failure

Father’s Day Reflections 2017

Father’s Day has always been an incredibly bitter sweet day for me. For many years the bitter was all I tasted as I was filled with a lot of anger, pain and resentment. My dad has never lived up to my expectations; yet I imagine he hasn’t lived up to his own expectations either. This feeling is a lot like I feel about my fifteen year old Volkswagen; the idea of how great it could be is far better than what I get to drive around everyday.

I gave up being bitter a long time ago. For many years, the root of my bitterness came more from feeling like I lost something I was owed more than any real anger I had towards him as a man. I felt like he took something from me, innocence, money, security, freedom. Mostly, he just took time.

When I look in the mirror I see glimpses of him. I see him in my eyes and my hair. I can smell him in my aftershave, hear him in my own laugh and quick wit, and feel him in my own pride, arrogance and anger. In my most honest moments I will tell you my greatest fears all revolve around being like him, and the danger of throwing life’s most important things away in selfishness and addiction.

If I mourn the loss of anything, I mourn the loss of his life in my life. When I was a senior in High School I remember sitting on the pock marked linoleum in the kitchen of our rental house crying uncontrollably because I didn’t know how to put line on my fishing pole. I felt deficient. I felt lost. I felt alone. I mourn the loss of all his knowledge, skill and insight. There have been many times I’ve wondered how deficient my own fatherhood is because of this. What skills, knowledge, history will not make it to the next generation because it failed to be passed on to this one?

If I mourn the loss of anything, I mourn his loss of my life in his life. God has been and is so so good. My wife is a treasure, like the first cup of coffee in the morning. She is so unbelievably consistent, yet everyday with her is still like Christmas. My children, my four children, are like the most glorious kaleidoscope, with colors whirling, and dancing, and spinning, always moving and never ever boring. Yet, like a man without sight, he is unable to see. He is unable to see all this good, all this glory, all this joy.

As I sit and think about my story, my mind often returns to the goodness of God and the words of King David in both 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles, “Who am I oh Lord, and what is my family that you have brought me this far? And you didn’t stop there, oh God! You have also spoken about the future of your servants family.” David, in awe of what God would do with someone like him and his family offers praise at what has happened and joyful expectation of what is coming. May I be and do the same.

 

Being the people we are raising our kids to be-Trying New Things

I love my daughter. I love all 3 of my daughters. I love my son too, just in case he’s reading this, (he’s not…he’s five). Our oldest daughter is 7 and she is smart, determined, and loves to read. She takes leadership of many things, siblings included, and she is a perfectionist, which is a tough combination to contend with when you are doing something new.

Whether it is math, piano, or baseball, if she can’t preform the task perfectly the first time, she wants to give up. Tears run, voices are raised, bedroom doors are slammed shut in frustration. Over and over, the words of her mother and I come, “Babe, you can’t expect to do something perfectly the first time. If you want to get better at something you have to practice.” Often, our words go unheeded.

I was recently asked to write a couple things for a good friend and mentor who is developing a training curriculum for new church planters. I said yes because I love and respect my friend, and I believe in the project he is working on. Yet, as I began to write I was so frustrated! Nothing was coming out right, I hated what I had written and wanted to give up over and over again. My internal dialogue was filled with biting questions, “Why can’t this be easier, sound better, or come out right? Why is this so difficult?”

Why is it, when we can challenge our kids to try new things, to practice, and keep going, even when something is new and difficult, we as the adults become so discouraged and want to give up when we do the same? The reasons are legion. For me, the questions sound like this, “What if I suck at this? What if people hate what I write? What if I hate what I write? What if someone actually reads this and has an opinion for good or ill?” While I like to talk a big and inspired game to my kids about doing new things, working to get better at what I struggle with, and not giving up; often my fear of failure, the opinion of others, and my pride combine to short circuit my good intentions.

It’s helpful to remind ourselves that before we do something well, we have to do it poorly, and before we do it poorly, we have to suck at it. The quicker we get about the business of being terrible, the quicker we can perform adequately, then reasonably, then exceptionally. Anne Lamont says, “it takes a thousand paragraphs to find one good one.” Yet, you don’t get the good one without the thousand bad ones. It was that initial ask by my friend to write for him that made me realize my deficiency and then commit to writing more, albeit terribly to begin with. Hence, the great amount of activity on this site as of late.

With anything we put our energy towards we will run into those that throw stones, cast dispersions or generally don’t like us. Yet, that only matters if we are doing it for them and their approval. If not, just keep going, grinding and realize the reward is ultimately internal, in the process of getting better. If we are raising our kids to be the best possible versions of themselves, we owe it to them and us, to be the people we are raising them to be.

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.

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

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