Archives For Mission

Paper People Family BWAbout a year ago I was talking with a kidmin ministry leader and mentioned something about “family ministry.”  His response to me was, “Well, there are a lot of different opinions of what family ministry is, so I just don’t pay much attention to it.”  He spoke this as if that was all there was to say about that . . . end of topic. As I was thinking about his response, I began to realize that there has been so much talk about how to do family ministry (i.e. whether kids should be a part of corporate worship, whether there should be children’s church or Sunday school or not, whether family ministry means family events, or just having programs for every individual in the family) that most outsiders have confused how family ministry is implemented with what family ministry really is. This is not so surprising when most pastors think of ministry in general as a program–and, most kidmin pastors present a particular program as family ministry.

We are all guilty of confusing our models with our mission and our programs with ministry.

So, here is what I believe is true north as a family ministry leader:

Family ministry means that I spend equal amounts of time on two things:

  1. Creating a system that ensures that every child, teenager, college student and parent is connected with someone who feels responsible for knowing their next spiritual step and encouraging them to take it.
  2. Helping parents become active participants in their child or teenager’s spiritual formation.

That’s it. I run everything we do through that grid.  How are we helping parents become active participants in their child’s spiritual formation? How are we ensuring that everyone who walks through the door of the church is getting connected in a close personal relationship with someone who feels responsible for knowing their next spiritual step and encouraging them to take it?


I’m attending the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in Orlando and promised people attending my breakouts that I would put some resources online.  So here you go.

Breakout: I’m Not Creative: Leading people who don’t think they are creative.

I’m Not Creative Presentation Slides  (I use  Click the link to the left.  You have to sign up for a free account to download it.)

Breakout: Why Children are the Most Important People in Your Church

Why Children are the Most Important People in the Church Presentation Slides

Seasons of the Soul Handout

If you are looking for more information about the breakouts email me.  Or come to the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in San Diego.

When I’m fighting for more money for the Children’s Ministry budget, more space in the building, more volunteers, and more time for announcements during the service it really is because I believe that the child is the most important person in the church.   

How many adult problems would be solved if every preschooler who entered our churches left knowing they have a Heavenly Father who loves them?  Or what if every elementary child left knowing they can place their trust in Jesus for every area of their lives?  Or what if every High School student left knowing their place in God’s story and having made a lifetime commitment to serving Christ.  What if every college ministry developed that calling to life service?  What if everything we did for children focused on winning them to Christ . . .

The child is the most important person in the church because when you save a child you save a life.

Launch Sunday!

September 15, 2008 — Leave a comment

6 weeks ago we had no sound system, no cast, no vocalists, no Kidstuf dancers, no greeters, no tech people, no set, no kidstuf director (or at least she hadn’t started yet) and today we had our first Kidstuf production at River Park Community Church. Zero to full production in six weeks–that is an amazing feat. As noted by Jeff Cowan–putting this caliber of sound & audio system together was nothing less than supernatural. Putting a production like Kidstuf together in less than 6 weeks was nothing less than supernatural.

Some facts:
5:3oam our trailer was picked up from storage.
6:00am: set-up began and was finished by 7:30am
10am over 120 people shared an expereince together called Kidstuf and learned that: “God knows everything, so we should learn what He says.”
At least 4 families came from the surrounding neighborhood in response to post cards that were passed out on Friday and our signs on Sunday morning. And . . . they registered their children for Upstreet.
By noon everything was taken down and loaded into the trailer, while our sound system was tuned for the room.
At 1:30pm I enjoyed lunch with my family.

Great work by an amazing team of people! We are praying that impossible things would happen through River Park Community Church so that there is no mistaking who gets all the glory.

Stats: 16 Adults (14 children)

Today we visited Reality Church in Carpinteria, CA. We went to the 8:30am service. Drove all over to find parking, because it was so jammed. We ended up parking 3 blocks away. I don’t know how many people the auditorium held, but it appeared there were over 500 people at the morning service.

Just an Observation: Over 500 people bypassed the beach (located only a block or so away from Reality) to attend church at 8:30am today. Not a bunch of old-folks–but twenty to thirty-somethings. This happened in a beach community, on a day when the surf was great–at 8:30 in the morning. This was one service–there were two more services. Everything else aside: that’s a win.

For those of you who missed our first launch team meeting, here is the inside scoop.

We want church to be irresistible. We want church to be the first option on Sunday morning. We want children to shake their parents out of bed on Sunday mornings to go to church. We want outsiders, people who don’t consider themselves religious, to attend church this Sunday and look forward to next Sunday. We think church should be irresistible.

When I read the New Testament, Jesus was irresistible. People loved Him or hated Him, but they couldn’t ignore Him. He couldn’t be marginalized. People didn’t pass Him by on the way to the beach or the mall. They either found Him to be irresistible or irritating–irritating enough to have Him killed. He wasn’t boring.

In Ephesians 1:22, 23 the church is called the body of Christ. As a gathering we represent Jesus Christ. It actually says we are the fullness of Him. We can talk about all of the many ways that we should be like Christ as an organization, but we don’t often talk about being “irresistible” like Christ. I am all for embodying Christ in all Biblical dimensions; somehow, though, we miss this one. When we miss this one we lose the attention of the community–but most of all the people we are trying to reach.

The mission of River Park Community Church is to lead people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We believe that a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is not a certain amount of Bible classes or knowledge, but three life-long pursuits: Intimacy with God, Community with other believers and Influence with those outside the faith. We believe that when a person is pursuing these three things, wherever they are on the road, they are maturing–they are leading a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

They are Biblical pursuits, they are the right pursuits. These are relational pursuits. Because they are relational pursuits they are impossible to execute as a church. I can’t force anyone to be in community, much less force anyone to have a relationship with God. So, as a church, we realize the mission to lead people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is an impossible mission. We can’t make it happen. It is the unique office of the Holy Spirit to make such relational pursuits happen. It is the Holy Spirit that initiates our relationship with God. It is the Holy Spirit that brings unity to the followers of Christ. It is by the power the Holy Spirit that we speak boldly. And . . . it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that a person is saved. So . . . we admit that we cannot engineer relationships and we cannot engineer life-transformation.

However, when I look back on what God used to transform my life, I realize that life-transformation happened in an environment. Whether it was a small group Bible study or missions trip, life-transformation happened in an environment. Most often it was an environment that fostered close personal relationships with other believers. It was a life on life environment where there was care, accountability and a sense of belonging. As a church we have concluded life-transformation happens best in close personal relationships. We are in the business of creating environments where that can happen.

If we get down to what churches really are, they are a cluster of environments. Hopefully they are environments designed to partner with the work of the Holy Spirit to lead us in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Hopefully they partner with the Holy Spirit rather than place obstacles in the way of those trying to get to know God (Acts 15).

We believe that leading people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ is an impossible mission. But . . . we can create environments that encourage and equip people to develop an intimate relationship with God, community with other believers, and influence with people outside the church. We believe this happens best in a small group environment where close personal relationships can be fostered and people can experience care, accountability and belonging–that is community. We call small groups our destination. We want everyone to arrive at this destination. Everything else we do as a church leads to this destination. Everything else is a step along the path toward small groups.

However, we know that people don’t just want to jump in and get naked. If the person across the counter at the dry cleaner started divulging all of his marital problems while you were trying to pick up your wool sweater, that would just be weird. We believe there has to be a place where people can enter as guests and become friends before they become family.

In fact we believe that most people think church is for church people not for them. So . . . they are most likely not interested in joining a small group in your church. So we create an environment that is designed specifically for guests: it’s called Sunday morning. It is designed to change people’s minds about church. The next step might be an environment designed to introduce people to small groups; a place designed to change a person’s mind about community. This is where a person moves from a guest to a friend. Once they have connected in a small group they are family. Our job is simple:

Our job is to create irresistible environments that lead to small groups.

Our task for the next five months:
1. to build a launch team of 75 members by September 14th
2. to build a resource pool of $250,000 by September 14th

We have 26 launch team members and have raised $153,000 (one time gifts, monthly commitments, staff tithes and GHC matching funds.)

Take-away: Invite people you know to become members of the River Park Community Church launch team.

Who’s in?

January 23, 2008 — Leave a comment

Inside/outside. Something is either in or out. You cannot be both completely inside and completely outside. It is a spacial impossibility. However, you can be on the outside looking in or on the inside looking out. But in order to do so, you have be in a certain place at a certain time. Place and time make inside and outside possible.




As a church planter, the most frequently asked question I get from church people is “Where is your building?” In church, we always say church is not a building, it is a people. But I am convinced, because of the frequency of questions like this, and more importantly the way we live our lives most church people believe that church is a place that we do things at more than it is anything else. In other words, if you ask people, “What is church?”, they will describe something they do at a place they go a few hours each week on Sunday.



This is the problem, when church is a place you do something at, it becomes a spacial reality. It has an inside and an outside. When you are on the inside you concern yourself with things that are inside. When I am in my house, I do household things. When I am inside, I militantly uphold the insideness of inside. I yell at my kids for playing with outdoor things inside. I talk about using “inside voices.” I have a whole cabinet full of bottles and spray cans filled with things especially designed to keep outside-dirt outside and outside-critters outside. Even within our very language—a castle becomes a ruin, when the outside has invaded the inside in the form of trees and bushes and lichen on the stairwells and in the banquet hall. I like the inside and I want to keep it that way. There is a whole regimen of things we do, unconsciously, to keep the outside outside and maintain the insideness of inside.



We have a whole regimen within the church of keeping what’s on the outside outside. Consequently, there is often a very strict and legal delineation of who and what is in and who and what is out. What is “in” is really spiritual, what is “out” is carnal and unspritiual. What is “in” is pure and what is “out” is corrupt. At its worst we divide reality between what is spiritual and what is not. Everything inside the church begins to appear to be the only thing that is spiritual and everything else–well . . . it is going to hell in a handbasket. So . . . we spend a great deal of time making sure that who and what we are attached to isn’t in that handbasket. The problem with this conception is that it isn’t true. Yes there are truths and there are lies. The “Truth” does exist. There are right things and wrong things. But . . . everything is spiritual. In the Bible, the author of Hebrews, writes “That in Him we move and have our being.” We worship the God of the heavens (The “heavens” is literally the very air around us. And it is in it that we live and move and breath. And it is from it that God speaks.)



There are really two streams of thought in the world: “Know thyself” and “Love they neighbor.” “Know thyself” epitomizes the inward quest. It assumes that in order to know the world, I must first know myself. Historically, Christianity stood for the concept that knowledge of self is not an inward pursuit but an outward pursuit. I.e. “I truly know myself when I know and love God—a personality outside myself.” Ironically, when I know God who is outside myself, He comes inside and makes me a sort of dwelling for himself. That is when I truly become me. In that instant outside is inside. It breaks all spacial rules.


To further complicate things, Jesus said that the pursuit of knowing and loving God is related to “loving thy neighbor.” In first John 4, the apostle makes the relationship between the two even clearer. Everyone who knows God, loves his neighbor(brother); one who doesn’t love his brother does not know or love God, because God is love. The two commandments are two sides of the same coin. Loving our neighbor is an expression of our love for God. It is a testimony of the character of God which is love.



If this is true for us individually, could it be true of us organizationally? When we know and love God, in some ways the inside/outside dichotomy breaks down. It really must, if we are to truly love our neighbor which according the Apostle John, is how the world will know that we are followers of Christ, could it be true that in order to fulfill our mission organizationally that the inside/outside dichotomy must break down?




Currently there is a raging debate over what church should and shouldn’t do. Largely it is a debate about what happens at a building for a few hours on Sunday. I think that this debate is based upon a huge assumption—that “church” is something we do a few hours on Sunday. This assumption is the fuel of the debate. What if church is something altogether different.


When Jesus says, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Is He talking about a few hours on Sunday? When He says of Peter’s faith, “Upon this rock, I will build a few hours on Sunday? When the Apostle Paul says the purpose of church “is to equip the saints for the work of service” is he referring to a few hours on Sunday? When the Apostle Paul says that the church is the hope of the world, are the things we do for a few hours on Sunday the hope of the world?

What if church really isn’t a place we go to a few hours on Sunday? What if we really believed and acted upon “We are the church.” At that point, it is not about about who is inside and who is outside. It is not about us against them. It is about us, a group of people, on mission to change “this.” “This” is everything else. It is every career, every invention, every musical composition, it is our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with our friends and family. “This” is everything. We are on mission to change it–to transform it according to vision of its creation.


July 19, 2007 — Leave a comment

It became popular a while ago to begin referring to people outside the church as pre-Christians. I have to say that the term, “pre-Christian” always made my toes curl. It seemed to assume too much. I happen to believe like a good Calvinist that there are people who will not follow Christ and that we don’t know who they are. So, to refer to everyone as pre-Christian lacked some form of honesty about the state of things.


However, I think I know in part where they were heading. There is another another theme among Christians that is possibly more dangerous than calling outsiders pre-Christians. It is assuming that the first step in a person’s spiritual journey is when they set foot on a church’s campus and attend a program. Another assumption closely related to this is assuming that the first step in a person’s spiritual journey is when they make a profession of faith. While I don’t often hear this articulated . . . no one says, “You don’t matter until you come visit us.” Churches program for this all of the time. Our programming and its emphasis on insiders, often states very clearly, you don’t matter until you participate in one of our programs. Then, inside those programs, the message is that you don’t really matter until you make a profession of faith.


I think the term, “pre-Christian,” attempted to convert those two themes. We need to realize that when a person steps on our campus it may not be the first step in their spiritual journey, but the first step in their spiritual journey with us. It may be the 5th or 100th step in the journey that God has been leading them on. The choice a person makes to set foot on a church campus is representative of a level of trust that God may be building into that person’s life. That step says “I think the church might have an answer to the problems of my life.” I fear too many churches then break that level of trust by programming in ways that either makes the next step a huge leap or by assuming that nothing spiritual can have been built into their lives except by the church. I can’t help but think that when that happens consistently in a church–when churches make the next step a huge leap, or ignore the work that God is doing in the lives of people outside the church’s walls and outside the church’s direct influence–that God loses interest in such churches. God stops bringing people to those kinds of churches. God is looking for churches that will partner with him. To put it in theological terms, God is looking for churches that can see his work of prevenient grace in the lives of people before they ever attend our church—then create environments that welcome them and help them take the next step.

Core values: We all have them. If I were “freudian,” I would say the part of the iceberg that is above the water line–the smallest part, the part that we can see–represents our actions. The bigger part–the part below the surface, the part we can’t see, the part capable of sinking the Titanic–represents our core ideology. According to Collins & Porras core ideology consists of an organizations core purpose and core values.

One of the biggest contributions of the purpose-driven movement has been the emphasis on articulating purpose statements for church organizations. As a result we have taken our staffs on 3 day retreats devoted to hammering out purpose statements. And like many other churches we have come up with purpose statements that look very similar. They are similar because the Bible is pretty clear on the purpose of the church. The Biblical church has a dual purpose: evangelize the lost and disciple the saints. Many churches have articulated this in different ways, but the purpose of the church is unchanging in whatever way it is worded. Whether we say the purpose of the church is “to lead people in a growing relationship with Christ,” or to “turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ” , or “reaching seekers; building believers” or “To bring people to Jesus and membership in his family, develop them to Christ-like maturity, and equip them for their ministry in the church and life mission in the world, in order to magnify God’s name” or “the purpose of the church is to glorify God (Ephesians 3;21) by building itself up in the faith (Ephesians 4:13-16), by instruction of the Word (2 Timothy 2:2, 15; 3:16-17), by fellowship (Acts 2;47; 1 John 1:3), by keeping the ordinances (Luke 22:19; Acts 2:38-42) and by advancing and communicating the gospel to the entire world (Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8; 2:42)” or “Spreading a passion for the supremacy of GOD in all things, for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ” the Biblical church has a dual purpose: evangelize the lost & disciple the saints.

Church purpose statements are not that interesting. In fact, I am not convinced that purpose statements have been really effective in guiding what a church does and doesn’t do. You may have recognized some of the statements above. In order, they are the purpose statements of Northpoint Community Church; Willow Creek; Willow Creek Association Brand Logo; Saddleback Community Church Purpose; Grace Community Church, Sun Valley California—Pastor John MacArthur; Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minesota—Pastor John Piper. If you are somewhat familiar with what is happening on the church scene you are probably familiar enough with the above churches to know that while the purpose statements have all of the key ingredients the churches they represent have widely differing views on doing church If you look closely at the statements you will be able read between the lines enough to see that there are philosophy of ministry tidbits expressed in their word choice. However, the average person would be hard pressed to recreate Northpoint, or Grace Community Church with their purpose statements alone. The reason why is because the brevity of a purpose statement prevents the articulation of the core values of a church. And it is the core values that guide how the purpose of the church is carried out.

On a side note. It has become very popular to talk about Biblical worldview. I think that core values can be understood in a similar way. We all have a worldview, whether we think we have one or not. We don’t have a choice in not having one, only whether our worldview will be well thought out or not. Core values are the same way. We all have them as individuals. Core values shape the way we view the world and how we react to particular situations. Core values help us prioritize what we do. They also draw us to others and to other organizations that share our core values. I also believe that an individual’s core values don’t really change–they are discovered. An organization’s values, while more malleable than an individual’s, are also strongly resistant to change. They are only malleable in organizations because an organization’s values are lived out by the individuals that comprise it. Individuals can be replaced. However, for those who have tried, changing the core values of an organization is like rearranging a cemetery.

We have all seen dozens of value statements for businesses. What retail business, for example, doesn’t value customer service? We all know that businesses value customer service because they value making a profit. But when was the last time you saw a value statement that reads: we value integrity, raking in the dough and customer service? You probably won’t ever see one like that. Also, when did a value statement at MacDonald’s ever guarantee an experience marked by great customer service? Value statements are ineffective if the individuals that make up the organization value other things more. In such cases the value statements on the wall are only aspirational–they are dreams–that may often by trumped by the true core values of the individuals running the organization.

In church world we have also seen many value statements. Many of them look remarkably the same, and yet the churches look remarkably different. This happens when the individuals that comprise the church value other things more. Often what is written on the wall is not happening down the hall. In such cases there are obviously some values that are more core and assumably not expressed in the value statement. These values are guiding what the church does and doesn’t do. For example, what church doesn’t say they value evangelism? Yet, church attendance, conversions and baptisms have been declining nationally for the past 50 years. Last year the Southern Baptist Convention reported that 7000 churches in its own denomination didn’t baptize a single person. 3000 churches baptized only one person. What is happening in a denomination that has historically placed such a high value on evangelization? Because what is on the wall is not happening down the hall in this denomination, such realities beg the question. What do the people of the church value more? What are we going to do about it?

While the answer to that question is beyond the scope of this post, let me turn this back toward the direction of the discussion started in The Mighty Mouse Trap. I am not going to go into a lot of detail about what is really at the core of the “outreach” church’s values in this post. I want to dig into what the “teaching” church values. As we said before, both church models say they value discipleship and evangelism. Yet, they have very different ways of doing it. So what values are really shaping the way the “teaching ” church does church?

A friend of mine, John Turner, who has some great thoughts on church, posted something I believe is apropos in this discussion. You can visit his site at He writes:

Are you a minister (focused on “insiders”) or an evangelist (focused on “outsiders”)?

Every church has to make a decision about this. You can do a lot of work with both insiders and outsiders in mind, but eventually those two core values will come into conflict and one will have to win out. Which will it be?

In other words, you can have one of the following two goals:

  • We will reach as many new people as we can while our energy is primarily focused on keeping as many of the people we already have


  • We will keep as many of the people we already have while our energy is primarily focused on reaching as many new people as we can

One of these sees ministry (keeping insiders) as the end and mission (reaching outsiders) as the means. The other sees mission as the end and ministry as the means.


I think John is on the right track. I believe that the “teaching” church model largely sees the mission as a means to doing ministry (i.e. the teaching church expends most of its energy trying to keep as many people as it can while reaching as many people as it can.) The “outreach” church sees mission as the end and ministry as the means. (i.e. keeping as many people as they already have while focusing on reaching as many new people as they can.) To take this a step further, I believe that there are some other core values that create this sort of prioritization. Both of these–ministry & mission or discipleship & evangelism–are core–but what is it that prioritizes these for the respective models?

Let me end with a few quotes that I think summarize the value that makes mission serve ministry in the teaching church. In the introduction to the book Future Grace, John Piper writes: “. . . this book is driven by the conviction that right thinking shapes right living” (Piper 12). I might add that most teaching pastors believe teaching the right information is what shapes right thinking, that shapes right living. Another pastor has put it like this “Our capacity to praise and trust God is dependent upon our understanding of His essential nature. . . . the more you know about God, the more you understand his nature, the more you understand what He is trying to do in your life and mine, then the more we can praise Him and serve Him.” I.e. what you know shapes how you live. And what you know is shaped by what is taught.

The full implications of this value will require greater discussion, but I want to end with one thought. C.S. Lewis once said that he would rather play cards with a gentleman than with a philosopher. For, the gentleman would be bound by his honor not to cheat while the philosopher would only be bound by his knowledge.

A Little Detour

June 1, 2007 — Leave a comment

I am convinced that every path has a destination. I also believe that organizations, just like individuals can place themselves on a path that leads to a particular destination. This happens despite good intentions, despite how smart our leadership is, despite how relevant our programming is. Organizationally, the modern church has arrived at a destination. What it is facing is not a discipleship problem or an evangelism problem. It is not something we can fix by adding a program or ministry or hiring another ministry leader. The church has just arrived at a destination. It has simply arrived at the end of a path that it has been unknowingly walking for nearly 100-150 years. The church has arrived at a destination where church systems are in direct competition with God’s design for the family. One of the most troubling ramifications of this destination is that it has produced systems that short circuit our most powerful evangelism strategies and our most powerful form of discipleship. We have arrived at a destination where our church systems are not aligned with a fundamental principle of relationships—particularly family relationships.

I know that this is an audacious statement. What church doesn’t describe itself as “family-friendly”? We run children’s programs. Alongside every adult program we offer something for the kids. We preach 12 week series on family relationships. We have parenting classes, discipline classes, age-appropriate Sunday Schools. We have replaced education directors with family pastors and started family ministries. We invest lots of money and volunteers in VBS programs, summer camps, family camps, midweek discipleship programs, age graded Sunday school curriculum and colorful take-homes. We have experimented with intergenerational environments from small groups to large groups. Certainly by the shear number of resources and programs we offer we are living in an age when the church is the most “family friendly” it has ever been.

And yet . . . as I talk with children’s and family pastors there is a growing unease—a sense that things are just not right. We know that nearly 50% of those who say they are Christians tell us that they made the decision to follow Christ during their school years. We know this is true because we see kids coming to Christ in our programs; we have led some of them to Christ ourselves. But we also see 60-80% of them walking away from their faith in their first year of college. Some say they need a curriculum that has a more comprehensive Biblical Worldview. We know that they are right. Our children need a worldview that is based on the Bible. Some say they need the Bible to be taught in relevant and compelling ways. We know that they are right. Our children need to see that what the Bible has to say is relevant and compelling. Some say we need to make church irresistible. We know that they are right. Our children need to see church as the best hour of their week. And yet . . . when we arrive at the place where our curriculum teaches a comprehensive Biblical world view in compelling and relevant ways and church is irresistible will our children have arrived? Will we still feel uneasy? Do you notice the subtlety? What if the perfect curriculum, Sunday school class or church program is not enough? I think that the answer is that it is not enough.

C.S. Lewis said that once we discover that we have taken a wrong turn in our spiritual lives that we often assume we can just jump back on the right road where we left off. He insists that instead we must retrace our steps, go all of the way back to where we made the wrong turn, before we can begin moving in the right direction. I think that is exactly where the church is as it relates to the family. The problem is, that none of us were around when the church began taking this path. We don’t know what the detour looked like. Where is that fork in the road that led to the destination we are at? Worse, however, is many of our churches have traveled the path so long and are so far down the path that they don’t even realize that our churches are not family friendly. Jesus said “when the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness.”

What happened 100-150 years ago that placed the church on this path? What is God’s design on the family? In what ways do church systems militate against the family? What do we need to do to fix it? What do we need to do to restore the family?

I have learned over the years that teachers, especially the good ones, have several enigmatic sayings like, “There is no such thing as teaching, only learning.”
As a first year teacher, I asked a good friend of mine and master teacher to observe my junior literature class. After the observation her advice came in this form. “My mother, who taught for 40 years, said to me, ‘Talking is not teaching.’”

Every teacher who is honest recognizes that grades don’t only reflect a student’s ability to learn; they also reflect a teacher’s ability to teach. As a teacher I had the accountability of frequent tests. Students demonstrated, at times weekly and daily, whether my talking was actually teaching. I saw it in their grades—whether they learned the lessons or not. A teacher has two options when it comes to teaching. They can learn the material and communicate it through talking. Or they can guide students through systems whereby the student arrives at the same destination as the teacher. I began to see teaching not as acquiring certain information, but arriving at a particular destination. In Communicating for a Change, Andy Stanley writes of the need for pastors to take people on a journey toward a particular destination rather than merely communicating information.

It is easy to stand on one side of the Grand Canyon and beckon to our students across the chasm, “Come on! You can do it!” Shouting out directions, “turn left there, go around that tree, no not that one.” It is another thing to walk back across the chasm and lead each student by the path we have come. Good teachers guide students down the path they have taken. The best teachers find short cuts and new paths based upon the student’s abilities—all the while with the goal at arriving on the other side. Some of our students may have a limp and have to take an alternate path. But it is our job to help them arrive at the same destination.

As pastors we are in the business of teaching. We want people to arrive at a particular destination. Let’s face it; we are sometimes called preachers, because we are seen primarily as talkers. With all of the talking, preachers are in the most danger of losing sight of what actually helps people get to the other side of the grand canyon. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that our processes/systems by and large trump what we say. Our processes and systems are our most powerful tools in helping people become spiritually mature.

At the 2006 Drive Conference the components of a system are defined as:
1. Expectations/rules

Example: Northpoint Community Church has a rule for its family production called “No Dropoffs” They expect for parents and children to attend Kidstuf together. They reinforce this expectation by not offering anything during the Kidstuf timeslot that would compete for a parent’s attention. There are no adult Sunday school classes on Sunday morning, no adult worship service occupying the same timeslot. Andy Stanley is rigorous about ending the service on time so that parents can pick up their children to attend together. There is a very important lesson here: Our stated expectations are meaningless if our systems reinforce different expectations.

Key Questions: What expectations do our systems reinforce? How can we align our systems with our expectations?

2. Rewards (or lack of) What is rewarded is repeated.

Example: We began a family production (a shared experience for children and parents) in our church in November of 2005. To see what we did, go to . Within a month we went from 15 children to 150 parents and children in the same room. Huge win if numbers was our win. It was extraordinarily tempting to advertise the success of our numbers. But a large crowd was not my goal—transformed lives was. I felt that I needed to make a conscious effort to redefine the win: from numbers to transformed lives. Shortly thereafter my team began to work on ways to gather stories of how the family production was impacting family’s lives. I intentionally began telling these stories rather than numbers to our production staff, small group leaders and church staff. I would retell the stories during the family production, while the team found creative ways to reward parents who were winning. I.e. teaching their children about faith and character during the week. We set up a discussion board on our website where parents and children could write about how they were interacting with the virtue of the month. The curriculum provided by was also very creative. We gave away a foot of duct tape for every story of resourcefulness written by the children. At the end of the month we taped our co-host to the wall. We had over 170 stories.

Key Questions: What do we reward? Do we reward the behaviors we want to see repeated? Are we currently rewarding things that we don’t want repeated?

3. Consequences (or lack of)

Example: over the summer we began enforcing small group leader/student ratios in our children’s small group program. This communicated several things. It communicated to our small group leaders that we did care about their sanity; it meant that we were serious about not slamming a single small group leader with a large group of 25 four year olds. It communicated to our parents that we cared about the safety of their children. There was an unforeseen positive consequence. In our laid back So. Cal beach climate we now have parents arriving early to ensure their child gets a spot in their small group. I think Jim Collins calls these policies with teeth.

Key Questions: Have you changed anything recently that resulted in inadvertent results? What were they? What about your system created them?

4. Communication (content and style)

According to David F. Wells, at the 2006 Desiring God Conference:
it becomes more and more imperative for preachers to make sure that the truth that they are preaching intersects with what is going on inside people’s minds so that the line is drawn so clearly, that people in their own lives know whether they are being obedient or not and what they should do with that truth when they have heard it. Now that is contextualization. And so it goes all the way through from people sitting in pews in American and missionaries preaching in Hindu contexts in India.

Our communication, its content must align with what we are trying to produce in our systems, and its style must intersect with what is going on inside people’s minds so they know what we are asking them to do.

Key Question: Am I spending time on Sunday communicating strategy to the church members? Does the content of my communication align with or contradict the created/established system?

5. Behavior (of those in charge)
Example: I think we can all come up with some examples of this one. The most compelling reason to change is seeing such change lived out in our own lives as leaders.

Key Question: Where does my own behavior not align with my expectations of those who follow me? What must I do to change that? (By the way, when you do change misaligned behavior in your own life you have great power in helping others make the same change. Plus your living illustration is preachable.)