Is Irrepressible Optimism Really The Most Important Thing For a Leader? #wcagls

Well, for those who have read the previous posts on the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, I’m still mediating on the content and this is part of process for me – so thanks for coming back. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the line about leadership and optimism that Condoleezza Rice said:

“The single greatest need of a leader is irrepressible optimism.”

It’s a great sound byte. Instantly, all the note-takers dove their heads to write it down and so many on Twitter said, “Yes a great line under 140 characters!” – hashtag #wcals

Then this was reiterated later when Condi sarcastically said, “No one wants to follow a sour puss.”

All true, no one likes to follow a cranky pessimist. Optimism is important. “Irrepressible” is a great adjective for it and of all the presenters to articulate this, Condi was the perfect one. That said, in thinking about it, I think it comes up a little short and I’d like to point out a few things from my Gen-X perspective.

First, contrary to popular belief, Gen-Xers & Millennials understand optimism. In fact, many have stocked up on it only to have it [Read more…]

The Willow Creek Leadership Summit Post 1 – After 20 Years, Willow Is Growing On Me

Grace Chapel was a host site for the Willow Creek Leadership Summit that took place August 9-10. They’ve been part of this for a number of years and it’s a great development opportunity for our staff, our attenders and many pastors and lay people in the Greater Boston area. I kept hearing how people were really looking forward to the Summit and by the time it rolled around, I found myself getting excited about it too. But as I was sitting in our sanctuary, I couldn’t help but reflect on my evolving impressions of Willow Creek.

I remember one night back in high school my dad and I were watching tv and a feature on Willow Creek came on one of those Nightline or 20/20 shows. I remembered thinking a church that looked more like a theater was a great idea, incorporating drama was cool and Hybels came off looking much better than most evangelicals/televangelists tend to do – I was interested. Willow was huge by then but in the early 90’s, it was just coming on the national scene (or at least on my personal radar). They became the thing but like all big things, there was a flip side.  It was half-way through being an undergrad that I could no longer handle the term “seeker-sensitive” and about where I got off the WC/Hybels boat. Between the celebritism of Hybels/Ortberg, the hype created by the countless other churches that were now Willow-like, the Association and a couple of friends I knew from college who had various experiences there, I got “Willowed-Out.”

Then I got John-Maxwelled-out and read Hybel’s Courageous Leadership, went to a couple a simulcasts of the Leadership Summits and while I enjoyed parts/aspects of them, I couldn’t really do any more. During my first few years of ministry, I was leery of just about everything. There was the Purpose-Driven Life books, resources, calendar, mugs, coasters ,and … ;) There was also the Prayer of Jabez merch line, the Left Behind series was the fundamentalist Hunger Games. I avoided the CBD Catalog the way I avoid mall on weekends.

Now some of this was where I was personally, some of it was the sub-culture, some of it was bad marketing but I identified Willow as a part of all that. I’m not sure I knew enough to take issue with Willow and while it would take some time to learn this language, I would now say “they” represented the attractional model that so many churches wanted to imitate and my feeling was, “That’s great for them, you/we are not them …”

That started to shift for me a few years ago when I attended a Summit in Wyckoff (thanks for hosting Cornerstone). Then even more so, I started paying attention to WC when they put out their Reveal series as I found myself appreciating their humility and was very interested in their findings. The Post-Christian culture caught up with them and their insights are helpful to the North American Church as a whole. It’s been since the Reveal series that I’ve been most interested in the Summit and again, I found myself excited for this year.

Bill led off with a long, semi-self-depracacting story of him grilling the Thanksgiving turkey and accidentally leaving the grill on for 7 weeks. This opening illustration served as a fairly accurate microcosm for the rest of his presentation. He incorporates great story-telling features (context, the problem, the proposed solution, complication, suspense, etc.) reveals his strengths (all leaders have some), his weaknesses (all leaders have some), he’s both relatable and unrelateable but he’s being himself so that’s good, and then finally offers a conclusion that is both satisfying, humorous, and for the most part, insightful. I think it’s fair to say that’s how the remainder of his hour went and I was happy to listen.

I found myself warming up to Bill, talents, faults, humor, wisdom and all. Scattered between his main points were context fillers like when he admitted that Willow Creek is finally using Alpha and that the tongue-and-cheek reason they hadn’t before was because they hadn’t created it – so they didn’t use it. I don’t know how Alpha people felt about that, I thought it was funny, a bit sad, but revealing.

I also loved the story of the guy who lived so close to Willow Creek that he lost his cat on the church property and told Bill that he mistakingly thought it was a community college campus. I’m not exactly sure why Bill decided to include these points in his message, I don’t believe they were birthed out of any false sense of humility. Instead, I think this is very consistent with the background context of the Reveal study (and I speculate that this story actually happened quite some time ago). It’s the perfect illustration for the short-comings of a strictly attractional model and the need for the church to be missional – the community simply doesn’t care to know who you are – you might as well be a local community college.

Hybels spoke for at least an hour (no countdown clock like Q Ideas ;), shared Willow’s plan of succession with candor and openness (not specifics but the process), gave a couple of his classic leadership insights and themes (like his 6X6 plan) and got the Summit off to a solid start.

I’ll mention more later but I did love the diversity of the presenters, ethnically and the different organizational sectors they represented. While Willow is not the most natural environment for me, I did appreciate so much of what they’ve been doing and couldn’t help but think how much this ministry has grown on me these last few years. Grateful that our church could be a part of this, hoping to post more soon.

If you are interested in attending the Summit next year and live near Lexington, MA – join us – the date is August 8-9, 2013.  In the meantime, you can learn more at

It’s Time for Believers to Talk Graciously About Abortion Again #QDC

There have been a number of Q Talks that stood out to me and this is among them. Part of it is because we need to talk more about the abortion issue but we need to do it with more grace and compassion. Given the sensitivity of the conversation, I’ve been waiting to re-listen to the talk and it has recently become available on Q Premiere. (You can subscribe here and please know that I promoting this completely out of my own volition. I am receiving no compensation or courtesy membership. My gain is participating and the sharing of the conversation).

This panel was moderated by Rebekah Lyons. The panelists include Jenell Paris, professor of anthropology at Messiah College in Grantham, PA; Sarah Brown, CEO of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy; Angie Weszely, President of Caris, a faith-based nonprofit providing support to all women facing unplanned pregnancies; and Johnny Carr, National Director of Church Partnerships for Bethany Christian Services, America’s largest adoption agency (panel description taken from the Q site)

So the first thing that seems obvious to ask is why are some of us still not ready to talk about abortion? It needs to be said that there is a sizable evangelical demographic that is still not ready to talk about it. Of course the abortion issue has never gone away but many cannot bear the thought of discussing it again which begs the question why.

For some of us, we were brought up in “culture war” settings where abortion was the classic example of evil and those that performed them or had one were cast as the worst type of human. Some of us are still drained and disillusioned from this part of the culture war and cannot bare to bring it back up again. I understand that some people will not find that acceptable but among the lessons that I take is the “culture war” does too much damage to too many people (including our “own”).

Further, even if we/they have never actually stood in protest at an abortion clinic, having a pro-life conviction cast a great deal of tension with those that were pro-choice. And many of those that have pro-choice stances hate abortion as much as we do, but they are convinced that the choice must be honored. For me, these include some dear people whom I regard as good friends. We may disagree but it makes less sense to me/us to break fellowship.

So here’s the interesting part. It turns out that despite a sizable demographic not talking about it, teen pregnancy has gone down, the number of teen abortions has gone down and there is always a story of an abortion clinic that has had to close its doors so why bring it up now? This has also resulted in the number of adoptions having gone up. In light of that, it’s tempting to think that if we wait a few more years in complete silence, the whole issue might all go away.

That’s the interesting part. The crazy part is the beginning of the bestseller Freakonomics where there is a connection between the reduction in crime in major cities like New York and the increase in abortions among particular demographics that are believed to would have contributed to the crime rate. It’s horrifying and offensive while being statistically staggering.

Sitting in silence is not going to do any long term good and statistics implying the social benefits of infanticide is not going to help either. It’s time for Christians to talk graciously about reducing abortion.

The first thing that some of my conservative brothers and sisters will notice about that last sentence is why I chose to use “reducing abortion” language than say, overturning Roe v. Wade. My answer is threefold: First using overturning Roe v. Wade rhetoric is a hyper-politically charged conversation, therefore polarizing, therefore not helpful for legitimate conversation.
Two, the reducing language not only avoids villiianzing others but it suggests that people sincerely want to help others.
Three, just about everyone publicly agrees that we need to reduce the number of abortions – therefore we have common ground.

During the panel discussion, Sarah Brown pointed out that of the 1.2 million abortions per year, 85% are by unmarried women and fewer than 20% are by teens. Majority of women who have unplanned/unintended pregnancies and having abortions are unmarried twenty-somethings. Among them are women with stable careers.

Three-fourths of evangelicals have admitted they have had pre-marital sex so as others have pointed out, the message of abstinence has not exactly been well-received. Whether certain people care to admit or not, among the key reasons the teen pregnancy rate has gone down is because of the increased use of contraceptions. Which brought up the need for discussing the use of contraception in churches.

I’ll admit, I don’t really hear myself saying from the pulpit, “Those women who do not wish to get pregnant, you are to be abstinent and if you can’t, use contraception …” For one, when I preach, I don’t preach like that (not intended to sound condescending to those that do). Further, I am not a weekly preacher so most of my ministry happens away from the pulpit. But I am not uncomfortable talking about the use of contraceptives. Truth is, I have in specific instances for years because frankly, you don’t have to wait for the Pew Forum to release the research saying that 3/4s of evangelicals are having pre-marital sex to figure out what’s going on.

And while I do I try to avoid sending conflicting messages, these messages are contextual. If you really listen to what some people are saying whether in your office or your small group or wherever people are choosing to be vulnerable, you might understand what I’m saying here. My point for saying all this here is – let’s be faithful with these opportunities to help reduce the number of abortions.

Which brought up a major theme in the panel discussion. Those in the church need to better express “grace theology” when it comes to women and unplanned pregnancies (and to the men who don’t cut and run). I will say this doesn’t feel as big of an issue in the churches that I’ve been a part of but sadly, I have heard too many horror stories of women feeling shamed in some way. The flip side though is I don’t know how many people never came to the churches I was a part of because of what attitudes and judgements they thought may have been lurking inside. We need to make sure that the church is a place of many things including belonging, grace, and unconditional love.

This is where the graciousness conversation comes in. In my scope I do see a number of churches (and Christians in general) getting better at encouraging each other to adopt, foster and support children. Some are also getting better at reaching out to single moms and families whose financial circumstances make it almost impossible to survive. Some pulpits have eliminated culture war language and a spirit of hospitality is emerging but not only is there so much work to be done, very few actually regard the Church as a place of welcome.

For serious Christians, that needs to change. Much of the work to be done begins in conversation as it is one of the elements that changes culture. We need to invite those that have stopped talking about this issue back into the conversation and foster a gracious discussion on such a crucial issue. Thoughts, concerns, push-backs, feel free to comment. Also, if you share some similar feelings here, please share – the more people that talk about worthy things, the better.

Here are a couple other posts on QDC  – thanks for reading.

Reflecting on David Brooks’ Q Talk on Humility at #qdc

Photo by Ken Worth


I was excited that Q invited David Brooks this year for a couple reasons. One, I appreciate his thinking, two, I really liked Bobos in Paradise, three, he’s Jewish and we need great voices speaking into the Church, even if they identify themselves as outside of our faith.

In his introduction he told a story of Dwight Eisenhower who apparently had a terrible temper when he was a young child. During one of his tantrums, instead of consoling him, his mom told him that, “He that conquers his own soul his greater than he who conquers a city.” Eisenhower would later say that was the greatest piece of advice anyone had ever given him and that quote served as an excellent backdrop for the 18 minute presentation.

Brooks noted that in today’s culture, there is a shift in self-conception, low pre-self occupation, and the sense of vocation differs greatly from that of previous generations. To illustrate this, he cited a number of disturbing stats that illustrated American arrogance. The formula basically was asking a group of engineers, accountants, etc, about their job performance, get a high number of self-approval, find a statistic that completely undermined their effectiveness, safety record, etc. thereby revealing their collective arrogance. I know I ruined the illustration but it was kinda funny.

Along with our vocational arrogance, there is the cultural trend that personal debt has increased in young generations, public debt as well. The idea is that current generations push the cost onto their future generations, past generations didn’t do that. Brooks was very clear – all of this is connected.

He touched on the way we handle risk and, the nature of polarization today but paid special attention to the idea of “moral inarticulateness”. He said, “We have raised a generation of good people but inarticulate of morality. They have no vocabulary for morality, we told people to discover their own morality.” Powerful.

There was a little humor as well, he mentioned how some 20’s and 30’s admitted how much they wanted to be famous. In fact, some said that they would prefer fame over sex. Brooks said something like, “As one who enjoys some relative fame, believe me, sex is better.” I do wonder about the admission of the 20’s and 30’s. It seems to be more about access than the actual experience. Meaning, it’s easer for that age group to find sex than fame and that becomes the allure. It probably also has to do with the notion that fame and power inevitably allow for things like sex, money, travel, connections to celebrities, material amenities/experiences connected to pop-culture’s “good life.” But that’s another story.

There are a lot of people talking about humility these days. And generally, I consider that as a good thing unless it’s just the token “humility” talk to insert in the conference that goes on about how amazing we are. In truth, initially I wasn’t particularly excited to discover Brooks was going to talk about humility but he did such a great job framing it against our cultural mindset, it’s a presentation that comes back to mind frequently.

In thinking about it, my appreciation is largely due to his critiquing of his fellow Boomers in order to help X’ers and Millennials. Further, though he was contrasting inter-generational arrogance with previous generations, I did not get the sense that he was romanticizing them. Like countless others in my generation, we are inspired by the many who have walked these roads before us, so the Eisenhower illustration works. Our frustration lies more with the over-prescribing and the undermining tone along with the hypocrisy that we have found among our elders (that’s among the reasons why so many have either been jaded by or have completely given up on the institution and organized anything).

And so the cycle finds itself ready to repeat itself. Thus, humility (and self-awareness) becomes a key virtue, not only for us personally but for us as a society. We cannot serve the issues of the world with unresolved hearts. For me, our personal and collective arrogance has everything to do with where we have found our sense of identity and how/what we are really pursuing with our lives. May among our prayers be that we in all generations rely on God to tame our souls so we can bless our families, our neighborhoods and our world.

For more on Q check out:
Q Ideas –  They will be making these presentations available soon for subscribers. I think it’s a worthwhile investment (I think all the talks will be available for around $50-75)

David Brooks’ New York Times Opinions Page

My other posts on  #QDC so far here like:

Reflecting on Mark Batterson’s 5 Points on Church & Place at Q

Reflecting on Andy Crouch’s Discussion on Power (And How it Relates In the Church Sector) at Q

Reflecting on Mark Batterson’s 5 Points on Church & Place at Q #qdc

Been looking at my notes and thinking about Mark Batterson’s Q Talk on Church & Place.
Here were his five main points:

1 – We need to find ways of doing church that no one is doing yet
2 – We need lots of different churches bc there are lots of different people.
3 – Church ought to be most creative place on planet
4 – Be known for what we are for, not what we are against
“Criticize by creating” – Michelangelo
5 – Church belongs in middle of market place.
“Coffee houses are postmodern drinking wells, screens are postmodern stained glass.”

Mark is the pastor at National Community Church, has authored a number of books and is a regular speaker at national events. From the few times I’ve heard/read him, I appreciate his balance of ideas and numbers. Here’s an example from a Q piece he wrote a while back “Postmodern Wells: Creating a Third Place.” Though I’m not really following his work but what he’s saying is what I’ve been thinking about and trying to apply to my ministry. Hmmm, maybe I should start following his work.

Anyway, in general I agree and respect Mark’s points. He said quite a lot in the nine minutes he was given. Certainly resonate with the first one. In some sense, it’s a bit over-stated but I think it’s a great question to begin asking in any ministry context. It’s this mindset that had my friends and I are wondering about concerning alternative worship services, pub church gatherings, small group dynamics, etc.

Completely agree with the second point and I find myself saying something like this all the time. We need churches like Solmon’s Porch and McLean Bible churches. We need churches that meet in pubs and coffee house, I believe there is still a place for the traditional church and I of course believe in the large church structure as well. We need different churches that are always reforming and seeking the Spirit for the sake of the Kingdom.

Point three sounds nice. If by that, we mean the Christian community (as opposed to only the institution) needs to be the most creative place, yeah, I guess so. But I’m not sure I would say it like that. I certainly think we need to aspire to be creative and pioneering. We honor the great Creator when we create. When I think of creativity today, I of course, think of Apple, the Arcade Fire and The Tree of Life (are you reading Bo?). In any case, Mark is right to encourage us here.

I would outright disagree with point four if so many people I respected didn’t keep saying it. I understand that for too many people outside the Church, we are only known for what we are against (gay marriage, abortion, Democrats). Of course these generalizations are not helpful. I do want the Church to be known as a community of love, compassion, open-mindedness. However, I think we should be known also as a people that are against unfair discrimination, injustice and closed-mindedness. When there’s a hate crime, society should say, “People in the Church are going to be angered, there is no room for racism here. We need grace and love.” People are not saying that and I know that sounds idealistic but it’s certainly consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

And regarding point five, I wish he could have had more time to unpack this. I need to take a closer look at what they are doing with the Ebeenzers Coffee House. I have visited, it is cool, great space, and they serve One Village!   It felt that very few communities could use this as a model but again, I would need to learn the story.

As a staff, we’ve talked about things like this a couple of times and I think this is a needed conversation in our churches. Not only because of the economical climate, not only because American culture is steeped in the marketplace, but I see it as stewardship. Even further, should local churches enter the market place, I hope we can do so with a countercultural attitude that confronts the negative aspects of consumerism and celebrates the better things like fair-trade, fair-wage, ethical marketing and a Kingdom-minded mentality.

For more check out:
the church he serves at, National Community
His new book The Circe Maker

and you can follow him on Twitter.

For related posts on my time at Q, you can read:

Reflecting on Andy Crouch’s Discussion on Power (And How it Relates In the Church Sector) at Q
Reflecting on the Q Conference, Washington DC Post 1 – Back Home & Grateful

Reflecting on Andy Crouch’s Discussion on Power (And How it Relates In the Church Sector) at Q

As I mentioned at the end of my last post and in one last week, I want to blog a little on the Q Conference in Washington DC that I was able to attend. I do find myself thinking about a number of the presentations and a few that I force myself to think again about. I’m not sure I’ll admit to which is which, nor am I sure how many of these I am going to actually blog about but I am intentionally trying to take the time to do so for a number of reasons and they include:
1. I found many of them to be really important for me.
2. Grateful for the sacrifices and blessings to be able to get there.
3. I really believe in the work.
4. By taking time and reflecting on the content and what it means to me in context and application, it allows me to move beyond “conference junkie” and consumer of content (at least I hope to move from this).

Although it makes more sense to begin at the beginning, let’s start at the second presentation with Andy Crouch. His discussion on power continues to evolve so well. Having been privileged (can I use that word in this context?) to hear Andy speak on this a few times, it’s really great and helpful material. And it continues to get even better – looking forward to the book. I am also grateful that Biblical Seminary kept trying to find ways to bring him in to speak to us because I am truly hungry for this conversation.

I would love to give you all the sound-bytes but I wouldn’t be able to do them justice but here are a few:

Andy’s big question was, “Who is flourishing through your power? That is the test of power.”

“God has entrusted power to His Image bearers.
Vulnerable image-makers (even realize their own nakedness)
To deal with our vulnerability, we misuse our creativity.
Deepest use of power is not force but creation.
Deepest corruption of power is misplaced creativity – this is idolatry.”
Idols promise everything, demand nothing … but they extract everything
Idols work cheap and fast and they work … at first. (don’t keep working)”*

For one, I’m a sucker for the whole Imago Dei-idol conversation. So what he says at the end, I find myself yelling Amen at.

Andy is one of those speakers that make it sound so clear, yet when you find yourself explaining it to someone later, you say things like, “Well you know, he was talking about power … and stuff. Oh and I really liked what he said about idols – it was good.”

But here’s where I am two weeks later since listening to the presentation.
I have been contextualizing this in my sector (The Church) and asking the obvious questions like, “Who in the Church has the power?”
To some, it may seem obvious to say that the Sr. Pastor has the power but that’s not completely true, at least not in the evangelical tradition (can’t and won’t speak of any others). I’ve seen churches where the Sr. Pastor seems to run the show and others where they clearly didn’t.

Well, if not the Pastor (and the staff) then the elder board! Yes and no. Then, perhaps it’s the members, the community (power to the people!) and the answer again is yes and no.

What I’m learning in the Evangelical Church is that the “power” is scattered, limited, temporary and contingent on so many factors.

That church where the senior pastor micromanages every decision will never grow past 400 because he can only manage/control 400 people. It’s scattered and limited for a number of reasons. Among them is the pastor will only have their limited attention, generally Sunday mornings, funerals, weddings, etc. Half of them will change churches within a few years, a new crowd will take their place; this makes it temporary and it’s contingent on an endless number of factors like the preaching, the music, family ministries, the elder board, the budget, the parking, who and what was said in the last congregational meeting, factors contributing to the building and losing of momentum and various other wildcards. Or at least that’s what it feels and looks like from the inside and from the outside. It turns out the micromanaging senior pastor is not really that powerful.

The small congregational church with the revolving door right next to the pulpit seems to have given the power to the people but it hasn’t. Some of the congregants may have been there for fifty years, but the power is limited and certainly scattered. It seems to me that some of the “flatter” churches have similar struggles and being new in a large church environment, indeed there are hinderances at work here. To test it, we could ask “Who is really in charge?” to different groups and representatives. Pastors all tell you that the leadership has been granted authority but the attendees affirm this. But they’ll also say if/when people stop coming/serving/giving/connecting, their power is revealed and “The elder board has no legs!”

In all of these instances, idols are created. Idols are created out of man-made dreams, attendance, the budget, the ministry model, the customer satisfaction huh, I mean … well, whatever you want to call it.

I love the idea in theory that the power needs to be shared and given. I really do. Though I am a pastor, though I see myself as a leader, my prayers won’t be genuine if I know that people are responding to my control rather than their response to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We won’t share the power unless we trust each other.

I also love the idea that power needs to be unifying. It’s an amazing and scary thought of what could be if we truly trusted each other.

Further, I am thinking about what it means for the exercising of power to be a true act of worship. In some sense, this is what Andy is already saying about using power to create and in the Church sector, I see that happening in moments like, during our praise of God (whether it be Sunday morning, small groups or personally and privately throughout our week) and especially outside the institution of the Evangelical Church.

But lastly, I am returning to Andy’s original question in the church context “Who is flourishing through your power? That is the test of power.”

I’ve been thinking about this for almost two weeks and here’s where I am today. There are a number of people who are actually “flourishing” because of the influence and ministry of the church. The frustration is that it’s not nearly enough in terms of the number of people that are hurting around us and the depth of the “flourishing.” It was great to think of people, to know names and stories but again, it’s sobering to see how many more are in need of redemption from the hurt, pain and evil.

Plenty to think about, plenty to act upon and so may we be faithful with the creativity and the power/influence/calling we’ve been given in the Church sector as congregants, pastors, elders, as followers of God’s Kingdom.

Andy said so much more, maybe I’ll post again on it but if you are interested, check out his incredible book Culture Making and this presentation at Q Austin called “Power, Privilege and Risk.”

Reflecting on the Q Conference, Washington DC Post 1 – Back Home & Grateful

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Q Conference. It’s a gathering of Christian leaders from different sectors of culture focusing on four themes Culture, Future, Faith and Gospel. The 7 that Q identified are: Media, Business, Arts & Entertainment, Education, Government, Social Sector and the Church. You can read more about Q here.

Given their interest in culture, each year the gathering moves to a different city which has included Atlanta, New York, Austin, Chicago, Portland and this year Washington DC. It’s always in a downtown venue, intentionally not in a church but generally a third place chosen for historical/cultural significance, aesthetics, and functionality. This year’s site was the beautiful Andrew Melon Auditorium on Constitution Ave. (which is just across from the National Museum of American History).

It’s a pretty intense schedule with two days of over 40 presenters each given either 18 minutes, 9 minutes or 3 minutes to share their central message. As an audience member, it’s great, you know when the person is going to finish.  As a presenter, it must be difficult but we do get quite a number of excellent presentations. There are also talkbacks with the presentations and table discussions with fellow attendees. But even still, it’s a lot to take in. On Day 3, each attendee participated in a briefing. Mine was on human trafficking at the Old Exec. Bldg of the White House. Obviously it was cool to be there but the data is heart-breaking. You quickly forget the aesthetics when you hear the plight of those being trafficked. However, it is great to see our government involved in this global crisis.

I’ve been looking over my notes and as of now, I really can’t sit here and list my favorite presentations and offer an adequate summary of what was said for each. Frankly, I’m not sure I can even tell you my favorite moments yet but as I’ve been unpacking from the trip and talking about it, I’m sure I’ll have a bit to say soon.

What I was thinking about on my drive and have been thinking since returning is how important these conferences and conversations are. I know there is a lot of joking and negativity surrounding conferencing and I’m sure some of it is warranted bit there’s a good bit that is extremely helpful. This being my fourth Q, I have found that many of these presentations fuel my ideation, inform my weak spots, and some of them frankly, are similar to “breaking news” for me.

Q is probably so personally helpful because it makes so many conversations accessible to me. I simply don’t know of any other gathering for ministry types that bring in such an array of theologians, practitioners, scientists, corporate employees, artists, government workers and various thinkers and personalities from the different sectors of society. Now I want to be careful that I do not overstate its effectiveness, after all, the longest presentation is only 18 minutes and some similar presentations have been made in years past. Which is a good thing, because it reintroduces the conversation to newer attendees and reinforces the conversation to returners. I cannot help but feel that some of what was said are things that I have either have wanted to hear more of or words I needed to finally hear.

I’ll be thinking about that, especially as I meditate on how the Church can serve the common good of the culture.

Lastly, I’ve also been thinking about how fortunate and grateful I am for those that have made it possible for me to attend Q. Over the years I have been the recipient of scholarships either from Q or kind and generous people around me. Also grateful for my friend Ryan for letting me crash in his DC apartment – enjoyed our late night conversations. I’ve been fortunate that the Churches I’ve served in have been supportive (thanks GC). And certainly, I’m grateful for my wife’s support – three little kids for three days, I owe you another one honey. I’m not kidding, when I think of the sacrifices that allow me to attend these events, I think I better not only pay attention to the material but use this material. And so may the Lord bless these words and efforts and all who/what is involved.

The Epic Pastor’s Fail Conference – Post 2 – Reflecting on the Grief of Leaving Your Church

Yesterday’s post offered an introduction and a bit of an explanation of what the Epic Fail Pastors Conference was about. Today, I wanted to put down on digital paper what I reflected on while there and since.

Just a note, I do know all the names of the presenters I heard but from the blog posts I’ve seen, everyone has been kept anonymous. As I mentioned before, I was only there for one day so there may have been an announcement made to keep it that way, so contact me if you would like to follow up on some of these presenters’ worthy thoughts.

In any case, one of the speakers shared powerfully of the hurt that pastors experience in ministry. But he did not only share from personal experience, he has been researching this topic for many years now. One thing that struck us all was when you leave a ministry either by your own choice or forced resignation or sudden termination, you go through a grieving process similar to the loss of a loved one. He offered further, if you know someone that is going through this, don’t tell the person, “Don’t worry, that church didn’t deserve you, there are plenty of other churches out there.” Just like you would not say such ridiculous things to someone who lost a spouse and illustrated having this obviously awkward conversation at someone’s funeral.

This was a different type of failure than I thought we would be talking about.

This made a lot of sense to me and I connected with that but not exactly out of personal experience. I have seen my friends mourn their departures. I’ve spent hours listening and “grieving” alongside (and I’m grateful that others have done so for me).  I also remember several stories of people in my church forced to leave their jobs they faithfully served for 20-30 years.

My experience was a bit different. I am completing the fifth year at my second church and I left my first one after being there for 5 years. But what connected with me was that I had mourned for years the dysfunction that I was a part of and hoped to get out. Once my wife and I created our exit plan, we felt we were like thieves breaking in trying to steal back our souls. And once we left – we felt free. For us, the grief process happened before the resignation but the time of healing carried on for a long time after. So much more could be said but this being a public blog, I don’t find it appropriate but only to say, we’ve always missed our students and our friends and this is among the reasons I am grateful for Facebook. But I digress.

The speaker was on to something because he validated and encouraged this type of grief and the different types of failures these experiences conjure up within us. Obviously there are major differences from grieving the loss of a loved one but one aspect that I would like to point out – that when you love and serve the church, it’s not just a job because your entire world is (or very much should be) about people. And it’s when you fail or feel failed by that community of people that have claimed they love you (and you them), real hurt bursts through.

I wished I could have stayed for the next day of the event and wished I could have gotten there the night before but this alone was worth the drive. I finish this post by saying, if you can relate to this, it could be that your grieving process was interrupted somehow. Perhaps it’s time to ask the Lord for healing in this area. As pastors, we know how destructive it is to carry burdens that should have been given over long ago. May this among the burdens you lay at the foot of the cross this Holy Week.

Review of The Epic Fail Pastor’s Conference – Introduction – Post 1

Last week, I stopped by for a day of the Epic Pastor’s Fail Conference in Lansdale, PA. It was an event put on my JR Briggs and the good people of the Renew Community that asked the basic question, “What if we as church leaders gathered and talked more about our failures than our successes?” It was a bit of anti-conference in a way and though it was scaled down, it’s heart really came through, not just in the voices of the presenters but in the amens, tears and even laughter from the listeners.

As helpful as I find ministry conferences, seminars, events, and meet-ups are, there have also been countless times where I have walked away from such an event feeling a mixture of inadequacy and excitement. I have heard similar from countless others. Sometimes you leave motivated and inspired, sometimes enthused and envious. Sometimes you’ll be with a bunch of attendees and talk about someone’s “successful ministry” and eventually someone will say, “Yeah, we could do that too if we had his money or his looks, or lived in the South or had an English accent or (fill in the blank here). Some of it is potentially true but some of it’s mediocrity disguised as a disillusioned self-pity. That said, Todd Rhodes has an interesting post written by PKUZMA where he echoed others in asking are church conferences a version of “Christian porn” where we take something good, embellish it and exploit for lust and profit? As one who enjoys conferences, this is something I have/am prayerfully considering.

Anyway, to have a conference focused on failure is quite the noble task. Everyone walks into the room with some type of a scarlet letter, failed church planter, failed marriage, “old has-been”, “not yet have been”, “afraid to be a never-will-be”, wounded leader and the list goes on. It was fitting to have discovered that the bar we were meeting in was a “failed church” in Lansdale. In fact, it was the first church in that town.

As I was driving over I pictured a bunch of small groups sitting in circles talking about our failures, like out of a scene in Fight Club (grittier and more violent because we’re pastors). I thought there may be some country music too. I even tried to rehearse a story that would evoke enough sympathy and a bit of respect, maybe a ministry version of Rocky V. You know, lose your position (the belt), your church (the ring) but leave with your pride because you knocked out the head elder and now leading a Bible Study in your home – I love that story.

But I was wrong. We did sit in round tables and there was time after each presenter to  ask a question or respond to what was said and there was a guy there that reminded  me of Meatloaf but it wasn’t what I thought it would be and that was a good thing. I  didn’t see a big clergy-style pity party, I didn’t hear desperation, and it wasn’t a  pathetic display of overly-emotional speakers outdoing each other’s nightmares and  offering a bumper sticker sermon at the end – “But I still trust God!”. And fortunately,  no country music was played.

Now remember, I wasn’t able to attend the entire conference but in the sessions I  attended, I heard real anxiety, real hurt, and real hope. I plan on blogging more  about this but in the meantime, check out these links that offer a fuller scope of the  event.

JR’s post – Epic Fail Pastors Conference: Reflections on a Sacred Time

The post where he first introduced the idea and the promo video.

Christianity Today’s, Leadership Blog, Out of Ur posted on it here.

Even Huffington Post had an article on it.

And this was the video they showed to open the conference –

How we started the conference from Epic Fail Pastors Conference on Vimeo.

My Visit to the CS Lewis Society in NYC This Past Friday

I visited the CS Lewis Society this past Friday. It’s been on the list of things to do for quite some time and the night’s title interested me – “Another Repressed Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud on Laughter” by Terry Lindvall. Often when I hear/read of Freud, I think, I need to read more of him beyond my college general studies understanding. Throw in some CS Lewis and we got a winner.

I know some of my Twitter friends are CS Lewis-ed Out. I get that, he gets quoted quite a bit but he has so much good stuff, I still find that he’s really worth reading. I like that Lewis is not an evangelical but appreciated by so many. I have always liked how he was able to bring his pre-conversion thoughts and address them post-conversion. I liked how he struggled to find faith and how he honestly wrote about doubt and hope. Further, I like natural law, I admire his mind and I love knowing that he would be completely disappointed with how his Narnia world has been adapted to film today.

First impressions upon walking into the CS Lewis society: Nothing like the Eagle & Child Pub, no lounge chairs, no pipes, no alcohol, just metal chairs in row style and coffee cake served in the back. It meets in the Parish House of the Church in the Ascension in Greenwich Village.  I was among the younger people there (it meets on a Friday night in New York for goodness sakes) but found everyone to be very friendly and very knowledgable about the Oxford scholar.

Regarding the lecture, Terry did a fantastic job. For one he’s talking about humor and he’s actually funny (like professor funny, not Brian Regan funny, ok?). What I liked is the access that he had into Lewis’ thought and work. You probably already know there is a section of academics that have studied Lewis’ work for years but I have found it difficult to hear about it (considering how often Lewis is quote and illustrated. I suppose this is true about anything and that’s why I think this Society is cool). For those interested in more of Lewis’ understanding of humor, check out Terry’s book,  “Surprised By Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis” available on Amazon.

The first part of the lecture demonstrated Freud saw humor and contrasted with Lewis’ perspective. Among many points, it was pointed out that since Freud saw most things sexual, humor was often included in that. Terry showed humor in Lewis’ work and life and offered that Lewis protested that humor did not need to be sexual. Making the point that sometimes things are just funny for their own sake. He used the example that Freud saw sex in everything from cigars to rose gardens. Lewis felt that although you could see sexuality in those things, he simply liked cigars for what they were and enjoyed rose gardens because they were beautiful.

Perhaps my favorite part was the Terry telling of the story of Abraham and Sarah. He asked is there any greater comedy than humor about and between men and women? Both created in the image of God but among other things, so much humor is found too. He recreated the encounter well with Abraham and Sarah and highlighted the part where Sarah laughs. Indeed the thought of their geriatric love-making and conceiving at this age is funny (but don’t think about it. Really. I’m just trying to help. Ok, fine think about it). Instead of rebuking Sarah for laughing, God blesses them and tells them to call their son “Isaac” which we all know means “laughter”. God understands humor, He’s the creator of it, and among the blessings that He bestows on those He loves is children and laughter.  As a young dad, there is a world of pleasure and goodness in that thought.

So much more was said in the night but I appreciated most that God enjoys humor and again, is the giver of it.
I don’t know how many I can get to but let me know if you want to attend one evening. They meet the second Friday of every month (except for August). It’s free to attend but you can “join” the society for $10. The benefit of that is enjoying their newsletter that is filled with essays on Lewis. If you would like more information on the CS Lewis society, here’s the site.