Sweet Spots

Yes… I do post lots of pictures of the best moments of my day. Why? Because I think we need that reminder sometime.

Real life in my house is always messy, lots of sibling fights, short remarks I make to my husband after a long day with the kids. Real life is me trying to keep my eyes open to make it through another lesson… Opening the fridge at 5:30 and thinking what on earth will I make for dinner when remnants of school and snacks liter the kitchen ( along with ALL the Tupperware on the floor… By my 14 month old😉).

I get so tired and the kids are needy and I’m needy…

But then a great moment happens and I snap a picture because right along with the crazy is the beauty. We just have to stop and recognize it.

Happy Mother’s Day to all those mothering. To those serving, loving and giving day after day.

Don’t forget to find the beautiful in the mess. I’m not trying to hide my mess from anyone. Just trying to remember all the sweet spots.

Lessons from failure

This post is the 3rd in a three part series on my Leadership Failures in Church Planting. The first two posts can be viewed, here and here.

As I said in part 1, worse than failure is the failure to learn from failure, and learn plenty I did. Below are a few things I learned and also why I’m grateful for the failure.

We battle not against flesh and blood

One of the main things Dr. Suarez told us aspiring planters in seminary is, “Church Planting is Spiritual warfare.” Over and over again, he would illustrate and exhort to us the seriousness of this charge. Over and over again, I failed to remember and take this seriously. Our enemy hates new churches , he hates new disciples and disciple makers. If we are not constant in incessant in prayer, we fail before we begin.

Ego is not your amigo

I heard this from Scot Thomas and now say it to myself at least once a day. Every leadership failure I experienced in planting is directly connected to my ego. Mainly this took the form on not asking for help when I needed

We fall to the level of our training, not rise to the level of our expectation.

I have yet to meet a church planter who doesn’t have a large and compelling vision for what they hope God will do through their life and ministry. Nobody stands before partners and parishioners proclaiming mediocre hope for the future. Yet, as grand as our aspirations are, they are fools gold if we don’t properly equip ourselves and our people. My hope was for De Soto Community Church to be a church planting church up and down the K-10 corridor in Kansas. I desired that we would host interns, raise up missionaries, and send those missionaries to plant more multiplying churches. As good as it sounded then, (and still sounds good now), the reality is, I had never walked through an internship, been part of a multiplying ministry, or at that point, planted a single church myself. It was ridiculous to think I would “magically” do something I hadn’t adequately prepared myself to do, no matter how much I hoped it to be so.

 

Why I’m grateful I failed

Failure helped form my identity

Failure has never been an acceptable outcome for me. Setbacks? Yes. Learning opportunities? Of course! Failure? NO! Yet, with all my stubbornness, bluster and determination, here I was failing. It almost crushed me. In failing in our plant, I was reminded where my worth truly comes from. My identity as a blood bought child of the King was never dependent on the success of my church plant, and it took the loss of the plant for me to know that unequivocally.

Failure humbled me

If we would have “succeeded” and all of my wildest planting dreams would have come true, my already enormous head would have become a virtual planetoid. Failing helped remind me there is more than one way to plant a healthy and reproducing church. The way I chose to plant isn’t the best or only way. This has been invaluable in my current work serving church planters and partner churches. I am much more open to new ideas, methods and models of planting, as well as my perception of who would make a “good” church planter.

One more thing…

Never let the fear of failure keep you from adventurous risk in ministry. Worse than failing is not doing anything at all. If that’s not enough, take a word from my favorite President and ‘Dare Greatly’.

Resources that helped me.

Falling Upward: This book was given to me by a great friend and mentor in the wake of what was unfolding. Regardless of what you make of Rohr’s theology, the lens through which he gives us to view life is refreshing, honest and helpful

Ego is the Enemy: This book is second only to Extreme Ownership in what I’ve most recommended for everyone to read this past year. Thoroughly researched and incredibly helpful; Holiday confronts us with uncomfortable personal truth and gives us a preferred way to deal with it. Another of his books, Obstacle is the Way is great as well.

Extreme Ownership: I tell everyone they need a whole lot of Jesus and a moderate amount of Jocko in their life. This book finally helped me to call failure what it was and gave me some solid hooks to hold on to for processing and planning better.

Making of a Leader: This book is seminal for understanding how God is building you as a leader through different phases of life. Where the Rohr book aims at the heart, this aims at the head.

Choosing what is real

As I sit in a coffee shop I’m pondering authenticity. In a world where fake is everywhere, it can be difficult to decipher what is real.This coffee shop doesn’t mess around. My plate came out with bread that went through a slow process of refinement by the hands of people I can see as I write. The eggs and bacon…(oh the Bacon!) are freshly fried. Even the jam is perfectly crushed from fresh fruit. It is wonderful.

Does it cost a little more? Yes. Did I have to wait? Of course.

In this moment though, I wonder why I would ever want to settle for less. What is there to gain from rushing through life? Why do we choose to fuel ourselves, mind, body, and soul with things that aren’t real?

I challenge you to experience something real today.

Get outside. Have a conversation with someone in person. Make something from scratch and actually enjoy the process and the mess. Write something by hand.

Don’t settle for a high-fructose filled life, when God made sugar and called it good! Seek to find the “real” amongst the everyday.

When I take the time and search for what is real amongst the fake, I am constantly reminded of Christ, His goodness, His Love, His Mercy. I am reminded of the gifts He gives us every single day.

A few gifts I’m thankful for today…

  1. alone time with my eldest daughter.
  2. a long talk last night with my husband even though our kids were still awake
  3. sunshine in the early morning after several mornings of rain
  4. being outside of my house for a little bit this morning and reminded of life happening outside my walls
  5. hot coffee in a ceramic mug
  6. learning with my kids on the back porch

Everyday we choose. Everyday we choose to either seek after what is real, or settle for what is false. Today, and hopefully tomorrow, I choose real.

Leadership failures in Church Planting (part 2)

Earlier this week I posted the first of two parts in Leadership Failures in Planting. You can read that post here. Today I want to continue by giving you the other six reasons our plant failed from a leadership perspective.

I launched us without enough preparation

While our core group had been meeting for several months before we moved to the community we planted in, our family had only been in town about 3 months when we held our first “preview” service. Most of those who came initially were well wishers and servants from our sending church about 25 minutes away. I didn’t give myself enough time to build relational and missional credibility in the community before we began worshiping weekly. Also, while we did a great job with serving in the community once we started, this should have started months before the first service and lasted much much longer. Additionally, while I thought everyone was on the same page with the vision, purpose and mission of the church, and how we would pursue and fulfill the mission, the truth is they weren’t. The sole responsibility for casting clear and compelling vision was mine, and while it was clear in my mind and heart, I’m not sure our people embodied it very well. It didn’t translate, even though it sounded really cool! As I’ve heard Brian Sanders say, “If you have to remind people of the vision every seven days, there’s a good chance they don’t get it.”

I didn’t listen as much as I should have

Not listening enough has a direct relationship to not being prepared. When those in the church came to me with legitimate concerns, I needed to take time to listen. Instead of slowing down, practicing pastoral patience and listening more intently, I used “my vision” as a stick to beat people with. This resulted in feelings of inadequacy and guilt in those who in my eyes, “just didn’t get it.”. 

I didn’t consider the perception of our meeting space

We were very blessed to partner,  with a local parachurch youth ministry in our community that has a sterling reputation! The ministry owned a wonderful facility with a great meeting space for us to use and even office out of at no charge! Yet, what began as a great opportunity limited us when we never moved from there. The longer we remained in their facility the more our church became associated with that ministry, and we failed to establish our own identity in the eyes of the community. The biggest reason we stayed so long is we didn’t have enough resources to rent any other space. Another result of not raising enough support.

I didn’t bring a seasoned leader with me

De Soto Community Church was the first church I planted, and the first church I ever lead as the sole Pastor. While I had served on staff at a church prior to this, and lead other aspects of ministry, I had never lead a group of people on a level like this before. The combination of my lack of senior leadership, my age when we planted (26), and the fact that we had no children at the time, lead to what I saw as a reluctance to follow leadership coming from someone unseasoned. While I couldn’t do anything about my age or our current family make up, I could have built my team with people in different phases of life to ensure that as decisions were made, it wasn’t just my voice speaking. Planting with a plurality of leadership voices would have also served to help guide me personally through decision making.

I didn’t capitalize on the victories we did experience

God did a lot of incredible things in De Soto!  The Gospel was preached, lives were changed, and the name of Jesus has a good reputation in the community through the work of which we were a part. Our neighbors grieved when we left, (we grieved as well), civic and governmental leaders voiced sadness we were closing, and teachers and administrators in the schools we were active in also were saddened. Yet, when good things did happen, I didn’t celebrate. When our members gave tirelessly of their time in sports camps and block parties, I didn’t honor them. When we received more contacts than we could handle at outreach events, I didn’t follow up as thoroughly as I should have. Many times these things occurred because I never asked and equipped others to join me in the work.

I wasn’t humble enough

I let my pride, hubris and youthful arrogance get in the way. I didn’t walk closely enough with others who could speak with clarity, honesty, and focus into the specifics of my life and leadership. These people who could have helped weren’t there because I didn’t invite them in. As young leaders we must fight for other people to pour into our lives. One constant in the lives of the leaders we most want to emulate in our lives and ministry is how full their schedule is. If we want time with them, we must be teachable and persistent. I always wasn’t. Saying you didn’t meet with your coach that month, because they didn’t respond to your one call or email is on you, not them.

So, what are some lessons learned? Read about that here.

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 3 here

Leadership failures in Church Planting (part 1)

It has taken me five years to write this. It has taken me five years to come to a place healthy enough to admit without qualification, I failed. Why, without qualification? From the very day after we closed De Soto Community Church, the first and only church I have planted; the first church I literally gave blood, sweat and tears to, I could admit failure, but only while including others in the existing “blame.” Yes, I had failed, but if this person hadn’t done (x), or if only I would have known (y), things would have and could have been different. As Joco Willinck and Leif Babin say in their incredibly true and helpful book, ‘Extreme Ownership’;

Any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.

I had failed. Worse than the reality of failure, is the failure to learn from failure. So, how did I fail? I submit the following reasons:

I didn’t pursue enough training

I am so thankful that the North American Mission Board (NAMB), has now created more pathways, and paid pathways, for internship and apprenticeship for those who feel a calling into church planting. When we began our planting journey, as I was completing my MDiv at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, there simply weren’t internships and apprenticeships available at the level they are now. Furthermore, I really didn’t know anyone in the city, planting anywhere in the city. For me to pursue more training would have meant a move to a different city for at least a year, and a need to raise support. While these realities are reasonable, and even incredibly necessary, the truth is I wasn’t disciplined enough, nor willing to walk this path. Not only did I suffer, but my church plant did as well.

I didn’t submit to a proper Assessment

As director of our local NAMB Assessment Center in Kansas City, I often find myself jealous of the high caliber of assessment our potential planters are now receiving. When we were planting, assessment was a requirement, yet there wasn’t a clear and defined expectation for what assessment should be. In my case, assessment amounted to meeting regularly with men I know and trusted, and receiving feedback from those men. While these men loved and cared for me, having a level of detachment from myself and my assessors, would have done wonders in pointing out areas of concern for our planting journey.

I didn’t count the cost effectively

While a certain amount of this is to be expected for anyone stepping into a new area of ministry, I allowed my hubris, pride and belief in my own ability and creativity overshadow the many challenges I saw on the horizon. Because of this, I didn’t plan strategically for how to confront the challenges I saw coming. We always fall to the level of our training, never rise to the level of our expectations.

I failed to raise enough support

When we began planting, we had no children and my wife was working a $12/hour job. Our needs were not very great and I simply wasn’t comfortable with the idea and mechanics of raising support. Therefore, I didn’t raise much support at all. While in the very beginning this didn’t seem like a large burden, it really hamstrung us down the road when it came to renting worship space, sending out material, and buying simple things like signage. While money isn’t the most important factor in determining the success of a church plant, the lack of resources can be detrimental, especially when needing to make a big “push” after creating momentum from ministry wins.

I didn’t recruit well

I typically took a Revelation 22:7 approach to recruitment, namely, “Whosoever will…come!” While we can laugh, or choose not to, at the very poor preacher joke; the reality is, this was a terrible way to call people into an act of spiritual warfare! Of those that initially came with me when we planted, not a single one remained when we closed the doors. Many of those on the initial team I recruited never moved to the community. This should have been an enormous warning sign! While not impossible to plant a church in a community you don’t live in, it limits the relational aspect of ministry exponentially.

The ones I did recruit, I didn’t train properly

Of the whosoever’s who came, I assumed a level of Biblical knowledge, missionary behavior, and ownership of vision they simply didn’t have. The failure of my team to be equipped in all of these ways is solely my responsibility. Since I didn’t adequately prepare and train them, it shouldn’t have surprised me when they failed, or consequently when we as a church failed.

Later  I’ll share the remainder of the leadership failures we experienced and some lessons learned along the way

Read Part 2 here

Read Part 3 here

30

To my 20 year old self on my 30th birthday…

So you are turning 20.  I remember it well.. Living in that tiny apartment.  You felt so lonely.  Matt was taking lots of classes at the seminary and you wondered if it was worth all the time you were spending alone.  (Heads up.. It totally was).

You are still feeling uneasy in your new city.  It’s not quite been a year since you moved.. And man was it a hard year.  Your parents divorced and the pain has been unreal.  You aren’t sure if life will feel normal again. (Heads up…It totally will)

During this last decade, I’ve learned that life changes and it changes fast.  I know change doesn’t come easy for you, but embrace it.  Big things will come if you open yourself up to something different and new.

So heads up… You are actually going to move again; no not 1/2 a block to a different apartment, (the pool is awesome!), but to a small town to plant a church.  I know you are thinking.. Plant a church?!  We haven’t even talked about that.. But God has a plan for you. You will plant a church and meet some amazing people.. You will learn so much about ministry and what it means to offer hospitality and listen to people who are going through hard things.  You’ll even start to understand why you have experienced certain trials.. Just so you can speak truth, love extravagantly and have a good ear.  You will buy a house, Matt will finish seminary and you’ll even have your first daughter.  (First?! Oh yes.. Just the first one)

The road will get bumpy and through some hard praying this season and this church will close.  It will be hard, but you will have a peace.  God will still be at work.  You will learn that growing and gaining wisdom doesn’t come without a price.

You’ll move out of that first house a bit more west with your now 3 year old daughter; 1 year old son and a new baby girl in your tummy.  (3?!). Those early days of feeling lonely are getting much better.  You’ve begun to realize your need for community and an amazing group of people live close by.  You feel a deep calling from the LORD to go.. So you go.

Side note… Embrace community! It’s much harder having friends as an adult but it is worth the effort.  Put yourself out IMG_0275there.. Open up and let people in.

Life is crazy.  Life with three children is a lot.  You will love to be home but your relationship with Matt will struggle.  In these long days you will have to learn more than ever to seek the Lord together and put your relationship as a top priority.  He needs you.. Not your leftovers. Love him well and remember what started it all.  Encourage him. Listen to him. Hug him tight.

Raising kids takes a lot physically and mentally .  Enjoy it though.  Soak up the story times, cuddles, rounds of Bingo and kitchen play. By the time you are almost 30 Your first little girl is  going to be in second grade , Your son a kindergartner, your Ruby girl  will be 2 1/2 and little Evie, 3 months.  (Yes you will have 4 kids!). You will need breaks though.. Don’t feel guilty about going to get a little time for yourself now and then.  You have to take care of yourself to be a good mom.  Surround yourself with people who are an encouragement to you.  You need that more than ever during these years.

Also, your day is going to be filled with difficult moments, although it will feel like your day is ruined, just take a deep breath and keep going. I know you feel any negativity ruins the whole day.  It doesn’t have to.

God is going to stretch you.  You will not always understand.  Seek the Lord… Love your husband.. Enjoy watching your kids as they grow and learn (did I forget to mention you will homeschool?!) Your 20s will be your best yet. Enjoy them.. Don’t waste them.  Be teachable. You don’t know everything yet.

There is so much more I want to tell you, but…You need a few surprises!image

Love,

Yourself.. On the day you turn 30

The Move

IMG_20160602_174000We live in a great house; Midcentury modern, open floor plan, wood floors, lots of light, plenty of space. We live in a great house in a great neighborhood; brick paved streets, awesome neighbors, short walk to amazing coffee and Allen Fieldhouse, (Rock Chalk), and close to the highway. We live in a great house, in a great neighborhood, in a great town; Lawrence, Kansas; home to Kansas Basketball, incredible food, (like this, this and definitely this), (and this and this) great church plants, and dear, dear friends. And we are moving…

Three years ago, Jessica and I moved to Lawrence with the expectation that we would spend at least ten years in this house, in this neighborhood, with these friends, raising our two, almost three, and now four kids. We expected our family to live out the mission of God in our neighborhood, planting roots and seeking the good of our city together with other sojourners who wanted and were lead the same.

Yet, this life we were building in the pursuit of all this good, increasingly brought us out of alignment with each other, our kids, and ironically the mission we feel called to.

The thing about great old houses in great neighborhoods is they aren’t cheap and they are prone to breaking. The thing about having four kids is, they aren’t cheap and they also are prone to breaking. The way God built, is building our family requires a lot of bandwidth both housesalepicin terms of time and resources. Over time, the combination of a growing family (and growing medical bills, living expenses) and a house in constant need of updating and repair, lead us to a situation where me having secondary employment wasn’t just a nice bonus, but an absolute necessity financially.

Over the last four years, in addition to my work with the North American Mission Board as a Church Planting Catalyst, I have been incredibly blessed and humbled to serve four different churches in an interim pastor capacity. God has been incredibly gracious in each of those situations, both to myself and the churches we were involved with. In each, God has brought growth and healing for myself and the churches involved and each stop has allowed us to stay afloat financially. Yet, in the intervening months when I wasn’t serving a local church as interim, our family fell off a cliff financially. This cycle has repeated itself yearly over the last four years and has combined to place us under a mountain of debt and stress. Additionally, and more importantly, for the majority of the last four years, our family has worshipped in different locations on Sunday mornings, as some churches have been at a considerable distance to travel with four young children and I have missed precious time at home when local church responsibilities have required my presence.

For me to continue leading my family in worship with them, as well as spend the time I desire with each of them as they grow, things had to change. If you remember, here; Jessica and I shared an expression of the Mission God has called our family to and for us to complete that mission requires time; time from and with both of us. In short, our current life was increasingly out of alignment with the goal and mission of our family.

At the end of the day, while we love our home, it’s not the idol that defines our identity and it’s not the most important thing in our life. Rather, our home is a useful tool in our God called work of building “a family of missionary servants“. Our hope is that again soon we will own a home that we can joyfully work on together and for that place to be the place our children remember growing up. IMG_20160602_173918It is also our hope to serve a local church as a family together, not separated as has been the case for too long.

So, for the time we have remaining in this house we’ve made a home, instead of sadness and mourning, we choose to live in thankfulness and gratitude. And instead of fear and unknowing, we choose joyful expectation of what God has ahead.

 

 

Family Mission

*This post is coauthored by Matt and Jessica

I (Jessica) admit I like to be organized and have a plan. I plan and write down everything… And this always proves to be helpful.

We (as a society) make lists for the grocery store, house projects, ideal vacation spots… So it always amazes me a little when people mention they are mostly “winging” this family thing.

I think it comes somewhat out of nowhere.  You have a little baby and the days revolve around feedings and nap and then all of a sudden you realize that these kids are not so little.  They are becoming real people with their own unique thoughts and ideas. They have eyes and ears that are picking up on much of our day to day rituals.  I know that time moves so quickly and that the years are already going fast and so being intentional with each day as family seems necessary.

A couple years ago Jessica and I (Matt) decided we needed to develop a family mission statement.  While we are not a business or a church, we are seeking for our life and family to emulate and reflect certain values and goals. We decided getting those things on paper was very important. So, here’s what we came up with…

IMG_20140802_162531

We are family for the good of the city

In the coming weeks we will unpack the specifics of each part of the above statement, but to give a bit of a preview, this is some of what we mean.

 

 

We are a family

We are a family who in love and humility spurs one another on to Christ likeness. Proverbs 27:17 and Hebrews 10:19-25

We are a family who chooses to operate with grace, forgiveness and accountability. Ephesians 4 and Matthew 18

We are a family who views children as a blessing and not a burden.-Psalm 127

We are a family who expects our children to honor and trust.-Ephesians 6:1-3

We are a family for the good 

We are a family who loves God and loves others – Matthew 22:34-40

We are a family who celebrates the power of the ordinary and the every day. Romans 12:1-2

We are a family who expects to work hard and to do our best – Colossians 3:23.

We are family who will seek the Lord and will remain teachable – Matthew 6:33-34 and James 4:6-10.

We are a family for the good of the city. IMG_20160520_140711

We are a family who strives to model and practice servant hood – Philippians 2:5-11

We are a family who loves and cares for the neighborhood, people and city in which we live – Jeremiah 29:4-7

We are a family that believes our health and well-being is linked to the health and well-being of our neighbor-James 2 and Matthew 25

We are a family who will be involved in the mission of God in the places we live, work and play. Matthew 28:18-20, John 20, and Romans 12:1-2

 

Now, we could choose to not worry about any of this, but this is our ONE life.  We want to honor the Lord and grow our family to follow after Him, and having this mission codified helps to keep our family headed in the same direction.

Multiple times we have come to a point where we could go two (or three or four) different directions; and if we hadn’t spent anymore time thinking through who we we were as a family than what we wanted for dinner, we would have had a much more difficult time making decisions.

Life is so unpredictable and while spontaneity and “winging it” has its moments, the direction of our family is not something we can afford to leave to chance.

Reflection

shadowMy oldest daughter raced down the hallway of our hotel in a rage.  She felt “shorted” and was refusing to come into our room with us.  It was 4 pm and our day had been filled with many emotional breakdowns from each of the kids.  I was tired and hungry and ready to relax, but now once again I had to “parent”.  I wanted to yell! I started back down the hall and somehow gained enough composure to direct her back towards our room in a way she responded to.

I wish I had all the answers.  I’m amazed how right when I seem to have one stage “figured out”, moments later I am slapped in the face with something new and seemingly more difficult.  Matt said that sometimes parenting four kids can feel like a twisted version of “Press your Luck” with the accompanying whammies coming in the form of a very fussy 2 month old,  an unreasonable toddler who shrieks a lot, a preschooler who is grumpy and hard to please and finally, the grade schooler with extreme attitude flare ups. It’s all hard.  I hate not knowing if I’m saying the right thing or handling the situation in the way that will reap the best results.

During our family devotion today we were read these words in James 1:23-24 “if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what kind of man he was”.

This got me thinking..  In the difficult moments (Which seem to be so often) am I forgetting what kind of person I am? Am I a hearer and not a doer?
I might not always have the right answer.  I might not always know what I should say to move past where we are, but in my moments of uncertainty as a parent, am I still a reflection of Christ? In my discipline, is there love? In my truth, is there kindness? In my redirection, is there self control?

This morning we shared with the kids basic skills to help us remember our reflection of Jesus; reading God’s word and prayer. Yet, if these skills are so “basic” how do we as parents so often forget? I  have been convicted about how often I am in prayer for my children.

It can become so easy to excuse each emotional moment our kids have as a “stage” and just assume it will pass. Yet, when we do this we fool ourselves into believing we have no control over the situation and worst of all miss out on opportunity to bless our children and grow ourselves. Friends, we are not powerless, we need to pray.

When your toddler is struggling with tantrums, pray that God will help her to learn to obedience.  When your 6 year old is emotional, pray that she will have peace.  When your preschooler is moody, pray that God will fill his heart with joy that can only come from Him.

Pray when you get ready in the morning.
Pray when you brush your daughters hair..
Pray during a diaper change,  while folding laundry or cooking dinner…
Pray while you lay next to your child or when you give them a bath..

Friends, let’s be a reflection of Jesus, not just in our hearing, but also in our doing.

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