Friday, July 6, 2012

Courageous confrontation

I learned from my mentor that in most organizations (especially churches), most people in authority would rather make rules than deal with a person directly. It takes less time, effort and emotional energy to simply make a rule (which typically applies to a few people, or even a lone individual) than to sit down with a person and coach them through a weakness, blind spot, or failure.

This sort of system simply develops mindless robots, not leaders. Leaders think, followers do. Isn't the goal to get people doing the right thing simply because it's the right thing to do (and it makes sense), rather than because it's a punishable offense? If we'll courageously confront the behavior based on agreed-upon core values, people are more willing to cooperate. And they'll become a part of the solution, rather than a disconnected, disgruntled part of the problem.

I took too long in confronting one member of our team early on in our church planting journey. This person was quite dramatic and needed to be the center of attention, and it was getting frustrating to us and the rest of the team. Since I really felt they were supposed to be with us, I didn't want to just hammer them (which would have crushed them). I took things slowly and methodically... but never really got to the heart of the matter. To be honest, it was the result of fear... this person was a valuable part of our team (with incredible gifting... a real producer) and I didn't want to lose them. So I reasoned that if I took it slow I could keep them and salvage the relationship.

This turned out to be a mistake. I thought they would be with us a long time, but they left six weeks after I started "grinding off the rough edges." They found someone who was willing to stroke their ego and lead them to another church. (Of course we sent them off with our blessing.) As a result, I was never able to help them grow beyond this personality (character) flaw because I didn't want to hurt their feelings.

We are called to use our influence to help sharpen the people around us. (Just as iron sharpens iron, a person sharpens the character of his friend. - Proverbs 27:17) But I failed to do that with this individual.

Actually, in his amazing book "Good to Great", Jim Collins says that failure to confront, or as he puts it, "get the wrong people off the bus" hurts our credibility as leaders. And it can cause our top producers (who already realize that a change needs to take place) to be less satisfied and committed.

All said and done, I wasn't showing this person or my other team members the respect they deserved. After this person left I apologized to those affected, and also to the person. It's one thing to say we desire to help everyone reach their potential, but it's a totally different thing to actually be committed enough to do it. I have since determined to confront when the need arises, and teach my team how to do so biblically. And I've asked my staff to hold me accountable.

So how do you handle confrontation in your organization/workplace/church/family?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Those who make the journey with you...

I was going through some photos from our Watermark launch team days.  It was fun to look back and see how far we've come.

One thing struck me, though.  As I looked at one of the earliest launch team photos we have on the web I noticed that of the 10 people in the picture, only six of us remain in Watermark... my family and Tabea (one of our staff members).

One went to become a teacher in North Rhine-Westfalen.  A young couple is back in the USA.  Another is serving at her home church back in the Netherlands.  The last one is still in Freiburg and we see her from time to time, but she just isn't involved anymore.

I remember one of my mentors telling me that very few of those that start with you will complete the journey with you.  I knew this going into the church planting process... but today reminded me of just how true this is.

God brings some people into our lives for just a season.  Our job is to encourage them to follow the God's path for their individual lives.  We need to help them get where they're supposed to be... even if that isn't with us or our church.

Although not pictured here, one couple that helped us for the first year told us that their kids had made friendships with kids in another church through an after-school program, and they wanted to start attending that church.  I know that pastor - he's a good guy.  They'll be involved in a good church where their kids are happy.  I was happy to give them our blessing.  Actually, this couple expected us to tell them they were missing God's will, but we instead encouraged them to get involved in their new church

Another couple was "on loan" from their church for a year.  They were an immense help, but felt that when their year was up they needed to get involved again with their home church.  Others have moved for jobs or school, etc.

Some won't complete the journey because it's too tough, or because of disappointment or disillusionment, and that's okay too.  As individuals from our launch team told us they weren't happy at Watermark anymore, or that "things just don't feel the same as they used to," we weren't surprised.  Of course not... our church is growing!  It's supposed to change, just like a baby is expected to grow.

As my mentor says, "People will view the church in light of the size it was when they first came."  If they joined the church or the team when we started (42 was our first month's average), they expected to have the same amount of access to us and to the other team members.  We were one big happy family.  We met at the church and at my office (Starbucks) on a regular basis.  But as the church started to grow and more people got involved, this became more difficult.

Let me put it this way: as we've grown, so has the number of relationships... actually, the number of relationships increases exponentially for each new person involved.  When you go from five people to six the number of relationships increases from 10 to 15  And the more people you add, the more complex this becomes.

With this in mind, it's easy to see why people become frustrated.  It's harder and harder to have the close knit relationships we used to have... especially when our mission is to continually expand our relational circles.  We have to be prepared for the fact that most of the people we start with won't complete the journey with us.

God asks us, though, to develop each person He sends to us, and to have them develop others.  We have to trust that when good people leave - especially those we've invested heavily in - He will send us others that are even better.

Remember... whatever we sow (plant) we will reap (harvest). (Galatians 6:7)  If we want the right people to come to us, we need to be willing to release people to fulfill their destiny.  In other words, we need to pastor with open hands... hands that welcome people when they come.  And hands that release people (with a blessing) when they go.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Giants in the land

The first 18 months of our church planting journey weren't easy, but they weren't hard either.  God's amazing grace was there the entire time to help us everytime we ran into a snag.  We could see His hands in action everywhere we looked.

Well last summer I felt God speaking to me about our church.  It was as if He was saying, "The grace you've been walking in is about to change."  It felt as if we were the Israelites on the edge of the Promised Land.  Everyday they experienced a fresh supply of manna.  They didn't have to work for it.  They didn't have to even pray about it.  It was just there... every single day!  That's exactly what it was like for us.

But God was telling me that we were getting ready to enter the Promised Land.  That this "no-work" blessing was going to change.  He was clear, though, that we were going to be entering "a land flowing with milk and honey!"  But we would have to work for it.  The land would produce what we needed... even an abundance.  But there would be effort involved.

Let me tell you... He was right!  Since the beginning of the year (2012) it's been a real struggle.  Our staff and many of the members of our team and our church have had some real battles.  I had forgotten something about the Promised Land... there are giants there.  And we've seen them raise their ugly heads.  At times we've felt like quitting, and it's been really tough to stay on task.  But we know what God has called us to do... and we're determined to do it!

These past few months have been a real time of soul-searching for our staff, our team and our church.  It's almost as if we've come through the spiritual Winter season.  There are beautiful sights to see in Winter (snow, etc), but it's cold and lonely... it seems like it will never end.  But while on the outside everything seems dead, on the inside, things are getting ready for Spring.  Without Winter there can be no Spring.

The good news is that we've seen God's blessing increase.  More people are coming to Christ, more people are making fresh dedications of their lives to Him, more people are being filled with God's Spirit.  And our influence is growing as rapidly as our attendance.  Our Servolution and our Easter Egg Hunt opened the door for a local school to ask our church to help them rebuild some of their playground equipment. (This NEVER happens in Germany!!!)

I guess I'm writing this as a catharsis.  Honestly, we're in a good place.  It's been a tough, but good process.  These times really force you to see where your faith is centered.  Is it focused on "results" or finances, or is it focused on the One who called us to plant this church in the first place?

If you're a church planter, be encouraged.  There are tough times all along the journey.  But God is there every step of the way.  There will be marvelous opportunities to give up.  But don't even allow yourself to entertain the thought of quitting.  If you'll just stay the course, you'll see the prize!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Easter Egg Hunt

As a finale to our Servolution, we held a city-wide Easter Egg Hunt.  We had 12,000 American easter eggs (had to be imported), which were filled with toys or candy.  Cornerstone Church in Blue Springs, MO, USA sent a team of willing volunteers that worked with our church to stuff eggs, prepare for the Easter Sunday Carnival and stuff mailboxes with nearly 8000 invitations. We had a lot of fun together!

After we setup for the Egg Hunt we watched as a few people trickled in here and there.  It was a bit disheartening at first... all that work for so little people.  But we knew this was what God wanted us to do.  About 15 minutes before the Egg Hunt was supposed to start people started coming in droves from all directions!  All told, we saw about 1000 people show up... over 500 kids!  It was amazing!!!

And the most significant part of the entire Easter Egg Hunt: at least 6 people came to Christ as a direct result.  And we have now gained a reputation in the community for being a church that gives with no strings attached... just like Jesus did!  A local school has even asked that we help them renovate some of their playground equipment because we've earned such a good reputation through serving.  It pays rich dividends to obey what God tells you to do!

You can see more info on our Servolution by checking out this post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Servolution Challenge

Over the past month Watermark did a Servolution Challenge.  Robin and I had in our hearts to take personal finances (and that of a few of our friends) and give every adult that wanted to participate €40.  Their mission was to multiply it and go creatively serve our city.  We had 60 people accept the challenge!

We even got some positive press coverage from the regional newspaper (which is not normal for independent churches).  And at least two other churches (in other parts of Germany) and one nation-wide campus ministry are going to do their own version of our Servolution Challenge!

Here is a quick synopsis of SOME (not all) of the things they did:
  • Gave Christmas presents, school supplies, books, clothes and house shoes to needy children.
  • Gave an after school program craft supplies .
  • Served volunteer firefighters breakfast.
  • Presented nursing home residents with roses.
  • Served staff NICU nurses breakfast.
  • Baked goodies for local school teachers.
  • Baked homemade cookies & muffins for a halfway house (last phase before their final release from prison) and then left flowers and 10 envelopes with IKEA gift certificates.
  • Handed out chocolate to the homeless guys in the city.
  • Took chocolate bars to the cleaning staff of the trains.
  • Delivered toys, games, Hula hoops and sidewalk chalk for a program that works with children.
  • Homeless people were given diapers, food and toiletries.
  • Helped a single unemployed mother of 3 with train cards for her kids, household items and helped her find a job!
  • Bought people at a homeless shelter groceries and household items.
  • Bought cooking utensils and a vent for a youth home so the youth can cook without a smoke-filled room.
  • Bought groceries for a known beggar who has 7 children to care for.
  • Handed out free train tickets at the station.
  • Put a case of Starbucks coffee in the fridge for hospital staff with encouraging sayings attached.
  • One team went around the city and gave flower bouquets and Cokes to all of the toilet cleaning staff at the businesses and restaurants.
  • Served a crowded refugee home by playing games with their children. They caught soap bubbles, drew w/sidewalk chalk, and painted. They talked with all of the parents and gave them coffee, chocolate, toys, pens and food.
  • Gave out board games to non-profit group that volunteers to watch intercultural children after school.
  • Gave a bag with bread, drink, eggs and flowers to a begging woman.
  • Gave a man with a big hole in his leg a bag with food, antiseptic compresses and a train ticket home.
  • Gave an unemployed shepherd a bag with dog food, some muffins and a drink.
  • Served some “punks” soft drinks and cinnamon rolls.
  • Gave workers of a special bus with a coke and some pretzels.
  • Delivered a bag of dog food to another group of “punks” sitting with a dog.
Thanks to all those that gave and those that prayed!  Keep up the good work... you ARE making a HUGE difference!

A special thanks to Phil Burton and City Mission Kaiserslautern for helping birth this vision in us and for being cheerleaders along the way!

PS. As a grand finale we did a city-wide American Easter Egg Hunt for Freiburg.  More info & a video in our next post.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Organic small groups

We have been looking at our small group program lately.  Honestly, it's not much of a program.  Programs require work, organization, finances and publicity.  We decided from the beginning that at Watermark small groups would be encouraged, but not managed.  Actually, we've even challenged our people to start their own groups.  I told them that if they need "official permission", they now have it!

We believe that being a part of a group of people that love you, pray for you and that keep you accountable is very important.  This is where authentic relationships exist, which is our first core value.

We have one group of young German University students (girls) that meet in a pub. A bilingual, co-ed group meets in a dorm.  A group of guys meets at different places (with the motto "What is said in this room stays this room").  And we have groups that just get together every now and then, like our worship team.  They like to jam together and perform publicly as a group, as well as watching each others' gigs.  The only group that we initiated is a teaching-style Bible study.

Yes, this is giving away control.  And it could potentially allow a group of people to head off in the wrong direction.  But is leadership really all about control?  Or is it more about equipping, imparting into and releasing people to do what God has called THEM to do?

By allowing leaders to lead naturally, instead of us creating a structure and putting them over a group, we allow their leadership gifts and talents to be developed.  We don't have to provide the direction, energy or structure to keep things going.  And never forget if the true leaders that God sends you aren't given a chance to lead within your church, they will go somewhere else.

Besides, if we'll just keep the team focused on our core values and our mission, those that want to hijack the vision won't gain the influence necessary to do so.

This church is really a lifeline and a family for our people. We don’t really have a lot of rules or organization, but we have a team that is so amazing... they take initiative and just make things happen. As the team grows, our people are taking others under their wings and “mentoring” them in a very natural and organic way. It is exciting to see something working very well that was only a dream 18 months ago.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Don't get derailed!

Last Sunday we started our Servolution at Watermark.  For those that aren't familiar with this term, a Servolution is a church revolution through serving.  It fits perfectly one of our four core values: being missional and serving others with no strings attached.  In that service we gave 40 EUR to every teen and adult that committed to use it to serve someone that wouldn't or couldn't serve them in return.  God put it on our hearts months ago to do this, and we were happy to do so.

In the hopes of getting many people involved, we sought to create some buzz by posting many Facebook messages, and getting our team to do the same.

One of our staff members posted both a picture and a quick thought about it.  One of the guys that lives in her dorm posted a response to it on her Facebook Wall... he said it was a stupid idea and it was just a scam to make money.  She explained in more detail what we were trying to accomplish, and our heart to be a church that serves.  But he then posted a short clip from our initial fundraising video for the church launch (almost two years ago)... one in which I gave the expected budget and asked for people to get involved.  She was so upset that she removed his comment from her Wall and continued the conversation with him privately.

It was really frustrating to us... we took out over 3500 EUR from our personal savings (and some donations from three of our close friends in the USA) to make this happen (including our kids' tuition and next month's rent).  And here was someone with absolutely no clue trashing what we had put our heart and soul into.  Robin made the statement: "We PAY a lot of money just for the privilege of pastoring this church!"

But God reminded me of something my mentor says, "It's the guy with the football that everyone wants to tackle."  We have to understand that if we try to get out of the box and shake things up, there WILL be opposition!  Small people with small dreams will always try to crush the big dreams of others.  That shouldn't ever stop us (or even slow us down) in our pursuit of God's purpose for our lives.

I saw this so clearly a few years ago... in 2 Samuel 5:17 it says that as soon as David saw the realization of his God-given dream of becoming king, their enemies - the Philistines - brought their entire army to wipe him off the face of the planet.  There will always be opposition.  And the bigger the dream, the greater the opposition.

In the end this whole thing only made us more determined to do what God has called us to do.  We don't have time to worry about our critics or what others would say.  We need to stay on task: reaching the unreached of Freiburg and helping them find and fulfill their purpose in God's plan.

My encouragement to you today... don't let the opinions of others or their belittling comments derail you from pursuing God and taking risks for Him.  There is much to be done and little time to do it!
May God strengthen your heart and bless the effort you put into finding and completing His mission for your life!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The mistakes we made...

I met with a prospective church planter today.  As we talked he asked what mistakes I had made... he wanted to learn from them.  What an excellent question!  I'm going to list a few of the mistakes we've made.  Maybe you can learn from them as well.

  • I made a decision without seeking God.  Another young church wanted to rent our building on Sunday evenings.  Because they were small they asked if they could have it cheap.  And they wanted it immediately because their lease was up.  It started out okay, but they asked for too much too soon ("Can we use it another couple of nights a week for the same price?  Can we have the key?  Can we use the sound system?  Can we...?")
    • I wanted to help them out, so I said yes without taking enough time to really seek God about it.
    • I didn't charge them enough to begin with because I wanted to help them.  It was okay at first, but turned out to be difficult when we had to start charging more because of heating costs.
    • I allowed them to have a large event there without enough of our staff there to make sure everything was okay.  They ended up using our personal instruments and equipment and allowing children into areas we had clearly said were off-limits (and that without supervision).  The necessary conversation (confrontation) afterwards wasn't pleasant.  I could've saved us all a headache had I just proceeded slowly.
    • In the end I felt just like Joshua when he was tricked. (Joshua 9)  He and the elders of Israel didn't seek God about a major decision, and it cost them.
    • After some more differences of opinion, raising the rental price and frustration on both sides, we finally came to an understanding.  In the end it turned out to be a good working relationship with them... but not without a high emotional cost up front which coud have been avoided had I taken it slower and prayed the situation out.
    • Lesson learned: Take time to seek God about the decisions you have to make.  And if you're uncomfortable about a decision there is probably a reason for it.
  • I missed opportunities that came dressed as interruptions or inconveniences.
    • One time it was a homeless person that came to our service.  I spent some time talking with him and gave him some money for lunch.  But as we drove away (and he walked away) I knew I was supposed to have given him a ride, taken him out to eat with my family and brought to the train station and bought him a ticket.  I was tired, so I passed up a God-given opportunity to minister to this young man.
    • Another time I was at the Freiburg main train station.  I had already missed the train I was supposed to catch to take me home.  Now I was hanging out at McDonalds working through my emails, awaiting the last train out of town for the night.  10 minutes before my train came I packed up my stuff to go. Then I noticed a teenager at the next table that was obviously bored.  He was playing with his phone and with the tray his food had been on.  I felt as if I should talk with him, but I chose instead to make sure I caught my train so I could be back with my family.  It was good to be back with my family, but definitely a bad choice.  I had disobeyed God.
    • Lesson learned: Never disobey what God puts in your heart to do.  I'll never know what could have come from each of those opportunities.  But I am determined to obey God the next time!
  • I didn't confront as quickly or decisively as I should have.
    • We had a very talented team member that was sort of a "diva".  Everything had to always be about this person... whether it was prayer, or it was music, or whatever.  They were happy to serve, but when they were serving, they took the most "high status" serving position.  Because this person was immature, I used "kiddie gloves" with them because I thought they couldn't take it (instead of being brutally honest with them, which would have led to quicker growth in their lives... or possibly to them leaving).  In the end, when they left I realized I had helped them grow, but not as much as I could have.  I partially wasted the time we had with them.
    • I realized I was too patient with this person, and with others.  As a leader I am responsible for helping my team grow... at times this means I need to be brutally honest with people and hold them accountable.  That's not always the best thing to do, but in this case, it was definitely the right thing.
    • Lesson learned: When I don't confront people, I am not honoring them enough to help them grow.  It shows that I am valuing their gifts or talents more than I value them as a person.  And Jim Collins writes that when we allow a person to remain on the team that is either a low performer, or has a bad attitude, it hurts the team morale.  And you lose credibility with your top performers because they can see that this person either needs to be retrained, repositioned or removed.
  • I invested too much time and energy in the wrong people because I saw their potential. 
    • We had people on the team that were highly talented, but not very motivated.  When it comes to the church, I am a talent scout... I enjoy finding talented people and encouraging them to develop their gifts and use them to further the Kingdom of God.  The problem is that I sometimes spend too much time trying to motivate unmotivated but gifted people.  I see the potential of their gifts so I work hard to bring it out.  I guess I think that if I can get them using their gifts for God they'll realize how exciting it is to be used by God to help others and jump in with all their heart.  Unfortunately this isn't usually the case.
    • When I focus on this kind of person, it ends up wearing me out.  These kinds of people are often like black holes... they consume resources but don't give anything.
    • Lesson learned: I should have looked for willingness to apply what they heard rather than ability.  I have a responsbility to invest where I get the most return.  It's the most responsible way to invest the gifts God has given me.  I only have so much energy, time, prayer, finances, etc to give.  I need to spend (invest) them wisely.
    • Jesus talks about how people respond to the Gospel in Mark 4 (Parable of the Sower).  Some reject it.  Some receive it with joy immediately, but later walk away when times get tough.  Still others receive the message, but life's care and worries choke out its effectiveness.
    • Finally, there are some which He calls "good ground".  They receive the message, take it to heart, apply it and produce fruit.  But even then, some only produce 30% of what they are capable of.  Others produce only 60% of what they are capable of.  And some produce to their full potential.  This last group is where we should be investing the lion's share of our time.
    • Some will say this isn't fair.  But even Jesus chose only 12 from among the multitudes.  And only three of them went everywhere with Him.  He didn't concern Himself with what was fair.  He knew what He was doing, and invested the most in His top people.
I hope these thoughts have helped you process some of the struggles you will face.  My prayer is that you as a church planter come to the right place at the right time with the right people to build a thriving, life-giving church.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Launch Brochure

Because we have a number of church planters asking us about how we started, I thought I'd post our pre-launch fundraising brochure. We had this professionally produced. Feel free to use any of the ideas in this brochure... just as we have borrowed ideas from other friends that have successfully planted churches.

Yes, it cost a lot to print this (the initial printing cost was about $2.00 per brochure), but one of the marketing points Robin always makes is that you've got to spend money to make money. We eventually figured out how to get it printed for less than $1.00 per brochure, but it took some research and a lot of favor with a printing company manager.

The point is that serious investors are used to having something professional in their hands to look at and think about (and pray about). The more professionally done it is, the more it captures their attention. And the more it presents us as legitimate church planters that have the ability to succeed... a cause worthy of their consideration.

No one wants to invest in a losing cause. They want a return on their investment, even if that return is souls won into the Kingdom of God and churches planted.

We ended up printing about 350 of these and handing them out to pastors and people that had the ability to give sizable donations.

Please don't misunderstand me... we handed something to everyone that showed interest in supporting our church launch. But our relatives and friends didn't need a fancy brochure to convince them that we were legitimate. They just needed to be able to get to the information, which was already online in the form of a website. We had sharp business cards printed up with the relevant contact information and website address on them.

The brochure below is just a web-friendly version. Click on the link at the bottom to download or see the high-quality version.

Click here to view the high-quality version, or right click here to download this brochure (choose Save as...)