Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category


Posted: July 29, 2012 in Leadership, Living Stones Church, Ministry

I’ve heard that ideally – you want to minister out of the overflow of your cup that is being constantly filled by Jesus.  That sounds great.  It sounds idyllic.  I’m curious how many pastors actually feel that they live in that space.  At the moment, I can at least say, I’m not one of them.

For the past four weeks I’ve been preaching a message series entitled “Life on the Vine” out of John 15 on the importance of living a life deeply engrafted in Jesus.  While others listened in, I wrote the messages for myself, knowing that I’m not sure I’m as plugged into Jesus as much as I need to be in order to be the kind of Pastor/Leader I want to be (and the Living Stones Church deserves).  I have some pruning I need God to attend to.  I have some life habits that could use a “restart”.  And my past experience informs me that the only way that happens is when I commit an extended period of time to unplug from the weekly urgency and necessity of daily ministry.

In that posture I hear God better.  He is typically very gracious and speaks to me in ways that reveals my heart condition (thus prodding me to make necessary adjustments, recalibrations, and plain ol’ repentances) as well as vision and direction for the future (specifically for Living Stones Church).

I’m in need of one of those times.  I’ve taken a few of those “assessments” you can take on “clergy burnout” etc.  And it revealed that if I plan on going the long-haul in ministry (which I do…like at least another 25 years [Lord willing] [side note:  statistically – 90% of individuals who enter ministry will not retire from ministry]) I would need to have some time for a “spiritual tune-up” if you will.  So – that is what I’m going to do.

The elders of the Living Stones Church have been very kind, generous, and gracious to me.  They have encouraged me to take a sabbatical for a while (which usually resulted in me brushing off their suggestion because of…well…I’m going to guess fear and pride).  But after conversations with my wife, and her very insistent tone, I’ve decided to take them up on it and enter into a sabbatical season.

As soon as I return from a Junior High Summer Camp with our youth group (August 2nd), I will enter into a Sabbatical until September 9th.  I plan on enjoying some family time, hanging out with some Benedictine monks, and reconnecting in the vine that is Jesus.  I plan on disengaging from a lot, including all social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.).

The church is in good hands and is going to grow and thrive in my absence (but not too much because I still would like a job when I get back).  I’m not worried about the church at all.  We have the best staff of any church (I’m a little partial).  Truth be told…they were doing all the work anyhow! 🙂

We have a pretty ambitious plan ahead of us (which is pretty much taking over the world starting on the South Side of South Bend).  And I need to make sure I’m prepared in heart, spirit, and mind to be the kind of leader who can lead such an adventure.

Prayers for me during this time would be most appreciated.  Lord willing, I’ll see you September 9th!

You have SEVEN HOURS as of the time I posted this blog to get your High Schooler to the Living Stones Church @ 5:30 pm so they can participate in the Summer Kick Off of the High School Youth Group led by TIM BOUCHER!!!!!

SEVEN HOURS before they experience the time of their life and some pretty foundational experiences as a youth group.

So…if you are in High School…or you have a High Schooler get them to the Living Stones Church @ 5:30 pm.  From there they will be going out to South Paw (not “Paw Paw” as I kept saying on Sunday…which is where you go in Michigan for a bunch of vineyards and wine tastings.  Don’t worry…our High Schoolers will not be going to a wine tasting this evening).  South Paw is the old residence of Jamie Moyer (the baseball player) turned into a retreat center.  They are going there for a cookout, swimming, games, etc.  They will return to the church @ 10:00 pm.

Any questions?  Send them to Tim Boucher here.

Let me give you another blog you should be checking out.  It is called Revitalize South Bend (*insertpumpfist*).

It’s creator:  The most excellent Beth Harsch.

Listen to its purpose and intent:

As a resident of South Bend, I refuse to believe we’re a ”Dying City,” as a recent article in Newsweek claims. Nor do I care to give credence to Princeton who lists South Bend among the ”College Towns not so Great.”

I believe what many residents of South Bend believe… that this is a generous, caring, innovative community.

My desire is to highlight those people (and groups) in our community who will not let some Newsweek article define them. This is for, and about, those generous, caring and innovative people doing transformational work that improves life in South Bend.

Won’t you join me as we share ideas and resources that can benefit others in our community?

Add it to your blog roll, check out its contents frequently, and COMMENT and engage in the conversation!!

And while you are there should especially check out today’s blog post!!

“I’m Pastorman”

Posted: May 9, 2012 in Leadership, Ministry, vision

Most Pastors I know (including myself) want to believe that by way of identity they are leading a community of faith to change the world through the expansion of the Kingdom of God.  Sounds exciting doesn’t it?  It is (or at least it can be)!  It’s the stuff of superheroes – battling spiritual principalities, rescuing those who have been taken captive to sin and suffering, standing up for truth (and grace)!!!  I practically walk around with a music/movie soundtrack playing in the back of my head – you know…those anthemic intense superhero ones.  “I’m Pastor-Man!!!” *looks out the window to see if I can see my Pastor-man signal in the sky*

What most pastors don’t want to be is a chaplain to society.  That is a totally different identity.  It doesn’t have anthemic intense superhero music set in the background.  It is more like musak in an elevator.  Boring.  Ignored.  Seemingly unnecessary.  And at times – obnoxious (really…you’re going to set “Everybody Rules the World” by Tears for Fear to Musak!!!!?)

Did you know that cruise ships have a chaplain?  They do.  And they get to enjoy a week-long cruise for free as long as they hold an interdenominational service on Sunday morning and are available should they be needed (guess how many people attend this service on a cruise ship).  Do you know when chaplains on cruise ships are needed?  Never.  I’m going to suggest that every employee on a cruise ship, and I don’t care if you are the lowest rung of the maintenance crew, the kitchen staff, or the housekeeping – is more important than a chaplain on a cruise ship.  You may be tempted to think to yourself, yea, but what if the ship is sinking…I bet you would want a chaplain then.  The answer:  NOPE.  No one in the midst of a sinking ship thinks to themselves, “I wish I had a chaplain.”  What they want is a life boat or someone skilled enough to plug that hole in the side of the ship.  The only time a chaplain comes in handy is at the very end, when all hope is lost, we know we are about to drown…we’ve totally given up…now – someone find a chaplain to say something or pray something because we are about to meet God.

Pastors, if they aren’t careful, can very quickly be relegated by society to chaplaincy.  It happens all the time.  The obligatory prayer before the city council meetings, the invocation at the start of the Little League game, a blessing at some civic dedication ceremony (which by the way…these aren’t bad things…and I’ve done some of them), but ultimately it is a very different function than “Pastor-Man” (I just puffed my chest out as I said that…I’m not sure even when puffed it extends past my belly…dang it!) a leader of God’s people called to change the world.

[More on this later]

While not  necessarily news to Living Stones Church (unless you missed the week we made the announcement) – I haven’t announced it on the blog – so…

I’m very excited to announce that we are hiring two outstanding gentlemen (loosely defined) to serve on staff here at the Living Stones Church.  

Jeff Gritton

First, we hired Jeff Gritton to lead our Communitas Groups (small groups) and serve as Pastor of Ministries.  Jeff officially begins this Sunday, April 1st (at least that is when we start paying him – he actually started work a month ago…and April Fools Day as a start date seems foreshadowing).  Jeff will begin part-time (continuing to work part-time at Liberty Mutual) and transition to full-time hopefully later this year.  Jeff brings with him a wealth of experience and expertise and is excellent at relationally connecting with our leaders and helping them by way of encouragement, resources, and guidance in vision and mission.

Tim Boucher...who got the job in spite of the fact that he is an Ohio State fan.

Second, we hired Tim Boucher to lead our Student Ministries and Creative Arts.  Presently, Tim is working as a teacher at Jackson Middle School (where…by the way…he was “Teacher of the Year”).  When the school year is up, Tim will begin his employment with Living Stones the second week of June [and by that I mean he will actually start getting paid for the work he is already doing].  Tim brings with him a great passion and energy (as well as years of experience in ministry in several areas) that is contagious and exciting.

I’m personally looking forward to both Tim & Jeff being on staff and bringing a 50/50 balance between men and women on staff.  This will definitely improve my record in our LSC staff men vs. women dodge ball and “red rover” tournaments!!!!  I’ve heard Tim has a wicked throwing arm (but a bum knee) and no one is getting past Jeff in a Red Rover competition.

Read any book on “healthy churches” and there will be a chapter on the importance of small groups.  I feel like I’ve read every one of them.  And when I hear “small groups”, this is what I hear – “blah blah blah blah.”  This is my pastoral confession.  I believe that every Pastor knows they are important, and the hidden secret is that a lot of Pastor’s hate them.

At the Living Stones Church (and even previously as the Donmoyer Ave. Church of Christ) we have tried to do small groups with every known method to man!  We’ve done classic Bible studies, groups based on demographics, groups based on your geographical location, gender-specific accountability groups, the cell-group model (and the cell-group model that was rolled out every year at a conference to be the “new and improved” cell-based model), the semester-based/short-term growth group model, etc.

There are pros and cons to all of those methods.  But in November of 2011 when we had a leadership meeting and we began discussing our small group ministry, I personally felt apathetic, and I didn’t sense a whole lot of excitement in the room of among the other leaders at LSC.


We started applying some principles we had read in a series of blog posts that challenged how churches typically structure themselves for spiritual growth and transformation.  And by the time we were done talking, dreaming, and planning – the whole room lit up with excitement about a new way of thinking and experiencing small groups at Living Stones Church.

Over the next two weeks I want to share that discussion with you and tell you about our plans for small groups and how they are intertwined with spiritual transformation and community (two topics we have talked about for a very long time).

As a hint – the author of the blogs we read, who happens to be a diehard CrossFit coach – used CrossFit as a working analogy and paradigm for the spiritual realm.  I’ll tell you more about it on Sunday!  I’m very excited about it…like uber-excited!

[This is a series of blogs dealing with issues pertaining to condition of neighborhoods on the South Side of South Bend.  You can read the first couple of posts here , here , here, & here.]

A few years ago Jennae Gee and I attended a conference on Bridges Out of Poverty at the Century Center here in South Bend.  The conference was based on the work of Ruby Payne.  It was incredibly insightful.  One of the things that was mentioned in the conference was the “type” of businesses that reflect an area of poverty.  I’m sure you know this experientially as you note the difference between the businesses found in an impoverished area, and those found in a more affluent area (e.g., Granger, Grape Rd. & Main St. in Mishawaka).    In the conference they provided a list of the kinds of businesses that begin to take over a neighborhood when it is sliding towards, or is in, poverty.  They listed the following:

  • Pawn shops
  • Liquor stores
  • Corner stores (like…the shady looking ones that you’re just a little suspect of in regards to what they are really selling)
  • Rent to own stores
  • Laundromats
  • Fast food restaurants (if there are any restaurants at all)
  • Check cashing
  • Temp services
  • Used-car lots (you should count how many are on Michigan Street!)
  • Dollar stores
As soon as they read the list, I immediately started thinking about the kind of businesses that existed on the South side of South Bend.  YES…we do have the Ireland Rd. business district (corridor) that runs from Ironwood to West of Michigan that contains businesses that reflect a non-impovershed area (e.g., Target, Kohl’s, Supermarkets, etc.).  But as soon as you move north of Ireland Rd. things change quickly and dramatically!
Below is a slide show of businesses that are on two major corridors coming into the city of South Bend from the South side.  One is Michigan Street (the “Southgate” of the city) [pictures are from Chippewa to Indiana Ave.] and the other is Miami St. (also known as the “Miami Village Association”) [pictures are from Ewing St. to about Indiana Ave.].  Take a few minutes to look at these photos and see if you don’t recognize in them that the these main arteries into the city are “impoverished areas.”  Side note:  the pictures are almost exhaustive of businesses on these two street.  I did leave out Bob Miller’s Appliance Store (a great exception here on the South Side), the Landing Catering & Banquet hall, 1st Source bank, and a host of muffler or body shops.
Thank you to Ann Lynn who took these photos!
The question is – how do we stop the movement towards greater poverty in regards to the “types” of businesses that are located on the South side of South Bend?  How do we encourage investment by businesses that reflect opportunities for growth, jobs, and economic development?  What incentives can be offered or provided to turn the tide towards businesses that help a neighborhood rise above its declining state?

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[This is a series of blogs dealing with issues pertaining to condition of neighborhoods on the South Side of South Bend.  You can read the first couple of posts here & here.]

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. – Apostle Paul

As you drive along the South Side of South Bend there is a divide that takes place at Ewing Ave.  South of Ewing, you are in the 5th city council district and in the zip code of 46614.  North of Ewing you are in the 6th city council district and are now in the zip code of 46613.  Not only is there a divide in council districts and zip codes, but there is also a divide in regards to the socio-economic demographic and with it a spirit of fear.

What you will notice as you move north of Ewing is that many homes have their front yard fenced in.  On the south side of Ewing, almost no residence has their front yard fenced in.  If they do, it is for decor.  But on the north side, the fences are not for aesthetic value – they are for security.  They are taller fences with locks.  And through it you can see a growing spirit of fear.

Whenever a spirit of fear grips a neighborhood, the future is not bright.  Panic sets in.  People begin to isolate themselves (thus becoming not very good neighbors) and look for opportunities to leave to a “safer” neighborhood.  That is why police investigators are so eager to want to resolve any crime or mystery to alleviate the contagion that comes with a spirit of fear.

My first real experience with a community spirit of fear came at the Miami Hills Apartments.  One day I went to the apartment complex to figure out a map of the buildings and the numeration of apartments within each building.  I parked my car in the apartment complex and received a phone call before getting out of the car.  While on the phone, a guy starts to circle my car.  Finally, after several passes, he came up to the window and asked if I knew what time it was.  He then went on his way.  Unbeknownst to me, as I was sitting in my car, small pockets of people had gathered together in different sections of the parking lot.  I got out of the car and approached a gathering of three women to ask a question about the signage on the building and the numbers on the apartments.  As I approached and asked my question, the only reply I received was a hushed…”are you FBI?”  Taken back I asked, “What?”  She repeated, “Are you FBI?”  I laughed (and honestly was a little flattered that she even thought I could get into the FBI) and then told her who I was and what I was doing.  And then we had a 15 minute conversation about their kids, Vacation Bible Schools, etc.

But what I saw was a spirit of fear.  And when a spirit of fear grips a neighborhood – it takes over.  You become afraid of everyone.  You are afraid of crime.  You are afraid of strangers.  You are afraid of police.  You are afraid of your neighbors (and especially your neighbor’s teenage kids).  You fence your front yard.  You put in security systems (or at least a sticker that makes it look like you have a security system).  You buy a dog.  You put up a “beware of dog” sign.  And you barricade your home.  And you dream of the day when you can move to Granger.

Your neighborhood is guaranteed to decline.

There are other signs:  notice how many people go to a garage sale north of Ewing versus in a subdivision south of Ewing.  Note the absence of little kids playing outside in the front yard in the middle of the summertime.

If a neighborhood is going to see revitalization, one thing that must be addressed is the spirit of fear that is gripping the neighborhood.

Going Down With the Ship

Posted: January 18, 2012 in Church, Leadership, Ministry, vision

Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino

Sucks to be this guy right now!

He broke one of the maritime laws and expectationsthe Captain goes down with the ship (OK…actually the law doesn’t state that the Captain has to go down with the ship but it does state that he has to be the last one off the vessel)!  And what did Captain Schettino of the Costa Concordia do?  He abandoned ship while 1000s were left on board a sinking vessel!

-De Falco: “You go aboard. It is an order. Don’t make any more excuses. You have declared ‘abandon ship.’ Now I am in charge. You go on board! Is that clear? Do you hear me? Go, and call me when you are aboard. My air rescue crew is there.”

-Schettino: “Where are your rescuers?”

-De Falco: “My air rescue is on the prow. Go. There are already bodies, Schettino.”

-Schettino: “How many bodies are there?”

-De Falco: “I don’t know. I have heard of one. You are the one who has to tell me how many there are. Christ.”

-Schettino: “But do you realize it is dark and here we can’t see anything…”

-De Falco: “And so what? You want go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on that prow of the boat using the pilot ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their needs are. Now!”

-Schettino: “…I am with my second in command.”

-De Falco: “So both of you go up then … You and your second go on board now. Is that clear?”

We now know that Captain Schettino never went back on board of the sinking ship.  And, the cause of the sinking ship?  Captain Schettino’s error.  He disregarded the charted and approved course and in an attempt at a little show-boating – he ran into a large rock.  And then…he stood on the safety of the shore watching over 4000 individuals (some of whom did not survive) scramble to survival…women, children, elderly, etc.  Coward.

I couldn’t help but wonder how often this happens in ministry.  I know there isn’t some universal code where a Pastor promises to “go down with the ship [church]” but I wonder if there should be.

How many times does a Pastor enter into a congregation and begin to make changes – sets a new course, alters a previous vision/mission, ruffles some feathers of those who are either in leadership or long-standing members?  I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing.  Sometimes, it is the VERY thing a dying or plateaued congregation needs and God is calling for.  BUT – when it happens, the ship may begin to sink.  It may “take on water.”  Attendance sinks.  Giving sinks.  Bank accounts/finances are exhausted.  Congregational morale sinks.  Increased conflict occurs.  Tension and difficulty arises.  And what does the Pastor do?  Often, they leave and move on to another church.  One that doesn’t feel like it is sinking.  And in so doing, they have “abandoned ship” and left a mess for some poor overly loyal staff member to clean up, or a lay team to figure out how to rescue any remaining survivors.  Meanwhile, he/she is off to a new assignment sipping coffee on the deck of a new boat far removed from the disaster he created.

If you want to be bold and proclaim a new direction/vision in the “name of God” I’m cool with that.  But then you need to commit that you aren’t going to “abandon ship” when it looks like things may be sinking.

The only exceptions I would commend are two:  1) is if the rescue effort, or the righting of the ship, cannot occur because of the inept presence of the Captain.  In that case, for the sake of the ship [church] – the Captain needs to leave the ship. 2) Because of the congregational polity – you were never considered the Captain to begin with.  From the beginning you were a “hired hand” and not the leader of the boat.

(left) Captain Smith of the Titanic (right) Bernard Hill playing Captain Smith in the movie Titanic

This past Sunday we concluded our Sucker Punched series.  I’m glad.  I’m a little emotionally drained by it.  A few times, as some of you may have noticed, my allergies kicked in during my message and it might have looked like I was a little weepy.  I wasn’t.  I’m too masculine for such displays.  For my concerned guy friends, you’ll be pleased to know I’m now on Clairtin and it should be better.

I’ve enjoyed this series.  Usually by the end of a series, I’ve wanted it to be over weeks ago and I’ve mentally moved on.  But this series I felt engaged all four weeks.  I’ve also received A LOT of response from this series.  More so than normal.  I’ve heard a lot of sucker punched stories.  In addition to the personal e-mails, notes, or Facebook messages, we saw videos of stories here at LSC (thank you to Doug Harsch as filming, editing, and rendering a video is no small task and he did four of them in four weeks).  And finally, we encouraged people to write on half sheets of paper their sucker punch story, a prayer request, or a next step action out of being sucker punched.  In total – it was a lot of stories.

And after reading all of the stories, I just feel humbled.

There are a lot of hurting people here (and that is just from the ones I know!).  It might be a normal amount for a typical church, but it seems like a lot to me.

And in the end, I have this thought…I wish this church had a better pastor.  I do.  If I had to hire a pastor for the Living Stones Church, I’m not sure I would hire me.  I’d look for someone who is a lot more spiritual.  I’d look for someone who is a lot better at counseling.  I’d look for someone who is more pastoral (in the genuine sense of the word).  I would look for someone who had their act together more so than I do who doesn’t struggle with the thoughts I do, or behaviors I do.  I would pick someone who knows the Bible more and prays with greater ease than I do.  I’d hire someone who doesn’t walk around with a perpetual sense of insecurity about how to deal with so many sucker punch stories.

As I read this I worry that you might think I’m trying to communicate some sort of false-humility in the guise of the “I’m not a perfect Pastor” (as if you didn’t already know that) speech.  I’m not.  I sincerely do have these thoughts.  But don’t worry about me.  I have enough pride and arrogance that I’m not overwhelmed by them. 🙂  And even in the midst of these thoughts, I know I’m called to be here at the Living Stones Church.

So, in the end, I recognize that I get to be here doing what I love to do, with a group of people I absolutely love, simply because of God’s grace.  That has to be it.  Because he couldn’t have looked down on the face of the earth and chosen me due to my spiritual qualifications and accomplishments.

Thank you God for your grace.

Thank you Living Stones Church for the honor of allowing me, a sojourner with you in this Kingdom venture, to be called your Pastor.