Monday, March 25, 2013

Not Much to Say

They say when it comes to blogging that content is king. By that 'they' mean it's important to keep creating new content if you want people to continue to follow your blog and pay attention to what you have to say. But what if you have a few days where you don't have much to say?

I'm in that period right now. I've said much of what I wanted to say about undoing the devastating effects of our charity on the rest of the world. I haven't been tracking the latest foolishness in denominational churches so there's no rant forthcoming. Instead I've been focused on doing some things. I'll spend most of today with consultants analyzing the feasibility of starting a new business. This business will support ministry and be part of the model of combining for profit and non-profit ventures.

I'm still in the process of launching The Shepherd Fund . That's going along smoothly but it takes time to properly begin a non-profit. As I've said in previous posts, there is a time to talk (blog) because those who have a vision of a better future won't get anywhere without sharing that vision. But there is also a time to act or the vision is worthless. In the words of Thomas Edison, "Vision without execution is hallucination!"

Rather than hallucinate, I'm acting to execute my vision for a different way to do charity. And I'm looking for others who are doing the same. If that means some days there's not a new post here then, so be it!

Go here and make a donation to help launch The Shepherd Fund.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

No Lone Rangers

Have you ever considered it ironic that comic superhero the Lone Ranger had a faithful sidekick? The genesis of the Lone Ranger was an attack on a group of Texas Rangers. All but one were killed and the remaining ranger never rejoined a team but chose to seek justice on his own. Unfortunately this is a model that has been adopted by far too many people in ministry.

One of the most dangerous things that any of us can do is isolate ourselves. When we do that it's easy to believe that we are solely responsible for the success of our ministries, the care of people in need, and all sorts of things. Not only that, but when we live a life of isolation we don't benefit from the experience of those who have gone before us and we offer nothing to those who follow us. God himself proclaimed in Genesis, "It is not good that man should be alone."

On a monthly basis I lead a meeting of ministry professionals for the express purpose of keeping us connected. This monthly meeting gives me a chance to learn from fellow professionals. It gives me a chance to share what I've learned with others. It provides a safe place where we can work through our challenges as professionals in ministry. Today is one of the more special meetings as we welcome college students who are preparing for ministry to our meeting. This is a great chance to meet the next generation of leaders. We'll visit, network, get to know each other and answer their questions about what it's like in the real world of ministry.

If you don't have regular opportunities to connect with others in your field you're at risk of becoming a lone ranger. While that might make you feel like a superhero, it's not safe or wise. Alone we are an easy target for the enemy. Together we can encourage, support and defend one another. Don't be fooled into thinking you have to do it all by yourself. Even the Lone Ranger never worked alone.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is He Serious?

Pope Francis was installed today. I'm not Catholic but the installation of a Pope goes beyond the Catholic faith and qualifies as an international event. The list of world leaders who showed up for the installation is impressive. What's more impressive to me are the stories being told about the new Pope. Apparently he stated that he wants the church to be poor. I wonder if he's serious. Because that would take a lot of work. Liquidating the assets of the Catholic Church in order to address poverty and make a difference in the world would take decades. But I'm fully supportive of Pope Francis and encourage him to make the effort.

It's hard to put a number on the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church. Someone tried in response to a question on Yahoo Answers and this is what was listed as the best answer to the question:
"The Vatican's treasure of solid gold has been estimated by the United Nations World Magazine to amount to several billion dollars. A large bulk of this is stored in gold ingots with the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, while banks in England and Switzerland hold the rest. But this is just a small portion of the wealth of the Vatican, which in the U.S. alone, is greater than that of the five wealthiest giant corporations of the country. When to that is added all the real estate, property, stocks and shares abroad, then the staggering accumulation of the wealth of the Catholic church becomes so formidable as to defy any rational assessment.

"The Catholic church is the biggest financial power, wealth accumulator and property owner in existence. She is a greater possessor of material riches than any other single institution, corporation, bank, giant trust, government or state of the whole globe. The pope, as the visible ruler of this immense amassment of wealth, is consequently the richest individual of the twentieth century. No one can realistically assess how much he is worth in terms of billions of dollars."
Wow! If this answer is close to true then Pope Francis controls billions of dollars and claims he wants the church to be poor. Not that I think there will be any significant change in the church's financial position under the new Pope. But it's fun to think about what could happen. You can access the annual financial statement of the Holy See if you're interested in just the Vatican's annual finances (about $355 million in 2007).

Lest you think this is me bashing the Catholic Church for hoarding so much wealth, let me say that any Christian organization that's been accumulating wealth for any amount of time has resources it could be using better. The fact that the Roman Catholic Church has been accumulating for nearly 2000 years just means they have a head start on the rest of organized religion.

The bigger question must be..."Are we who call ourselves Christians leveraging our ability to accumulate wealth for the glory of God or the glory of ourselves?" Who is glorified by staggering bank accounts, stunning buildings and impressive weekly stage productions?

I'm not pointing fingers, just asking questions. Questions I hope Pope Francis will continue to ask from his place of influence in the world.

Monday, March 18, 2013

More Highly

This topic has come up on this blog before but it bears repeating. One of the greatest dangers in all areas of human experience is those who think too highly of themselves. In Romans 12 Paul cautions with these words...

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Certainly churches and charities are at risk when those running them think they're more important than they are, but it's also true for governments, businesses and any situation where people assemble and assign leadership responsibilities. If you're blessed with responsibilities of any sort it is crucial that you think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the faith God has distributed to you.

When you think of yourself more highly than you ought things fall out of balance. You begin trying to take control of things over which you have no control. You decide things you have no right to decide. In the extreme we can look to Adolf Hitler whose high opinion of himself led the entire world into war and cost millions of lives. For less extreme examples we can look at pastors who think so highly of themselves they try to dictate how others do ministry or relentlessly attack the methods of others as illegitimate or worthless.

This topic strikes close to home for me because I recognize in myself the capacity to take myself more seriously than is healthy for me or anyone around me. Daily I must submit to God and work to properly assess whether or not I'm taking myself too seriously. As we pursue ministry, charity and all work to which God has called us, we must understand there is an adversary working to derail that work. He takes no prisoners and has no compassion. He will convince you that you're indispensable and the eternal salvation of others rests on your shoulders. Look closely at the collapse of any great ministry, business or government and I guarantee you will find at least one person at the top who thought more highly of themselves than was appropriate.

If God has blessed you with a vision for ministry or a successful business or civic leadership know that you will be tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought. Succumbing to that temptation is the first step toward destruction. Don't take that step.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Permission Gambit

Neither my son nor my daughter ever ask me for permission to do anything anymore. That might seem shocking unless you know that my son is twenty-nine and my daughter is twenty-five. He's a successful leader in an entrepreneurial start-up and she's an accomplished international educator currently living in Egypt. So it's not odd at all that neither of them look to me for permission to do what they do. They're adults. There was a time when they needed my permission but not anymore.

It seems to me that too many Christians who happen to also be adults, are waiting around for someone to give them permission. Permission to do what, you might ask. Permission to do what God is calling them to do. When the overwhelming urge to do something meets abject fear at the challenge of doing that thing one of the plays we make to get out of it is the permission gambit. It comes in certain forms, like declaring the lack of proper credentials, not being ordained, not having completed schooling, not being certified, etc. All of these are a form of saying, 'I don't have permission to do that.'

I know of a church that wanted to place a missionary to another country. The denominational headquarters told them they didn't have permission to do that. So they didn't. One could argue that the church was submitting to the authority of the denomination, but I would ask...'If God has called you to act and the denomination has denied permission, to whose authority do you submit?' Likewise, if you have a clear call from God to act but your church refuses to give you permission are you using the permission gambit as a convenient excuse to avoid the challenge of God's call? Or are you rightly submitting to the authority God has placed over you? That's a tricky question.

God uses earthly authorities is a variety of ways. Sometimes they do restrain us as an agent of God. Sometimes they restrain us in opposition to God. My personal bias is that in most cases it is the latter not the former at work. If we have attained maturity in the faith then it may be time to stop asking permission to do what God has called us to do. Perhaps it's time to shake off the shackles of bureaucratic organization and seize the challenges God is laying before us. But be prepared. You will be confronted, sometimes violently, by those who believe they must first give you permission.

Remember Saint Paul was beaten nearly to death by people who thought he needed their permission and had ordered him not to speak of Jesus.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Easy Street

One of the cultural hurdles we must overcome is the ease of access we enjoy in the United States. By any standard in the developing world everything is easy for us. I'll never forget a conversation I had with some of the kitchen staff at Carlile College on my first visit to Kenya in 1999. We were standing next to the simple garden at the back of the property as they harvested some vegetables for that evening's meal. At the time some of the food was cooked in a big pot over an open wood fire in and outdoor courtyard. Imagine any college in the U.S. where daily meals are prepared over a camp fire in the yard! The staff asked me if what they provided was comparable to what we enjoyed in the U.S. I didn't know how to answer their question. I couldn't remember the last time I met anyone in my home country that literally had to harvest food from their garden daily in order to feed their family, much less a school full of students.

Fast forward to my most recent visit to Kenya when I delivered a used laptop to my friend Daniel for him and his family. We connected to wireless internet service and I showed him Google Earth. He was speechless as we found his home village in the hills of Kenya and his home in Nairobi. I then showed him the satellite view of my home and other areas in America. He noticed something right away that would have never occurred to me. He asked, 'Are all your roads paved?' I had to think a moment, but the answer was that except for a few rural areas of the country I couldn't remember ever driving on a road that wasn't paved. Daniel was awestruck by that simple fact alone.

When Ricardo from Pucallpa, Peru visited our home in Colorado he was fascinated by our manicured lawn and sprinkler system. More amazing to him was the fact that every home in the neighborhood had the same. Later when I led a team to Pucallpa, Ricardo's sister commented on how he was working to develop a lawn at his home like ours in Colorado because he was so impressed by it. Trust me when I say that my lawn was extremely average.

The challenges of doing ministry can sometimes escape those of us who have grown up here. The hard work it takes can be overwhelming for people who have enjoyed the luxuries we enjoy. The philosopher Juvenal is quoted saying, 'Comfort is more ruthless than war.' How very true that is. Comfort takes away our perspective. It softens our resolve and it saps our energy. To do what we are called to do by God takes perseverance, discipline and hard work. Where we are called to go not every road is paved...and in some cases there are no roads at all!

God has a sense of humor, however. As I launch The Shepherd Fund a friend of mine is providing a little office space so I can get out of the house and have some dedicated space to work. It is located at 190 Easy Street! How's that for irony? What we do in ministry and in charity isn't easy. But it is eternally worth it.

Please consider making a gift to the Shepherd Fund launch campaign. This week we filed our incorporation papers and next we file for tax exempt status with the IRS. Any size gift will help us along the way. Click here to make a gift (donations to the launch fund are not tax deductible).

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Do You Believe It

“Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” - Matthew 17:20

If you're a regular reader of this blog you know that God has set me on a path to create a non-profit ministry here in the U.S. to support the work of Carlile College in Nairobi, Kenya and other projects beyond that. I believe God has shaped my life for what is happening right now and continues to shape me each day for the work that will come tomorrow. There are times in my life where I've been accused of being grandiose. The plans I've talked about have been criticized for being too bold, too broad or too scary. God has blessed me with visions of things that are overwhelming even to me.

But I've never yet had the nerve to say to a mountain, 'Move from here to there.'

If Jesus was truthful when he spoke, if he meant what he said, if Scripture is the inerrant Word of God then...'Nothing will be impossible for you.' 

Do you believe this?

Do you? Really?

Our belief drives our actions. If I believe that nothing is impossible for me then is there any reason not to do what God clearly calls me to do? Nothing is a very inclusive word. Jesus uses the word nothing. No Thing will be impossible for you. What would you do if you struck the word impossible from your vocabulary? What would you pursue if nothing was impossible? If you were the child of the One who owns all the earth and everything in it, who has power over death itself, and has given you access to all of it for His sake what excuse would you make for not doing what He calls you to do?

If you believe this...if you believe Jesus...if God has called you to something scary and seemingly impossible...get over yourself and start moving mountains.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Defining Risk

One of the most influential books I've ever read is 'Your God is Too Safe' by Mark Buchanan. If you're not familiar with it I highly recommend picking it up today. In the book Buchanan redefines risk. He challenges us to think about how we perceive God. We serve a God who cannot be contained and will not be defined by us. Our God is an awesome God, to coin a phrase. He is without limits.

Yet we choose to limit God. We choose to limit Him by what we can see or calculate. We limit Him with our budgeting and our small plans and our timid goals. We look at almighty God, the glory of His creation, the story of His miraculous interactions with us, and the wonder of His love demonstrated by the sacrifice of His son on the cross and fear we won't be able to pay the electric bill. We don't risk starting something new even when we're sure God has called us to it because we can't figure out how we can afford it. We don't risk going where God has called us to go because we can't determine for certain that it's safe enough. We don't risk praying with all boldness and confidence because we might be embarrassed if God doesn't come through and answer our prayers.

Maybe I'm projecting here a bit so I'll change 'we' to 'I' in all those sentences above. You can determine if it also defines you. All I can say is that in over 30 years of ministry experience I've sat in far too many meetings where small plans and timid goals were made because those assembled around the table couldn't see how a big plan could be accomplished.

God is not safe. He is wild, untamed and ready to take you places that will terrify you. If you want to be in a relationship with a God who comforts you, gives you peace, keeps you safe and never pushes you out of your comfort zone then you're not looking for a relationship with the God of the Bible. When it comes to defining risk we need look no further than all the dying churches striving to live on shrinking budgets with small plans, timid goals and no vision hoping to pay next month's electric bill to know that serving a safe god is the only real risk. Stop taking that risk and start seeking God's plans that will terrify you because you have no idea how they will be accomplished...but you'll pursue them anyway.

Friday, March 08, 2013


Awhile back a friend and I were having a conversation about short term mission trips. My friend is a pastor at a large church and he expressed his doubts about the benefits of such trips. He'd been told through the years that people who go on mission trips come home and engage more fully in the overall mission of the church. In his experience that just wasn't true. And he's right.

Many people who go on short term mission trips don't get more deeply involved in the work of their church at home. It's a lot like your kids going to a friends house to help clean out the garage when they won't pick up their own clothes off the bedroom floor. But the reason for going on a mission trip isn't to stimulate more involvement at least that shouldn't be the reason.

I think the biggest reason is we're called to go. And while there's been plenty said on this blog about doing short term missions properly and cautions about how we've done them poorly, they are still key to connecting the larger Church for the sake of the Gospel. While not everyone who goes on a short term mission trip has a life altering experience, there are many who do. In earlier post I wrote about missions that were started by individuals touched by the needs of others. In every case they met those in need in person while on a mission trip.

A friend of mine was so affected by his first mission trip that he came home, sold the family business and went into full time mission work. I've worked with college students who, after a summer of mission work, have changed their college major and the entire course of their lives. There is something about experiencing another culture and partnering with others to bring hope and help that touches us like nothing else. There is no television documentary, sermon, film, radio broadcast or missionary presentation that is as compelling as personal experience.

My first visit to Kenya changed my life and compelled me to return again and again. The Shepherd Fund is borne out of that experience. My prayer is that God will bless this effort and that many will support the good work we have set out to accomplish. Learn more and consider making a donation to help launch this ministry by clicking here.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

An Aversion to Profit

There's an interesting dynamic that has developed over the past few years in the United States. It's been most vividly demonstrated by the Occupy Movement as certain groups of people have come to despise those who make a profit from their business pursuits. How making a profit has been vilified is a topic for another post. Though it's a new trend culturally, it's an idea that seems to have been embraced by the church for a very long time.

While it's certainly true that the church appreciates those who make money, especially if those people are inclined to be generous with that money, there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to the church engaging in profit making enterprise. This is one of the hurdles we need to get over if we're to do charity differently. It seems to me that the model of strictly separating for profit and not for profit entities is more a government construct than a Biblical one. In fact the Bible celebrates industrious labor and there were times when Paul would work his trade to supply for his needs. Some believe that while Peter left his fishing business, his family maintained that business and it was a source of support for his ministry work.

There is nothing inherently wrong with providing a service for which you are paid. There's nothing wrong with generating a profit that can then be used to advance ministry. There is so much to be learned from the for profit world about accountability, intelligent planning, goal setting and evaluation. Even better than learning these skills is putting them into practice through a for profit enterprise that can fund your ministry work. This model opens doors for you to engage business leaders for the sake of ministry.

In a future post I'll discuss how the church chases off highly competent business leaders and rewards unqualified people with key leadership roles in the church. It's a practice that happens far too often and it's playing a role in the decline of the my opinion.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Good News From Kenya

Yesterday I received word that the elections in Kenya have gone peacefully thus far. Dr. Peter Nyende, Principal of Carlile College in Nairobi reports:

The elections were largely peaceful and we now pray the the post-election period will also be peaceful particularly when the results of the elections are announced by the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission of Kenya sometime tomorrow or Thursday.
 Thanks to all for your prayers and please continue to pray for Kenya. This good result means that we can move ahead with creating The Shepherd Fund as a U.S. based partner for Carlile College. The opportunities to affect Kenya and much of East Africa through this partnership are many. We are still seeking donations to help with start-up costs for The Shepherd Fund. Please consider a gift of any size as we work toward our goal of becoming a recognized tax exempt charity in the U.S. so we can begin raising funds in support of Carlile College and the great work they are doing.

Click here and donate to help launch The Shepherd Fund.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

If Something's Not Working...

What I'm about to share might infuriate some people. It makes certain pastors and church leaders really angry when you equate the church to a business. It makes them even angrier when you suggest that the church might benefit from adopting a few business 'best practices'. In my experience, however, business succeeds when they have three things:

  • Something people need (or want) that can't be found elsewhere
  • An engaging story to tell about what they offer
  • An effective way to deliver their product to the largest number of people
This is rather simplistic, but this post is not about the complexities of accomplishing those three things. It's actually about challenging the church to get serious about point number three. We have an engaging story to tell about something the whole world is desperately searching for. Spiritual searching has only intensified around the world over the years. People are on a quest for meaning, purpose and being connected to something larger than themselves. With such a hungry audience searching diligently and the incredible message of Jesus Christ that can satisfy that hunger it might be baffling as to why the church is in decline.

That is unless you're willing to look at point number three. Some deep statistical research will tell you that on any given Sunday less than 18% of the U.S. population is in church. And while church attendance as a raw number has remained fairly steady the general population grows year to year at a pace the church is not keeping up with resulting in a declining percentage of the population going to church. Simply put, our delivery system is failing to reach an audience. If this were a business the delivery system would've changed long ago. Instead, even new churches that experience initial growth offer only slight variations of the same delivery system and attract a fair number of Christians who are prone to moving from church to church, but aren't attracting truly new 'customers'.

With our churches, our charities and all our ministries we who follow Christ must begin taking an objective, searching and fearless look at how we share Jesus with our communities and the world. It's time to admit to ourselves that we have made our delivery systems as sacred, if not more so, than God Himself. Until we can get to a point of acknowledging that only God is sacred and every aspect of our delivery system is subject to change we should prepare ourselves for the continuing decline of the church as we know it.

Monday, March 04, 2013


There's nothing that refreshes my soul quite like hanging out with people who have dedicated their lives to serving our youth. Today I'm wrapping up four days at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana with nearly 3000 youth workers. There are so many great things going on. There are great missions, great ministries and great young, excited youth workers. And lots of seasoned veterans.

When you spend time with people who are pouring their lives into others for the sake of Jesus you can't help but be encouraged for the future of the church. Sadly, there is no shortage of conversation at an event like this about the older members of the church or the leadership of the church not allowing the young people to lead. The truth is that revival is led by youth. Young people take God seriously and really believe that the power of Jesus can change the world. And they're willing to do something about it.

We older folks need to encourage, lift up, advise, resource and empower the energy of our young people. We must get out of the way if we're in the way. We must admit where we have fallen short and pray they learn from our mistakes and do better than we did. After this conference I believe that is happening. The Holy Spirit is at work in this generation as He has been in every previous generation. There's no stopping it and there's no sense being upset about it. God is AMAZING and He gives us the power to far more than we could ever think or imagine. Let us never hinder the work He is doing for any reason.

Friday, March 01, 2013

The Trenches

This weekend I'm spending time with the people who make ministry happen. There are nearly 3000 youth leaders gathered in Indianapolis for the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. I'm here as a volunteer to help make this the best possible experience for those who are in the trenches of ministry. The day to day work that takes place in thousands of churches across the country is what keeps the Body of Christ vital and alive. Yes, there are plenty of examples of struggle, mismanagement, dysfunction and disease in the Body. But that's the nature of a living organism in this sinful world

This weekend those who have been wounded in their work will have a chance to refresh and renew. They will be encouraged. There will be tears and counsel and healing. Some will decide this weekend that God has a different path for their lives. Some will recommit to the hard work they must do. All will celebrate in the certain knowledge that their work glorifies God and has immense value.

Our mission is not easy. We must gather to encourage one another. There must be space in our lives where we can cry, laugh, process and renew our passion for our calling. It's always a joy to be part of a gathering like this in any season of ministry. If you are not finding space to gather at something like SYMC or its equivalent for your area of ministry you should. God provides for and calls us to times of renewal and celebration. It keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously and taking God not seriously enough.

Reminder Note: Please consider a gift to The Shepherd Fund as we launch this new ministry partnering with Carlile College in Nairobi, Kenya for the sake of equipping missionary evangelists for the Continent of Africa. Click here to donate.