5th-candleSeptember 27, 2014 marked my fifth year anniversary as the lead pastor of Grace Community Church! I was reflecting on lessons I have learned over the last five years; I came up with around 27! But in the spirit of the fifth year anniversary, I narrowed them down to five. These are in no special order.

Team is everything.
The staff and volunteer teams of Grace carry us from victory to victory. I am deeply humbled and grateful that they trust and honor me as their leader. It’s a sacred trust, and so very fragile. I constantly pray that I never break it. In addition, my inner-circle (or “inner-teams”) has been vital to my leadership and Grace’s health. As another leader put it, it’s not the leader’s right hand man that brings success; it’s the leader’s right hand team. I have seen this play out powerfully over the last five years. I’d like to think I carry a healthy suspicion of myself—my motives, my ideas, my leadership, so I lean into my teams deeply. The elder team of Grace consists of wise, experienced, brilliant, and godly men. I lean on them heavily, even personally. In addition, the teams I work closest with consist of some of the most brilliant, creative, passionate, enjoyable people, ever. We laugh… A LOT! Likewise, people on these teams have at times believed in me more than I believed in myself, inspiring me to take Spirit-led risks. Team is everything.

You can’t please everybody.
This is one of the toughest for me. I WANT to please everyone. But I would destroy myself, and Grace, trying to do so. So I accepted long ago that I must learn to live with low-grade stress, and even low-grade guilt, that I can’t do every wedding, funeral, hospital visit, phone call, and counseling session requested. In addition, I (and Grace) cannot accept and champion every ministry need and opportunity from within or from without. I take great comfort in the story of Jesus healing the man by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9). In a nutshell, there was a “multitude” of sick, handicapped, and disabled people laying by this pool. Yet Jesus only healed one. That means that He literally had to step over other sick, handicapped, disabled, people, to get to that man; then turn around and step over those same people to leave. WHAT? Even the Messiah didn’t try to be the Messiah to everyone. And I learned that Grace, nor I, shouldn’t try to be either. So, I adopted Andy Stanley’s mantra: “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” You can’t please everybody.

Holistic health is essential.
If my marriage to Christie is “sick,” I’m dead in the water. If my family is neglected, I have failed. So I fight for a healthy marriage and family. Likewise, my soul must be filled so that I have something to give. I treasure my solitude in meditating on God’s Word, praying, repenting, and making my heart happy in God so that I can be spiritually healthy. I read biographies, spend time with closest friends, have a date night with Christie, and family night with kids, and read inspirational/leadership books for emotional health. I eat protein and veggies and drink a gallon of water a day. I avoid sugar and processed foods like the plague (except for my cheat meals). I train daily with weights and other equipment; and I get my 10,000 steps in a day. I’ve gotten an adjustable desk base so I can stand at my desk (because “sitting is the new smoking”). Every hour, I stretch, and then move with moderate intensity for three minutes. Physical health is a must. Holistic health is essential. I want to function in 2054 like I’m functioning now.

God tests me about what I preach.
It’s a given. Whatever series or sermon I am preaching, God will put me through the fire. Perhaps that’s why I yell a lot. :-) If I am preaching on marriage, Christie and I will go through a tough time. If I am preaching on money, we will start hemorrhaging financially. If I am preaching on identity in Christ, God will bring a success or a failure to test me. To some degree, every preacher is a hypocrite. No preacher can fully live up to what he preaches. If he can, in the words of John Piper, he’s not preaching high enough. But God often knocks the hypocrisy out of me so that when I preach I truly BELIEVE and LIVE what I preach.

The success of others thrills me.
Not sure that’s a lesson, but for what it’s worth…. I don’t know if I could have written that five years ago. I have my moments of envy and jealousy like everyone else. However, and all glory to God, God has done a miraculous work in my heart. How miraculous? I get more joy to see my teammates, fellow pastors, and staff succeed and get attention for what they accomplish, than I do for myself. Intensely more joy! To witness our pastors preach and lead with power, and the feedback from folks who applaud them and want to hear more from them, and want to be closer to them and their leadership, excites me to no end. In fact, for some folks that I have had the pleasure of personally investing in, seeing the incredible success and achievements they carry out, overwhelms me with gratitude. Lately, this has grown to wanting to invest in other churches and their leaders in Orange County, NY and the Northeast. More than preaching to thousands, the success of others thrills me.

There you have it: Five lessons for five years. Any one of these speak to you on some level? Do share in the comments section! Thanks for reading.

2014-outreach-100-thumbI want the world to know (more like the few who read this blog) that I am the proud lead pastor of Grace Community Church. And Grace is NOT one of Outreach Magazine‘s 2014 100 fastest growing churches in America! Although, for three years past we have been.

In 2011, Grace achieved accomplished received the honor. I heralded it to the world through Twitter, Facebook, and the like. I reveled in this sudden and surprising identity as the lead pastor of such a church.

In 2012, we received the honor again. That’s two years running (in case you missed it). We were listed in the top 40 to boot. All my bone marrow wanted to declare this to the world! I felt even greater worth and value as the leader. I felt I mattered. I felt important. And I sort-of wanted everyone else to feel it too. But I kept the news in-house that round. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to go public again. Yet Christie, my wife, asked me a very simple question that stopped me in my tracks and got me wrestling with my heart: “What good does it do?”

In 2013, we received the honor again. The same battle and the same feelings returned. I specifically remember seeing our name again in the magazine and asking myself: “What will happen when Grace is no longer mentioned? Will I feel like God is done with us? Will I be crushed? Will I panic? Will others think less of me? Will Jesus be enough?”

It’s 2014. We are not listed in the magazine. In fact, we are no-where close to being one of Outreach’s 100 fastest growing churches this year. Strangely, I rejoice.

No, I don’t rejoice that we are not growing as we once were, for whatever reasons. Here in the Northeast, specifically New York, there are hundreds of thousands without Christ. My heart aches for them to hear and believe in the gospel through the people of Grace! We will never cease to pray for revival in the Northeast! We will never tire in our mission to reach Orange County, New York, and beyond, for Christ and make fully devoted followers of Jesus!

But I do rejoice for the churches that are the top 100 fastest growing in America. I am grateful for their lead pastors, their staffs, and their volunteers, especially. It’s not the lead pastor but the team of staff and volunteers who trust the leader’s heart and carry the church from victory to victory. What a thrill that people are being reached with the gospel in such mass and fast rates! In addition, I rejoice for the churches that are not one of the fastest growing, but whose lead pastors, staffs, and volunteers are faithful. Thank you for your example.

But most of all, I rejoice because I wasn’t crushed when I got the magazine two days ago and saw that we were not listed. In fact, I smiled. I was relieved. I celebrated it on date night with Christie, last night. See, no matter how much I prayed in the past and declared to God, myself, even Christie that my identity was not wrapped up in such recognitions, how did I really know? Now, thank God, I do.

I’m grateful if God grows us like he did in the past. I’m grateful if He doesn’t. Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Nothing comes unless given from heaven anyway (John 3:27). So I just want to faithfully pray, love, preach, and lead with all my heart. I want to faithfully lead our church to be passionate for Christ’s mission and Truth. That’s all. And that’s how I know God is not done with Grace Community Church, or me. The outcome is His. And regardless of that outcome, Jesus will always be worthy… and worth it.

This is an interview I did at Word of Life Island last week. Perhaps it might encourage you to devote your life to meeting with God daily and meditating on His Word.

0:03 secs – 1: 59  (“When did you first fall in love with God’s Word?”)

2:00 –  3:49  (“Do you believe the Bible is relevant for today and not just a history book?”)

3:50 – 6:50 (“How do you personally study God’s Word?”)

6: 52 – 8:42  (“On fun side, what character in the Bible is your personal favorite?”)

8:45 – 12:38 (“What advice would you give on being more consistent in God’s word; that it would be more than routine and a ‘check-off’?”)

Rethinking Pain

August 4, 2014

pain1There’s the story of a Rabbi who told his students that if they studied the Torah it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?” The Rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your hearts, and then when your hearts break, the holy words fall inside.” *

This I know: Truth doesn’t crack my heart. Pain does. Truth doesn’t bring wisdom. Pain that awakens me to Truth, does. I once believed a great sermon, a Christian best-seller, and a study on “Humility” would make me more humble, more forgiving, and more loving. It was never enough. It has taken pain to break my heart so God’s Truth would fall inside.

Celebrity actor Rob Lowe wrote, “You stop growing emotionally the very moment you become famous.” ** How so? Many celebrities spend millions to shield themselves from pain. They surround themselves with “yes” people. Yet, when the emptiness of celebrity sets in, or when they reach the point of near self-destruction, they take off to the Near East to sit at the feet of a Guru. They hope for a fast-track to wisdom, meaning, “truth,” or maturity.  But it never works. At least not for long….

This I’ve learned: Wisdom is not about avoiding or numbing pain. Wisdom is learning from it, growing in it, becoming stronger for it, and more dependent on Jesus because of it. Wisdom is using pain to build more wisdom into my life and make Jesus more glorious through my life. In many ways it still takes pain not only to break my heart so that the Truth would fall inside, but more so that Jesus would forever reign there. 

 

* As shared by Anne Lamott in her book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

** Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography by Rob Lowe

 

A light at the end of the tunnelWars,  plane crashes, viruses

Christian, everything will be alright.

“In the end everything will be alright, nothing can harm you permanently; no loss is lasting, no defeat more than transitory, no disappointment is conclusive. Suffering, failure, loneliness, sorrow, discouragement, and death will be part of your journey, but the kingdom of God will conquer all those horrors. No evil can resist grace forever.

And if you think it is ridiculous to believe that life will triumph over death, then don’t bother with Christianity, because you can’t be a Christian unless you believe that.”  – Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel