Church and the Strawdog Theatre Company

A couple of weeks ago, an evening meeting cancelled leaving my wife and I with a rare night off. It was 3 p.m so there wasn’t a lot of time, but I was determined to not let the freedom go to waste.

I jumped online and began to look for tickets…to anything. It was a Tuesday, so not a lot happening, but in Chicago you can always find something.  On this Tuesday, I discovered the Strawdog Theatre Company. Located on Broadway in Chicago, Strawdog does its thing in an old chocolate factory and by the appearance of the entrance, also houses a few apartments as well. The tickets were $15. What a price! So I made the call. 

I was surprised by how small the room was when the doors opened. There were about 40 chairs arranged in a u shaped manner. At the front there was a desk, a chair, and a lamp. To the right was a small sound, light, fogger, sound effects, and "what ever else is needed" booth.

The house filled up quickly and the performance began. I didn't know what to expect for $15 and such a small gathering of people, but it was awesome! 

These folks were serious about their work. They engaged the audience often and by the time it was over we all felt a little like family, at least I did.

On the way home, I thought about how much preparation, passion, and hard work had been displayed for such a small crowd. They did everything, lights, sound, weeks or months of practice, set up and tear down, for a maximum return to the theatre of about $600 that night. There would be additional income from refreshments sold, but not much. I'm not sure what the players make at Strawdog, but if it was divided hourly by their time investment, it wasn't much.

I didn’t get a chance to interview any of the players though I hope to eventually because we definitely plan on returning.  As we drove home, I wondered what their motivation was?

Maybe they were there because every little bit helps.

Maybe they were there because being there might lead to something great.

Maybe they were there because they were learning.

Maybe they were there because they simply loved what they were doing and believed it mattered in this world. 

As a guest and observer, I would vote for all of the above with a special emphases on the final option listed. Even if I'm wrong, the fact that I came away believing it, is a compliment to these actors and actresses commitment. These folks loved and believed in what they were doing.

So, let's talk about church. A vast majority of churches in America are small in numbers. As a pastor who's led churches of 5 to 1,000 I am aware of the difficulties associated with each layer in between. Sometimes, the size of the crowd can be discouraging. Don't let it be. 

Do what you do because every little bit helps. The Body of Christ has a mission that can only be fulfilled if we take advantage of every venue, every time. 

Do what you do because it might lead to something great. You never know what God will do on any given Sunday when the Gospel is preached. He alone knows his plans for your congregation large or small. 

Do what you do because you're learning. Aren't we all? Engage every opportunity to preach, sing, act, usher, greet, invite, teach, or run sound as a chance to grow in the gifts God has given you. 

Do what you do because you love the One for whom you do it, and because you believe the Gospel is making a difference in this world because it is! 

I say two things to pastors and church leaders every chance I get: 

1. "You are where you are by Divine appointment." Give it all you've got! 

2. "You're doing better than you think you are!" 

Keep going, church leaders, and let church roll on! 

Peace

p.s. 

This post is dedicated to Pastor Evan Offut, Mr. Don Hespell, and everyone at C1 who makes our FX Service a reality each week. These committed followers provide drama, music, lighting, sound, dancing, and yes even fog for a family service held every Sunday at 10:00 a.m. in our main sanctuary. We do it because of our belief that families experiencing something unique together is a powerful teaching environment, and one people who might not normally go to church will want to come to if invited. We're just getting started so the crowd is seldom big, but it's building. I recently counted 40 fathers in the room who were sharing a fun experience with their family in which could be used as a teaching point later. Ask any Family Pastor what they would give to be able to speak to that many Dads on a regular basis and you'll understand how significant this is. C1, you rock!

 

 

 

 

"I am not you."

In the AMC series “Turn” about Washington’s spies during the American Revolutionary War, there is a special moment that is likely fictional in content but true in experience. Washington is deeply dejected at Valley Forge. He has major life and death decisions to make but lacks the emotional strength to continue. It was a season of self-doubt in the face of major criticism from opponents.

After suffering a near nervous breakdown, he walks into the woods at night to ponder what his beloved brother might have done. Lawrence died in 1752. Washington idolized his brother and missed him deeply. Once inside the snowy darkness, he falls to his knees.

Washington: “Lawrence, what is all this, this war? Was it a mistake? Was it greed? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

He looks up to see his deceased brother standing a short distance away, motionless.

Washington: “Answer me! I have done everything you have ever taught me. Tamed my temper. Sought opportunity and became a gentlemen. I’ve climbed and clawed and fought. Now I am respected, feared, hated, and worshipped, but for what? I’m not who they think I am. But for the love of God, say something. Please.”

Lawrence: “As always you ask what I would do, but I will tell you what I would not. I would never spare a murderer, nor lose Long Island, nor retreat at White Plains, nor be outflanked at Brandywine.

          Washington sinks into despair as hears his failures listed. 

Lawrence: “Nor cross the Delaware on Christmas night to claim a surprise victory. Nor have led a campaign against the mightiest empire on earth, but then I am not you.”

           Washington looks up and smiles through his tears. 

Here’s the point: leaders make decisions others would be terrified to face, and sometimes they fail. However, the God given wiring which enables a leader to make decisions is key to leading others to accomplish the impossible. Sure you’ve made mistakes others haven’t made, but you’ve also attempted things others have never attempted. Don’t let a few mistakes make you doubt your call or ability. You are you, and you have been uniquely placed, scars and all, at the position you serve. You serve by Divine appointment. Carry on!

Peace.

Note: The scene mentioned above is in season 2, episode 7, about 33 minutes in. 

"Blindsided!"

“Sometimes, she had discovered, you had to walk around the holes in your life, instead of falling into them.” ― Priscilla Cummings

 

It happens to every leader. For pastors the most vulnerable time is often a Sunday morning when their primary focus is preparing to preach. Other leaders may experience it headed into an important meeting or in the middle of it. It happens to all of us; we get blindsided. An argument or confrontation happens we didn’t see coming, and often it’s inappropriate and in public. Humans have immediate physiological and psychological reactions in these moments. Adrenaline increases, blood rushes, and defense mechanisms kick in.

One of the leadership principles I treasure most is the fact a leader may choose to respond instead of react. While there are moments in life that demand reactions, a child wandering into traffic, for instance, a majority of the issues facing leaders do not demand an immediate reply. Often, when blindsided we respond in emotion, without clarity, and too soon. A reaction means a trigger has been pulled. A response means a well thought out answer is given, even though a trigger has been pulled.

Responding means listening. Responding means seeking to understand before we seek to be understood (Covey). Responding means looking past the manner in which something is communicated to see if there is truth inside of it. Responding means weighing the emotional weight of a moment and deciding whether it is the right time and place to engage. Someone has to be the grownup in the room; it should be the leader. Responding means weighing the words we use in order to protect the mission and our own heart. Responding means refusing to sink to someone else’s level because we voice the first witty thought that comes to our mind. For me, responding means talking it over with Jesus before talking it over with my critic. 

Responding means in some cases, doing nothing but listening and then scheduling a meeting for later. Passion is no excuse for poor behavior in a leader or anyone else. Below are five positive outcomes from choosing to respond instead of react:

1.     You might learn something. Our critics are sometimes right even if their approach and timing isn't. 

2.     You may be able to redirect a negative into a positive by turning a toxic moment into a teaching moment…if you keep your head.

3.     Poise in the face of chaos always earns the leader credibility.

4.     You can minimize the number of people who get hurt in the midst of conflict including innocent bystanders, the person approaching you, and … you.

5.     You can reduce the number of times you have to apologize to toxic people. While it's great for learning humility, having to apologize for your own behavior in the face of divisive actions by others, stinks. Eventually, I got weary of needing to apologize to people whose position was not only wrong but also presented in a juvenile manner. However, when my reaction is cynical or cutting it’s also wrong, regardless of whether or not my point is valid. The standard for a leader is high. Apologizing to toxic people will wear you out. I’ve had to eat a ton of words in my life, but never those I didn't speak. 

Leadership is difficult. It's true, a leader has to think on their feet. Put the emphasis on "think." When blindsided give yourself some margin for clarity, wisdom, and learning.  

Peace.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1: 19-20)

 

I Resign!

“It was the most relaxing day of my life when I resigned as General Manager of the universe.” (Rick Warren)

Sometimes it happens because the leader is a control freak actually believing they are GM of the universe. Most often it's because the leader has accepted responsibility for so long and in ways so wide, they don’t realize they’ve taken God’s job description away from Him.  So, in the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy, take this test to see if it’s time to resign.

If you are contemplating your future based upon figuring out what other people are thinking, resign as GM of the universe. You do not have the ability to do this and neither did your mother. Stop it. That’s not discernment, it’s guessing with a large ego.

If you are attempting to get people to do certain things or act a certain way, resign as GM of the universe. The strings are imaginary, the puppets will eventually turn on you, and they might make a creepy movie about it terrifying children for decades to come. Do what you know to be right and leave the results with God.

If you are worrying about things you can do nothing about, resign as GM of the universe. It’s not the things you can’t control you’re responsible for.

If your self-worth is based upon what others think of you, resign as GM of the universe. They actually aren’t thinking about you that much. There are far too many people and not enough of you to stay on the campaign trail even if they were. It's not we don't care about what people think, it's that we can't be driven by it. 

If you are continually feeling guilty because you can’t be in more than one place at a time, resign as GM of the universe. You’ll end up not even being in one place at one time, much less two.

If your peace of mind is subject to the reality certain people understand certain things, resign as GM of the universe. They don’t “have to” understand anything and will go to great lengths to prove it. Trust the people around you draw their conclusions about you on who they believe your really are, not on your explanation of every action or inaction. 

If you’re in bondage to the past, overwhelmed in the present, or afraid of the future, resign as GM of the universe. You don’t own those, God does. He has the power to redeem and restore, and He will if you let him. You do not have the power, so lay the gavel down.

When my kids were little, they had a toy hammer with a squeaker in the soft plastic head. I can still hear the squeak as the hammer pounded. Remember it? It was a cute toy which became irritating very quickly. A person in charge in our culture often holds a gavel. By pounding it they call a meeting to order, seek to control chaos in the room, or pronounce an end to whatever discussion is taking place.

You and I don’t hold the gavel for the universe; never have, never will. The plastic hammer we hold is… plastic; lay it down. The noise is really irritating and the fact we pound it changes nothing. Resign as GM of the universe and allow God to be God in yours. 

Leader you care. What a beautiful thing. You're willing to accept responsibility for your actions. This is how the world gets changed. The fact you've taken time to read this blog says you care about the people you lead. The weight of the trust placed on your shoulders is heavy and I commend you for being willing to carry the burden of leadership. However, here's the thing; you might be carrying more than your share of the load. 

A reality I want you to consider is you are doing better than you think you are. God's got this.

Lay down the gavel, resign as GM of the universe, and soak in Matthew 11:25-30.

Peace. 

 

Heart & Sole

It's one thing to have a heart for what you're doing. It's quite another to put shoe leather to it. I am grateful to be part of a church that is on mission, "heart and sole."

Putting your sole into it means change. Putting sole into it means work. Putting sole into it means risk. Putting sole into it means having crucial conversations. Putting sole into it means learning how to say, "I'm sorry." Putting sole into it means learning how to say, "We're moving on." Putting sole into it means sacrifice and service. Putting sole into it means putting your money where your mission is. Putting sole into it means making principled decisions regardless of the way the wind is blowing. Putting sole into it means trusting and forgiving. Putting sole into it means caging your ego and surrendering your pride. Putting sole into it means quitting some things that work in order to discover what might work better. Putting sole into it means trying and failing and trying again. Putting sole into it means getting there early and staying late. Putting sole into it means research and study and hours and hours of prayer. Putting sole into it takes every week volunteers and a crazy committed staff. Putting sole into it means marching out of your comfort zone and into the “land in between.” Putting sole into it means committing to your own spiritual and professional growth. You will quit if you don’t. Putting sole into it means walking through difficulty and away from security. Putting sole into it means going where you’ve never gone, doing what you’ve never done, to reach who you’ve never reached. Putting sole into it means pain and struggle and ultimately victory.

So, here’s to all my friends out there who are putting cardboard in the bottoms of their spiritual and emotional shoes this morning. I know it hurts. I know you’re tired. I know it seems like the struggle will never end, but it will. Keep going! God is faithful.

“Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” (1 Samuel 14:7)

What a church leader needs on Monday. #2

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Sometimes it’s a cup of coffee and a newspaper.

Sometimes, it’s a coveted few extra minutes in bed in the fetal position imagining someone else is in charge.

Sometimes, it’s a perusal of the job market to see if anything else is calling.

Sometimes, it’s just a note from someone who lived the dream a whole team of leaders had many, many, Sunday nights ago.

Yeah, I’m good.

Let’s rumble.

Peace.

(FX is our Family Experience. It’s a 45 minute service specifically designed for parents and elementary age children to experience together. It is especially attractive to parents who want to return or go to church, but don’t know where to begin. We’re just getting started, but we believe God is about to do a powerful new thing, and we’re grateful!)

Leader Up!

This blog is littered with a few quotes from L. David Marquet’s book, “Turn The Ship Around!” and contains one quote from Dr. Crawford Howe.

 “Are you and your people working to optimize the organization for their tenure, or forever? To promote long term success, I had to ignore short-term reward systems.” (“Turn The Ship Around,” p.11)

Through the years I’ve heard pastors near the end of a tenure say; “I’m going to let the next leader handle that one.” Usually, the comment refers to a tough decision that needs to be made or an issue that they don’t want to address. I’m learning the most effective leaders don’t function that way. They make tough decisions with “forever” in mind.

“I thought about that. On every submarine and ship, and in every squadron and battalion, hundreds of captains were making thousands of decisions to optimize the performance of their own commands for their tour and their tour alone. If they did anything for the long run it was because of an enlightened sense of duty, not because there was anything in the systems that rewarded them for it. We didn’t associate an officer’s leadership effectiveness with how well his unit performed after he left. We didn’t associate an officer’s leadership effectiveness with how often his people got promoted two, three, or four years hence. We didn’t even track that kind of information. All that mattered was performance in the moment.” (p.14)

In other words, “I’ll make decisions based upon what will reward me now. The future is someone else’s problem.”

“As long as you are measuring performance over just the short term, it can (short-term reward systems) be effective. Officers are rewarded for being indispensable, for being missed after they depart. When the performance of a unit goes down after an officer leaves, it is taken as a sign that he was a good leader, not that he was ineffective in training his people properly.” (p. 15)

When church leaders cave to pressure to please people in the moment instead of leading people on a journey, they serve up the future.

Dr. Crawford Howe, the single most effective church leader I’ve ever worked alongside, consistently challenged us to make decisions thinking about where that decision was going to lead in the future. He challenged all of us to leave behind a culture ready for the next season.

“Deal with what needs to be dealt with, Brian, and prepare your leaders for their next leader. Create an enduring leadership culture.”

 It’s a paraphrase from my notes, but not far off of what Dr. Howe said to us in a meeting ten years ago.

I watched him continually make tough decisions based upon right planning for the future. He dealt with difficult people (us) and led a district through an extremely difficult decision on selling a campground because it’s a leader's job to lead.

So, what will it be? Marquet’s question demands an answer.

“Are you and your people working to optimize the organization for their tenure, or forever?

Perhaps what matters most is what happens after you leave. 

 Peace. 

Which is it?

Years ago, a staff member of a church told me that after significant study and prayer, on behalf of the leadership team of the church, their pastor launched a new statement with regard to mission and vision. The statement read: “It’s not about us.” There was so much kickback that a short time later the statement was amended to read: “It’s not just about us.”

 Wow.

 Let me state at the outset that the reality is it’s about Jesus. His mission. His work, His values, what He wants, what He is doing in our community, but that wasn’t what got the pastor in trouble. People are more than willing to put Jesus ahead of self; it’s putting their neighbors ahead of self that kicks sleeping sacred cows.

 What about putting others ahead of ourselves? What if our schedules need to change? What if our approaches need to change? What if our methods need to change? What if leadership needs to change? What if the sacred cow really isn’t sacred?

 I’m not talking about watering down or changing the Gospel. As a matter of fact, I’m talking about returning to it.

 The most difficult reality a local church faces is not the distance she must move with regard to structures, methods, programming, and schedule in order to reach un-churched, de-churched, or non-churched people; it’s what has to happen to her heart before she’ll even consider it.

 Consider below four variables on the “It’s not about us” question.

 1. "It’s not about us." Clear. Definable. Easy to remember. Not much need to elaborate here, a clear filter for change, action, and the mission of the church. We will do whatever it takes short of sin, in order to reach outsiders.  #nosacredcows #sacredcowsmakegreathamburger

 2. “It’s not just about us.” A governor on the engine of commitment, this statement makes it about us first, but after that we need to focus on reaching lost people. This statement is great for a church that wants to focus on reaching lost people occasionally or on special days. There are however, some sacred cows. #coexistwithsacredcows #arewehindu?

 3. “It’s not about us, but…” Making room for a governor on commitment when the purposed action seems too costly to insiders and needs to be reconsidered. There might be some sacred cows so tread lightly and revert back to statement #2 if you discover one. #theremightbesacredcowswatchwhereyoustep #throwthecowabone

 4. “It’s about us.” Clear. Definable. Easy to remember. Not much need to elaborate here, a clear filter for change, action, and the mission of the church. If people want to come along, fine, but we’re not going to change in order to facilitate it. The cow is sacred. The cow rules. Feed the cow. Pet the cow. Stare at the cow. Protect the cow. Talk about the cow when you rise up and when you lay down. When your children ask you; “What is the meaning of the cow?” tell them to shut up and worship the cow. #isacredcows  #putthecowdownslowlyandstepaway

 I’ve never met with a church leadership team who said they didn’t want their church to grow. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I have met with leadership teams who would talk about a growing church down the street and say, “I don’t want us to be like them.” When I questioned what it was about “them” that we didn’t want to be “like,” and then lifted away layers of false perceptions, the issue was size…growth.

 If that’s where you are, congratulations, you need never worry about becoming like “them.” If that’s not who you are, then which statement will you choose?

 Be careful, think about it, and consider (Philippians 2) before you decide. 

Go Home

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“I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:11)

At C1, we’re focusing on families. We’re focusing on families because God does, from one end of the book to the other. We are convinced; Change the family, change the world. As a result of this focus, our thoughts are drifting home.

I’m following (at a distance) one brave man’s journey through addiction to sobriety and sanity… and home.

Heroin is a hater unlike any other, but God is doing something in this guy’s life. From a treatment center where the battle is being staged, he writes about his struggle with one goal in mind: going home. A young daughter waits. Friends wait. Family waits. Dreams and daylight and unrealized destiny all wait… at home.

I was thinking about my friend as I read the first few verses of Mark 2. What a moment. Jesus looked at the paralytic and said; “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Just like that, huh, Jesus? Wow.

Not all of our struggles are settled when we come to Jesus, but our salvation is, and that’s one fight we can’t fight. The one thing we cannot do for ourselves, Jesus has already done; atone.

When you’re trying to get up from being paralyzed, the first steps are the most important. We have no record in the story of this man asking for forgiveness, but we are told that Jesus “knows the heart.” Apparently without saying a word audibly, this guy repents. And then Jesus delivers a money line.

“I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (vs.11)

Let’s break it down.

“I tell you”

Jesus can talk like that. He’s Jesus.

“get up”

Stand up, straighten up, rise up, and get up. There’s a time to kneel, there’s a time to lay on a mat and beg, and there’s a time to get up. The world’s full of people who made a home out of the mat. Not you, get up.

“take your mat”

Roll up the junk you been sleeping, eating, begging, and living on and take it with you. I don’t want you to ever forget where you were or who you were when we met. Show it to other people and tell them about me.

“go home”

There’s life to be lived, work to be done, laughter to be soaked up, tears to be shared, love to be given, and lessons to be learned back there… at the scene of the attack. At the tomb the devil prepared for you I want to have a party.

Three decades ago I sat on a bar stool in Chicago. I was lost. I was an addict. I was trying to figure out how to sort out the mess that was my life. Beside me sat a man I had just met at the bar. Together we watched a ball game and talked about life. He was older. He was wiser, looked successful and seemed to have his act together. He asked me a few questions as we made polite conversation. We laughed at a few things and pondered some of life’s mysteries. It's what guys do at a bar. Then, abruptly, he stood up, grabbed his coat, looked me straight in the eye and said; “Young man, you need to go home.” I never saw him again.

I was speechless. With that, he turned and walked out the door. I got up and did what he suggested. I’m really glad I did. I think about that guy almost every time I celebrate a birthday or Christmas with my wife and kids, and I am grateful.

I don’t know where my friend will end up living. Geography is not the issue here. He may well eventually relocate to start life over. But soon his first few steps off of an airplane will take him, with rolled up mat in hand, home.

May God help us as the Body of Christ to help thousands of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children, and grandchildren find their way home. Most aren’t addicts, but their lost. Many have never physically left, but their hearts did, and out there on the road somewhere, Jesus longs to meet them and send them home.

God help us to be as faithful, courageous, innovative, unified, and determined as a few friends of a paralyzed man were 2,000 years ago when they cut a hole in a roof and got their buddy to Jesus. We absolutely, positively, cannot be anything less.

Peace.

"I think it might be Jesus's favorite picture too."

Today an old friend called. I refer to him as an “old” friend, but actually we’ve only known each other for 10 years. He’s just the kind of friend that feels like an "old" friend because our friendship runs deep. The friendships you make following Jesus seem to run that way. We met when he started attending our church. We became friends as I had the privilege of walking with him through the early days of discipleship. I’ve learned a lot about Jesus and life from my friend, Howard.

I’ve seen Jesus redeem a past and unveil a bright future. I’ve seen Jesus lead through valleys and over mountaintops. I’ve seen Jesus use my friend to reach and influence others in a way that only he could. We have laughed, cried, and drank a lot of coffee together. He’s stayed in touch even though I have since moved to another town.

Today, he texted me a simple message letting me know his mother had passed. I called him. We talked and prayed. Before we hung up he told me he was going to send a picture of him and his mother together. “It is,” he said, “my favorite picture.”

He told stories of her faithfulness as a great Mom. His brothers and sisters marvel at how she provided for them during difficult days and never gave up on them during long, sometimes dark years. She was quite a woman.

She died with the peace in her heart that her children particularly one wayward son, were home. Not just home in a location sense, but home… settled, sober, following Jesus and making a difference in the world. Home… safe, belonging, together with family. Home... as in no words were left unsaid, no apologies went unspoken, no love was left unexpressed. Home. His journey there has blessed this pastor and made a world of difference to a Mom who left this world knowing where her son was… home.

He texted me the picture. I have printed a copy and put it under the plastic protector on my desk. I want to see it often and be reminded that when the church is the church, lives are transformed, children come home and Mommas are happy.

I don’t have any other pictures of my friend, but even if I did, this one would be my favorite. It's a reminder of God's amazing grace and what a "win" looks like for the local church. I think it might be Jesus's favorite picture too.

God bless the memory and family of Kay Piercy Schmitt.

Indeed, “Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” (Proverbs 31:31)

Peace