The Danger Of Silence On Ferguson

Four months ago, I had never heard of Ferguson.  Today that St. Louis suburb dominates the headlines, trends on Twitter and hangs over all of our heads.  I was one of the millions who watched as the grand jury’s decision was announced on Monday night.  I’m one of the millions struggling to make sense of it all.  And I’m one of the millions whose struggle has led to silence.  I’ve wanted to tweet, update my status or blog.  I just haven’t known what to say.  So, I’ve said nothing.

As a pastor, I’ve come to believe the danger of silence is greater than the danger of saying the wrong thing.  I fear silence could communicate three equally dangerous messages to my congregation:  One, the church is totally oblivious to what’s happening in the real world.  Two, the church should steer clear of difficult conversations, especially racially charged ones.  Three, the gospel offers no hope to a culture looking for answers.

In wanting to say something, I’m confronted with just how easy it would be to say the wrong thing and do more harm than good.  I fully aware of just how limited my knowledge is.  I don’t know all of the evidence presented to the grand jury.  I don’t know what it’s like to grow up under the cloud of suspicion that seems to follow young, black men in our culture.  I don’t know the sacrifices men and women in law enforcement make to do an incredibly difficult and frightening job.  I don’t know what it’s like to lose a son.  I don’t know if the grand jury’s decision was right or wrong.

All of that “not knowing” makes silence look pretty attractive.  But silence mutes what we do know:

  • Our World Is Broken.  Self delusion might be the single greatest epidemic in America.  We’re terrifyingly good at ignoring economic, cultural, political, financial, social and international problems.  We are desperate to believe the lie that people are fundamentally good, our world is a happy place and everything really is okay.  We need the smelling salts of Ferguson to awaken our consciences.  Whatever you think of Ferguson, let’s be honest enough to admit the injustice of racism still exists in America.
  • The Fight For Justice Is A Christian Fight.  The God of the Bible is a God of justice.  Consider Deuteronomy 32:4, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”  The cross of Christ is an announcement that God is stunningly just, even in His forgiveness of sin.  If God just swept over sin, He wouldn’t be just.  The death of Christ allows God to be perfectly just and infinitely forgiving.  That’s what Paul is getting at in Romans 3:26, “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”  God calls His church to be a beacon of justice in an unjust world.  Our mission is to live in such a way that the helpless would find hope and injustice would shut her mouth (Job 5:16).  The pursuit of justice in an unjust world isn’t comfortable work but it is the right work for a Christian.
  • The Gospel Reconciles.  I’ve worshipped in post-genocide Rwanda with Hutu and Tutsi brothers and sisters in Christ united in the same church.  I know the promise of a gospel where “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col. 3:11)  The gospel offers a hope our politics never will.

I believe Dr. King was right when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Ferguson matters to me as a Christian.  I don’t pretend to have all of the answers but I do know where to look for hope, for justice and for a better tomorrow.  My prayer is that we as Christians would respond to the wounds of Ferguson with the hope of the gospel.

Measuring Success

Pastors and churches have a strange relationship with numbers.  By that, I don’t mean math in general (although I would personally plead guilty to that!) but the idea of measuring things in the church.  What business people call metrics, pastors call numbers.  And we have no idea how to feel about them.  Sometimes it’s just downright painful to listen to pastors work their way through a tortured and insincere rendition of the old “obviously, numbers aren’t everything” cliche.  We all know that if the same pastor heard the offering just doubled, he would get a little more comfortable with numbers!  It’s a strange tension – living and dying by Sunday’s attendance is a crushing form of idolatry but totally ignoring numbers is irresponsible leadership.

In planting Restoration City, we decided to navigate the tension by making an unapologetically big deal of numbers.  We measure things.  For example, I know how many people have been to each service, what our offering is, how many kids go to RCCKids, how many people serve those kids and a bunch of other things.  Without good information, we can’t make good decisions.

But here’s the key for us at Restoration City when it comes to numbers: What we celebrate matters more than what we measure.  So much of the awkwardness around the numbers conversation doesn’t come from the fact that we measure things, it comes from the fact that we celebrate the wrong things.  If all a church ever celebrates is it’s attendance and offering, the congregation will get the message – what the leadership really cares about is butts in seats and dollars in offering plates.  Celebration is a powerful communicator of culture and values.

For us at Restoration City, there are three numbers we celebrate: baptisms, community group participation and membership.  We measure a lot of things but celebrate those because we think they are the three most important indicators of our success as a church.  In other words, if those numbers are healthy and moving in the right direction, everything else should fall in place.

Here’s why we picked those three numbers:

  • Baptism is the best way for us to measure life change through salvation and the beginning of a discipleship process.  Counting decisions for Christ is inexact and often inflated.  Baptism is a far more reliable and helpful number for us.
  • Community Group attendance is the best way for us to measure a person’s commitment to Restoration City.  When someone takes the step of joining a Community Group, they are more or less committed to us as a church.  They’re moving through our discipleship process and developing the relationships that will make RCC a spiritual home.
  • Membership is the best way for us to measure that a person is fully participating in the life of the church.  All of our members agree to a fairly specific membership covenant.  When someone is willing to make all of those commitments, we know they are fully engaged in the mission and culture of Restoration City.

When we look at our first weeks as a church, we realize just how much we have to celebrate.

  • We have baptized 9 people since this summer.
  • We currently have 80 people in Community Groups.
  • We have 41 active members.

When we remember those numbers come from God’s grace, not our merit, our celebration turns into worship, praise and gratitude.  As we enter into a week of thanksgiving, I hope you will join me in thanking God for all He has done through Restoration City.

Owning Our Weaknesses

I had a conversation earlier this week with a friend about the importance of self awareness in the life of a leader.  It’s a topic I’ve read a lot about, thought a lot about and even taught on in various leadership development environments.  I know it’s a really big deal – so many leaders have no clue who they really are and spend their whole lives impersonating other leaders whose results they admire.  It’s an exhausting, unfulfilling and destabilizing way to lead because you’re always faking it and wondering if anyone is noticing.  Self awareness frees us to lead more passionately, authentically and naturally.

As the conversation progressed, we started to focus in on the importance of a leader knowing their weaknesses.  This honestly wasn’t new territory for me – none of us are perfect, we all have weaknesses and team leadership is essential.  But as we were reviewing this familiar territory, I was struck with the realization of just how much I had paid lip service to this idea for years without genuinely accepting my weaknesses.  For the record, there are few things as disingenuous as faking self awareness!

I would talk about my weaknesses but that was usually just a tool to get others to open up about theirs.  In my heart of hearts, I believed that while I was better at some things than others, I was at least above average at everything.  That underlying belief showed up in my leadership: I kept too much on my plate that should have been delegated to others, I made excuses to hide my weaknesses, and I would occasionally bully others into accepting my bad ideas.  I was on the road to becoming a delusional, egomaniac control freak because I was convinced people wouldn’t follow me if they figured out I wasn’t perfect.  My fear of rejection had me on a path that would kill my leadership life.

As my understanding of the gospel deepened, so did my capacity for self awareness.  The link between the gospel and self awareness is why I honestly believe followers of Jesus should be the best leaders in any organization.  At the very least, we should be the most self aware.

As Christians, we swim in a sea of grace, acceptance and love that flows from Jesus’ perfection to our weakness.  The more I learned about God’s grace, His love for me and my standing in Christ, the easier it became to admit my weaknesses to others.  God knows all of my flaws and still loves me.  That simple understanding allowed me to find the confidence I needed to be more honest with myself and others about my limitations.  The gospel makes it okay to not have life completely together.  If you don’t have to fake it with God, why bother faking it with anyone else?

I’m learning how to lead in light of who I am, what God has called me to do and how He’s wired me.  It’s more fulfilling, enjoyable and fun than I ever would have imagined when I was busy maintaining an image.

But what about you?  Are you trying to be someone you aren’t because you’re afraid people won’t love you if they find out you aren’t perfect?  Guess what…they already know! They’re just waiting for you to catch up.  As you do, you’ll be a much better, happier and fulfilled leader.

Build Partners, Not Ministries

This past Sunday, we wrapped up the sermon series “Our House” by looking at the third component of our mission statement, “Live For Restoration.”  I had been looking forward to this talk for a long time and love being part of a church that seeks the welfare of our city (Jeremiah 29:7).  At Restoration City, seeking the welfare of our city is something we do in partnership with other local organizations.  We’re not trying to build our own outreach ministries.  We’re trying to connect people from Restoration City with existing organizations.  Put simply: we build partners, not ministries.

That’s a pretty big paradigm shift for many who come to us from a churched background so I wanted to lay out the rationale for why we build partnerships instead of ministries.  The argument boils down to five essential benefits.

  1. Leverage The Expertise Of Our Partners.  The decision to partner is rooted in humbly admitting that we don’t always know what’s best and there are others who do.  I’m trained to preach, develop leaders and make disciples.  I don’t know the best practices for serving a teenage mom or immigrant family.  Partnership is about putting the needs of our community ahead of our need for control.
  2. Focus On Our Mission.  This is closely related to #1.  If we spent all of our time trying to replicate what others are already doing well, we wouldn’t have enough time to focus on the things God has called us to do.  Partnership is about creating margin for a healthy discipleship culture.
  3. Keep A Leaner Staff.  Churches can tie up a lot of money paying people to reinvent wheels.  I would rather free up resources to invest in our mission and in our partner organizations.  Partnership is about good stewardship.
  4. Stay Kingdom Focused.  Working with others is the most tangible way to remind ourselves that the Kingdom is more important than any one local church.  Restoration City isn’t the hope of Washington; Jesus is and He’s building His church in wonderfully diverse and interconnected ways.  Partnership is about leveraging our church for the benefit of the Church.
  5. Double The Impact.  By serving through partnerships, we’re able to minister to both the people served by a ministry and our co-laborers.  The relationships we build with co-laborers are as significant as the relationships we build in the communities we serve.  Partnership is about exponential impact.

Every church needs to follow the leading of God in how they love and serve their communities.  For us at Restoration City, that means a deep commitment to building partnerships instead of ministries.  You can learn more about our partner organizations on our website: http://restorationcitydc.com/dosomethingdc/.

Keeping It Real

Last Friday, I wrote about the plans Laura and I had for the weekend – we were getting away for 24 hours to build into our marriage.  Honestly, I hope a lot of married couples were inspired to do the same whether you have kids or not.  But I would also guess there were some people who read that post and felt discouraged.  If you were in that second group, this post is for you!

Maybe your marriage is in trouble and you were depressed to realize you really wouldn’t want 24 uninterrupted hours with your spouse.  Maybe you were frustrated that your spouse never suggests something like this.  Maybe it was an unpleasant reminder that you aren’t married yet and the whole idea just seemed like a cruel fantasy.  Maybe you read it on your phone at the end of a long day while making dinner and listening to the kids fight in the other room.

It’s amazing how quickly comparison kills our joy.

Social media puts the comparison trap in front of us on a daily basis.  There’s always somebody doing something awesome in my newsfeed.  Someone’s always in the Caribbean.  Someone is always getting promoted, buying a house or going on the “BEST first date EVER:)!!!!”  We compare all of that to our boring, ordinary lives and feel miserable.  My friend is surfing in Costa Rica and I’m doing an expense report…wow, I hate my life!

The problem is we’re comparing our real lives with an idealized version of someone else’s.  I’m writing all of this today because our little getaway wasn’t as ideal as you might think.

  • Our night away started with a quick trip to Urgent Care.  Laura has asthma and pregnancy can exacerbate it significantly.  When I left for work on Friday morning, she sounded fine.  By 1.30 in the afternoon, she sounded like an 85 year old smoker who couldn’t breathe.  One breathing treatment, a new prescription and a few hours later we finally got to the hotel much later than planned.  Not exactly the fairy tale beginning you might have imagined.
  • For the record, God didn’t bless us with an unexpected upgrade to the Presidential Suite.  We were in what is probably the smallest room in the hotel.  No big deal but don’t fall into the trap of believing God only shows His love in unexpected blessings.
  • We couldn’t agree on a good place for dessert so we ended up the only customers in some cupcake shop splitting a gluten free cupcake (it was all they had left).  For the record, I believe it was gluten free because it was baked before the discovery of wheat!
  • On Saturday morning, a simple conversation about schedules turned into a fairly significant and at times heated disagreement about some issues that had been building up for awhile.

Before you get too depressed, let me say our disagreement morphed into one of the best conversations we’ve ever had about our marriage.  By the end of that conversation, we both felt more united and excited about our marriage.  So, the weekend was not a bust – we had a good time and were super grateful to get away.

Steven Furtick makes this point so well, “We struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”  Don’t fall into that trap – enjoy the life God has put in front of you today.

24 Hours Away

Laura and I love Jack so much that we’re going away for a day without him.

As strange as that might sound, it’s true.  Later today, my in-laws are coming into town to watch Jack so Laura and I can break away for a night by ourselves.  We’re not doing anything all that exotic – we’re just taking 24 hours to be together, to sleep in and to have dinner without anyone interrupting to announce they just peed.  May sound boring to you but we’re really excited!

I understand that not all parents have someone to watch their kids and I get that a night in a hotel isn’t financially possible for every couple.  So, my point is not that you have a bad marriage if you don’t do something exactly like this on a regular basis.

My real point is this: a healthy marriage is the greatest gift you can give to your kids.  As followers of Christ, our most significant responsibility to our kids is to raise them in a home rooted in the gospel and pointing them to Jesus.  Don’t miss the connection between those two thoughts: your kids will learn more about the gospel from your marriage than from your church!  If that’s true, then our kids need us to prioritize our marriages.

Taking time for yourselves isn’t a selfish luxury.  It’s a vital gift to your kids.

You Pick: Intimidation or Inspiration

If you want to know what a leader is made of, watch how he or she responds under pressure.  If you want to know what you’re made of, run the same test on yourself.  Pressure reveals whether we lead through intimidation or inspiration.  Fear is the currency of intimidation whereas inspiration trades in grace.

We see the choice between intimidation and inspiration play out in the life of a young Old Testament King named Rehoboam.  Rehoboam’s dad was a guy named Solomon who was a political rock star in Israel.  Solomon ushered in an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity all the while establishing a reputation for wisdom that earned him a huge personal fortune and international acclaim.  But Solomon had a little problem with women that led him down a path to the place where Scripture records, “Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not follow the Lord fully.” (1Kings 11:6)  As a result of Solomon’s unfaithfulness, God raised up military and political adversaries to oppose his rule.

With all of that going on, Solomon died and his son Rehoboam ascended to a now weakened throne.  To make matters worse, the people of Israel, led by one of Rehoboam’s rivals, come and ask him to “lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke.” (1 Kings 12:4)  They want him to ease up a bit and in return, they promise to follow him.  The elders of Israel tell Solomon to take the deal.  But rather than listen to them, he follows the advice of his boyhood friends who tell him to crack down.  His response is stunning, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins!  (Yes, that means what you think it does!) Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.“(1 Kings 12:10(b)-11)

Rehoboam goes all in on intimidation – do what I say or face my wrath!  Rehoboam is under pressure, he doesn’t want to show weakness in front of his rivals and he’s afraid.  So he lashes out in pretty spectacular fashion.  I bet you know leaders who make the same mistake today just in subtler forms: an angry rebuke, cold disapproval, a nasty email, publicly embarrassing employees, firing rivals or belittling someone’s ideas.

If that’s your leadership style, head the warning of Rehoboam.  Intimidation always implodes!  The people rebel against Rehoboam and Israel splits into two divided kingdoms.  True, You might not start a civil war but your employees will leave, your teams will lack volunteers and people won’t go the extra mile for you.

Imagine how much better things would have gone if Rehoboam had gone with inspiration.  He might well have exceeded the greatness of his father.  He certainly would have been more in line with the heart of God.

Think about Jesus’ leadership.  He consistently leads with inspiration.  He calls people to live for a greater mission. (Luke 5:10)  He patiently teaches His frequently clueless followers. (Mt. 13:36)  He restores those who betray Him. (John 21:19).  He didn’t see it as a sign of weakness to offer rest to weary souls. (Mt. 11:28)  He deals in grace.  And His followers changed the world.  They were willing to sacrifice everything, including their lives, to advance His kingdom.  Inspiration works!

Don’t fall for the trap of intimidation.  It’s just self-destruction in disguise.

If you chose the path of inspiration and grace, you’re demonstrating the beauty of God and His gospel to the world.  Don’t lead with inspiration simply because it works.  Do it as a reflection of how God has dealt with you.  He meets our rebellion with grace.  He calms our fears with mercy.  He empowers us to do what we could never imagine.

Our job as leaders is to treat our people the way God has treated us.