness. We think that people will trust us more when we act like we have all the answers and no questions. But in fact, the opposite is true. People follow leaders they can identify with. Those that are transparent enough to admit they don’t know it all attract followers. This doesn’t mean we as leaders can’t be confident in lots of truths. We can. And there is LOTS to be sure of. But it does mean that when we don’t know, it’s okay. And maybe we should let people know that. It humanizes us.

So how can you and I fight against thinking we know it all?

We have to be intentional about learning. And not just learning something new every once and a while. We have to commit to being life-long learners. When you learn something new, whether you realize it or not, you’re admitting you just gained something you didn’t have before. You realize that in fact you didn’t “know it all.”

Leaders cannot take people further than where they’ve been. And if you aren’t learning you aren’t going anywhere new. You’re stuck. And people don’t want to follow leaders who are standing still.

Whether you are a leader or not, you probably know you should read books if you want to learn and grow. And you should. More than that though, someone once told me that the best way to keep learning and growing is to ask a question in every situation you face: “What can I learn?” When I started doing that I began seeing things I never would have otherwise. I learned a lot and saw that I didn’t know it all.

But what if instead of asking “What can I learn?” you started asking “God, what do you want to teach me?” Do you see the flip? By asking that, you are no longer trying to teach yourself (learn) something from a situation. You’re trying, as best you can, to learn from someone who can and wants to teach you. You’re getting God’s perspective. When you start searching for what God wants to teach you, you learn and grow in ways beyond what self-reflection can accomplish. Why? Because God knows a whole lot more than you or I can figure out on our own.

You don’t know it all. And that’s more than okay.

What are your thoughts?

Pic Credit HERE

Why do the unnecessary?

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photo credit Here

A couple of months ago my awesome mother-in-law flew down to visit from North Carolina. My wife, Rachel, and I along with our new baby girl, Avonlea, got in the car to go pick her up at the airport. On the way, Rachel decided she wanted to surprise her mom by greeting her in the lobby of the terminal instead of waiting to see her in the “arrivals” car pick-up line. And not just that, she wanted to take our 3 month old baby in to the lobby as well.

Now, I could have responded with excitement and support of what Rachel wanted to do.
Unfortunately, I didn’t.

I said something like this: “I would have to drop you and Avonlea off at the arrivals area and then go park and wait. How far is the parking lot? Avonlea is sleeping. Do we really want to wake her up?
And what difference is it going to make? We are going to see her for several days. Can’t we just wait until she gets in the car? Why do you need to go to the lobby? That’s a lot on you and the baby.”

And then I said these three words

That’s not necessary.

Without missing a beat Rachel responded:
“Just because it isn’t necessary, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.”

Boom. I had the wind knocked out of me instantly. I was convicted. I felt really stupid. I had missed it completely.

Rachel was trying to do something for her mom that was more than expected. She wanted to show her how excited she was to see her. I was thinking about the inconvenience. How it would affect me.

It wasn’t necessary. The success of my mother-in-law’s visit didn’t depend on Rachel going into the lobby.
But that didn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

One of the greatest examples of the unnecessary is God’s instructions to Israel in the construction of the ark in Exodus 25:10-21. The Ark was to hold the 10 Commandments. Some of the instructions were to use pure gold, a certain type of wood and precise measurements.

The unnecessary gets bumped up a notch in Exodus 25:11: “Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it.” Do you see that? Even the part that wouldn’t be seen, inside, underneath the cover was to be pure gold.

Isn’t that unnecessary? Couldn’t the people have just built a sturdy, wooden box to carry the 10 Commandments? And even the inside had gold? Come on. Isn’t that a bit much?

Maybe.

But what if the box that held the 10 Commandments mattered because even it represented God? What if God was just as concerned about the inside of the ark, which nobody saw, as he was about the outside that everyone saw?

The truth is, when it comes to honoring God and connecting with people there is no such category as “unnecessary.” But rather, just things that “seem” unnecessary.

Because only by doing what seems unnecessary…
the things that don’t make sense to most people,
that are different,
that seem extreme,
that focus on the details,
that examine your private and public life…
will you begin to fully honor God and connect with people.

It’s a life of excellence.

It’s what we were made for.

And it’s a life that deep down we all want to live.

How could you do something this week that seems unnecessary to most that would honor God or connect with people?

What I learned from a waiter at outback

One of the many things I’m passionate about is food. I enjoy eating. And I really enjoy eating good food. No, great food. Better yet, “personal” food. You know, that food that you could eat a thousand times in a row and you would never get tired of. You want to eat it when you are having a good day or a bad day. The smell. The taste. The experience. It captivates you. It draws you in. You know you’ve found it when both your tummy and your heart are made happy by it. I don’t know what that is for you, but for me one food stands above the rest. There is no competition. Outback cheese fries!

A couple of months ago I went to a local Outback to have a plate of their mouthwatering cheese fries for an appetizer. And the way I eat them is by dipping them into some of Outback’s delicious ranch dressing. And yes, I know that greasy cheese and fatty ranch isn’t the best for me. But I really, really, really like their ranch, especially when it’s combined with cheese fries. I like it so much that I have to ask for extra ranch dressing each visit.

Well something happened during this trip to Outback that I can’t remember ever happening before. I didn’t have to ask for more ranch. As I was about to ask our waiter, Paul, for another cup of ranch he was walking towards our table with a cup in his hand. I was surprised and thankful. Then to top it off, when our dinner was brought out, Paul put a cup of ranch dressing on my dinner plate. Again, without me asking.

As I’ve thought back on that night, one word keeps coming to my mind—Anticipation.

Paul had an ability to anticipate what it was that I wanted without me ever asking him. He genuinely cared, engaged with me and others at our table, watched what we enjoyed and took mental notes. Then he acted on it. Paul’s ability to anticipate separates him from other waiters who never get the clues that people give them. I bet you’ve had a moment where someone anticipated something you wanted, needed or liked without you ever asking them. How did they know? Simple—they cared about you and got to know you.

Each day you have the opportunity to anticipate in the relationships you have. If you will do it, you will grow in those relationships and show to those people how much they matter to you. And you might just surprise them like a cup of ranch dressing surprised me.

What are some ways you could anticipate in the relationships you have?

*PHOTO CRED HERE*