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Apostle PaulMaybe the reason we have so few fathers, husbands, parents . . .  fulfilling their roles as spiritual leaders is because we have made spiritual leadership so inaccessible.

Here’s what I think spiritual leadership is:

Spiritual Leadership is assuming the primary responsibility for knowing what a person’s next spiritual step is and encouraging them to take it.

The Apostle Paul’s relationship with Timothy is often the place people go to define the relationship between a leader and a follower.  The Apostle Paul, an older more mature spiritual veteran, church planter, preacher, Apostle and Timothy, the young gifted, green pastor of a new church.  I love the beginning of Paul’s second letter to Timothy,

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. II Timothy 1:3-12

The reason why I love this letter is because I believe it communicates exactly what I think spiritual leadership is.  Here’s a few observations:

  • Paul knows Timothy’s family.  He knew his mother Eunice, his grandmother Lois.  He obviously knew them well enough to know their sincerity of faith. Paul sees this same sincerity of faith in Timothy’s life.
  • Paul has an emotional burden for Timothy: “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy”
  • Paul not only knows the legacy of faith in Timothy’s family but he recognized Timothy’s own faith and commissions him for ministry: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands”
  • Paul knows Timothy struggles with fear and he encourages him not be afraid, but to trust the Spirit.

Everyone needs someone in their life like Paul. Someone who knows them, knows their family context, knows where they are at in their faith journey, has an emotional burden for them and encourages them to take the next step spiritually.  That’s spiritual leadership.


Lead Small is one of the best summaries of what it means to be an invested leader. I created this prezi for use in a small group leaders’ training I did a few months ago.  Feel free to use this as you develop small group leaders.

When we lead small we simply make a choice to invest strategically in the lives of a few over time so we can help them build an authentic faith.

from Lead Small by Reggie Joiner and Tom Shefchunas


I’ve had several people ask about getting information on the breakout I did at San Diego called Why Children Are the Most Important People in the Church–Everything you wish your senior pastor knew about Children’s Ministry.

So here is the information you are looking for.

Why Children are the Most Important People in the Children

Breakout Audio (MP3–I fixed the audio so that it is a littler clearer than what you may have bought at CPC)

Seasons of the Soul

Thanks for coming to my breakout.

The 4-14 Window

September 30, 2011 — 2 Comments

What we do during this window may be the most important thing we do.

Back in the day, there was a famous preacher story that circulated amongst what were then known as “Christian Education Directors”–our modern day family pastors. It was said that D.L. Moody had come back from a tent revival meeting where he reported that 2 1/2 people were saved. Whoever he was talking to replied, “You mean, two adults and one child?” D.L. Moody responded, “No, two children and one adult.” Because when you save a child you save a life.

Sounds like philosophy 101. Imagine two people are tied to a railroad track. One is a 45-year-old adult. One is a 2-year-old child. You only have time to save one before they are killed by an oncoming train. Do you save the 45-year-old adult or the 2-year-old child? (It depends on if the adult is a choir member or a children’s small group leader ☺)

While I don’t think this is D.L. Moody’s commentary on innate human value, the point is pretty obvious: Children should be the center of the church because they have their whole lives ahead of them. As Gordon MacDonald said during the Orange Conference two weeks ago:

The most important person in a church is the baby.

I wish he had had the opportunity to elaborate on this thought. Since he didn’t, I will. The baby is forming their first impressions of the world and most importantly the first impressions of who God is. And, they are going to form this foundation largely upon their interactions with adults and more specifically the adults that spoon food into their mouths: Mom and Dad. It won’t be what is taught, but what is caught as they observe the behavior of the most important people in their lives. With a baby we are helping them form the foundation of their view of God. Someone really famous I can’t remember said, “The child is the father of the man.”

Research shows that children as early as age two are stitching together the big pieces of their worldview, beliefs and behavior and by age nine most children have settled upon the spiritual beliefs they will carry with them through adulthood. Which means, children are impressionable, adults are not. It means, with children we are partners in forming the foundation of their belief system; with adults we are only tinkering with the foundation that has already been laid. Try working on the foundation after the house is built.

However, we didn’t need modern research to tell us this. Around 400BC, Socrates in Plato’s Republic believed the best way to ensure the prosperity of the “polis” was to take all the boys away from their mothers at an early age and “educate” them. Thus, they could be sure that all of the foundational principles of the Republic would become part of a person’s identity at a young age. If it sounds a little like brainwashing, it kind of was. Just in case you are on Who Wants to Be a Millionare: this was what John Dewey—the Dewey decimal system guy—had in mind in his vision of the public school system; a place where the government would take children from their homes to ensure that they were being properly educated with only the “right thoughts” appropriate for a liberal citizen of the American Republic. BTW: Mortimer Adler fought against this and suggested that the answer was not teaching children only the “right thoughts,” but how to think critically. There are very few schools based upon his model. Maybe he should have come up with a library index system also.

So that is the historical and social science view. However, our own tradition goes back at least 1000 years earlier than Socrates to Moses at about 1400BC. So here I’m going to leave this post hanging—because I’d like to develop the historical view in a little more detail.

What are you doing at your church with the babies to give them a first impression of who God is?

The church is the hope of the world.  It is the instrument of God’s redemption and restoration.  Which is one of the reasons why the church ought to be the best run, most effective organization on the planet.  So, every once in a while we need to be brutally honest with ourselves.  Are we doing everything we can to reach everyone we can?  And more importantly, because we can’t do everything are we investing in the programs and strategies that will have the greatest impact in our churches, in our communities and in our world for Christ and His Kingdom?

I’m going to get a little metaphorical with an Old Testament passage.  And here is where I’m going to get brutally honest. (And maybe a little negative.)  In Joshua 7, the Israelites get cocky in their campaign against the Canaanites.  They scout out the city of Ai and decide they don’t need to send the whole army.  After all, Ai is a puny town with a bunch of girly men (according to the report.)  So they send 3000 men.  Why weary the whole army?  Meanwhile Achan has taken some of the plunder from their last battle and buried it in his tent, directly disobeying God’s command that “everything” was to be destroyed.  Consequently, Joshua’s army is routed by the girly-men at Ai and thirty-five men are killed.  Joshua is in shock.  He goes to God saying, “Did you bring us out here to be slaughtered by the Amorites?  Maybe we should have just stayed on the other side of the Jordan River—I’m just saying.”  In the end, Achan is found out (with the assistance of an old testament lottery system).  He confesses; they take care of him (they take him out and stone him) and go on to defeat the Amorites at Ai.  This time they take the whole army.

Let me just be bold.  I think church leaders have buried some idols in the church tent.  Now, I’m not talking about pornography, infidelity or some moral failure—although there is a lot of press around that.   The idol that is buried in the programs of many churches is that we have made the adult worship service and ministry to adults the center of the church.  I actually had a senior pastor draw me a picture of this once.  Here is what it looked like.

Notice how everything is ancillary to the main thing—the worship service?  He explained that the reason this must be so is because it is in the adult worship service where the Word of God is preached. (I’m not sure he knew what was going on in the kid’s classrooms.)  I had to clarify that in this case it was the place where the Word of God is preached to adults.  After which, a plate is passed around that adults put money into.  (I know this was a bit of a cheap shot, but I couldn’t help myself.)

Here is the bottomline—we’ve gotten a little cocky about the effectiveness of our adult strategy.  We have only mobilized a portion of the army at only a segment of the population.  And, we are getting routed.  The influence of the church is declining and future leaders are going undeveloped.

Henrietta Mears said ages ago that when you look at most churches–their programming, their staff, and their budgets–it appears that children must first become prodigals, then we will go about putting together elaborate programs and events to save them. Think about all of the money, volunteers and resources be put behind outreach events for adults.  What if we reversed this?  What could you do in your community if the worship department gave you the Christmas Pageant Budget?  What if all of those countless volunteer hours spent in rehearsals beginning in July (Christmas in July?) were spent praying for children and families, calling and visiting families and their children, and equipping people to become better small group leaders and Sunday school teachers for all of the families that will show up in the fall?  What if the adult Sunday school class that has been meeting for the last ten years, disbanded and took all of that knowledge and wisdom they acquired and committed to investing in a small group of kids every week for an entire year?  Isn’t that the kind of small group leader or Sunday school teacher we all want for our kids?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the fact that Jesus put the child in the midst of His ministry and therefore we should put the child in the midst of the church.  Not only do I believe that God blesses this, but that if we were really honest this would be the most strategic use of our resources and it would bear the most fruit for the Kingdom of God in the future.  I.e. putting children in the middle of the church is a great growth strategy–maybe because it was Jesus’ strategy.  Christianity has always been a youth movement.

What would the next generation look like if a church invested in its youngest members?  Would we need as many Christmas Pageants and Easter events?  Maybe with enough resources we could do VBS every Sunday!

Legos on the floor

April 1, 2011 — Leave a comment

When we had a baby we made sure that everything revolved around “the baby”—wipes were always within arms reach; we had baby toys, baby gates, baby furniture, baby food, baby everything. Now we have five kids and there are legos on the floor. And, the cat that I brought into the marriage has since been replaced with animals I had never thought of owning: 3 guinea pigs, 5 chickens, 1 one white fluffy sorry excuse for a dog and three rabbits, two of which are pregnant. (Don’t tell my HOA. We exceeded the domestic animal limit long before the rabbits were pregnant.) When you have kids, the environment, the rhythms, the grocery list, that smell in the car, are all fundamentally impacted by kids.

I think there are several reasons why:

  • Children are the most vulnerable—and the youngest are more so. I’m not really concerned that my ten year old is going to put guinea pig poop in her mouth, but that is a real possibility with our 10 month old. (Not that I have any experience with this!)
  • Children will learn more by the time they are five, than they will learn in the rest of their lives. So, we ensure that they have all of the latest learning toys and we get paranoid if they are not speaking in full sentences by their first birthday.
  • Children are more moldable than they will ever be in their lifetime. What is rooted in the heart of a child is almost impossible to uproot in the life of an adult. All the more reason why parents and children’s ministry need to focus on placing an anchor of faith in the heart of a child.
  • Children are forming their understanding of the world, of relationships, of love, of God, in short they are impressionable. We should be intentional as parents about ensuring that they get the right impression about these things. Especially when most of those impressions are made when interacting with the people closest to them—the parents.

We easily get hyperfocused on the first two: safety and education. Partly because safety is pretty easy to quantify. I know when something is safe and know when something is not. So I lock the gate to the pool, I make sure there are no choking hazards on the floor, and I make my kids wash their hands after they play with the guinea pigs. Education is about information and experience. I’m pretty certain I have satisfied that one by getting my kid the right books, into the right school and on the right soccer team.

And quite honestly—we are hyperfocused on this because our culture has promoted a lot of fear around the first two. (If my kid doesn’t crawl before they walk, they might have a hard time learning to read. If I immunize them, they might become autistic. If I don’t give my kids enough experiences they will fail, so I make sure they learn to play the piano, to speak Japanese, to play soccer, and t-ball, take swim lessons etc. . . We can sell magazines and write news stories with this kind of stuff.

But the last two are probably more important. They are also harder to accomplish because they are developed in the context of relationship. And here is where this post will leave you hanging.

How do you develop the last two? Also, what would a church look like that became intentional about developing the last two?

Not long ago it was popular in many Christian parenting programs to “schedule” your kids—i.e. make your child know in no uncertain terms that your life doesn’t revolve around their rhythms but yours— and you do this from the littlest age by putting them on a feeding and napping schedule—make sure that they know that life revolves around us and not them, because in doing so we would ensure that they wouldn’t become selfish (like us—I never quite understood that part.) Ironically, even if you have “scheduled” your kids—the environment, the rhythms, the grocery list, that smell in the car, are all fundamentally impacted by kids.

So much so, that the moment you walk into a house you can almost immediately tell if there are young kids living there. Funny thing is, there are thousands of churches out there who say they are family churches, that they have made children their “top” priority, but you wouldn’t know it when you walk in on Sunday—it doesn’t look like children go there—the environment isn’t different, the greeters don’t know where the kids go, the classrooms are “multi-purpose” which means capable of being used by “adults” for anything they would like to do, the schedule isn’t different, teachers are on rotation so they don’t miss too much of their Sunday school class, the grocery list hasn’t changed, space and time and budget are still largely spent on adult ministry and the foyer still smells like grandma’s closet. Sometimes I think we have “scheduled” kids and children’s ministry in our churches around the adults.

We must remember that Jesus placed the child in the midst. And just like Jesus we ought to put the child in the center of the church. Instinctively we know this in the home, but I’m not sure we have figured it out in the church. I happen to believe that the degree to which the church does this, the greater the impact it will have on the community and the world. Before I talk about why . . . what do you think?

In my last post I promised some best practices for charging a registration fee for Vacation Bible School.

Here are my TOP 6:

1. Make sure that paying is not an obstacle for anyone by offering scholarships.

2. Make it a policy that no one will ever be turned away because they can’t afford it.

3. Alert your church and volunteers to listen for people that cannot afford VBS, but might not tell you.  In other words employ several “narks with love” who will rat out the people who may really be considering not attending for financial reasons.  Then let those families know, in a discreet, honoring way that they don’t need to pay the registration fee.

4. Make the fee nominal. Our fees never covered the total expense. And you certainly don’t want people to feel that the church is making money off of VBS–unless you are supporting a worthy cause–like sending supplies to children in Haiti. I wouldn’t recommend making VBS a fundraiser for a church building, or even your own children’s ministry, make it outsider focused. Support the local rescue mission or crisis pregnancy center.

5. Have a family rate in addition to individual rates (i.e. $10 per kid, $30 for family of 3 or more)

6. Use charging as a way to incentivize outreach.  We all talk about VBS as an outreach, but do we really know how many unchurched kids we are really reaching?  Incentivize reaching out. (Yes, I know that incentivize sounds  . . . well like . . . marketing language–but do it any way.)  Put some teeth in your systems.  I feel another post coming on.  Here are a few ways to put some teeth in your systems: Consider discounting or “free admission” for the unchurched friend who is invited by a church member.  Or, only allow church members register for VBS if they co-register a friend they invited.  I think Craig Jutila implemented this during their summer camps(VBS) at Saddleback.

Anyone else have some best practices?

Nothing can put you in hot water with people in your church like deciding to charge a registration fee for VBS. Except maybe roping off the back pews. Here’s a short list of the things that I have been called: unloving, uncaring, exclusive. Basically the same things you might get called when trying to change the color of the carpet in the auditorium.

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