Reflections on Losing a Staff Member

Daniel Doss, the amazing worship leader who helped launch Grace Community Church, announced to the church this week that he is leaving to help plant another church.  Daniel has one of the most gifted voices I have ever heard and could easily find a position anywhere, including staying at Grace, but he is excited to be pursuing the dream of planting again (it does get in your blood) with a high school friend in Northern Indiana.  Daniel is our first full-time staff member to leave and we are surely going to miss his and Emily’s energy and passion for what we are doing at Grace.

I have some random thoughts about losing Daniel as a staff member:

  • Daniel has prepared us well for his absence.  He has assembled an incredible team of “worshipping artists” (his term) and they are ready to continue the excellence Daniel began.
  • We were proactive in this situation.  Knowing Daniel’s talent level and his continued passion for Kingdom-building, we knew we could lose Daniel someday if God presented him another opportunity to do this again.  Two years ago we hired another worship leader, equally talented, but with different skills, to co-lead with Daniel.  Michael has been and is ready to lead the deal.  It was sometimes difficult explaining why we had two highly talented leaders in the area of worship, but now we are thankful for the risk we took in making that happen.
  • I told Daniel when he first told me he was sensing a call to this new plant that I am a forward thinking person.  I truly believe a vision must be about more than a personality, so we will continue to the vision Daniel helped us launch.  Michael Higdon is talented and for all practical purposes assumed leadership of Sunday mornings several months ago. He previously led worship for over 20,000 per weekend at Fellowship Church in Dallas, so he is well equipped to continue the excellence Grace is known for in worship.
  • Daniel is leaving on good terms with the church, his worship team, and even Emily’s family who live in Clarksville.   We are sad to lose them, but can rejoice with them in this new venture.  I hope every staff exit we have in the years to come can happen this smoothly.
  • Daniel and Emily Doss will always be a part of Grace Community Church.  I’m fully convinced they will still be connected to us in some way years from now.  They are family to us as a staff and to the church.  Our paths will continue to cross in the years to come.

Daniel and Emily, Cheryl and I love you both.  We admire your hearts, your passion for life, ministry and others, and your faith in taking risks.  Thanks for the difference you have made in our life.

(PS.  I’m hoping Daniel and Emily won’t mind that I grabbed one of their pictures.  I found it on Google images.  They are quite popular there!)

Church Planting Is In My Blood

at_church_thm1Church planting is in my blood. It didn’t occur to me until recently, but shortly after my mother came to Clarksville she was a charter member of a local church.  They are celebrating their 50th anniversary today.  Shortly after this my mother married my father and became a Baptist, but she has always loved her Lutheran heritage.

Congratulations Grace Lutheran Church on 50 years of Kingdom growth.

I love the vision and excitement of church planting and it is one method God has used for many years to reach new people.   God continues to work through those willing to work hard, love people, and take risks to build the Kingdom.

Keeping Core Members In A Church Plant

I often hear church planters say to expect to lose half the original core members within the first year of a new church plant. While I agree that is the trend, I don’t think it has to be that way.  I am now in my second plant.  With this second church we went about the core selection in a very methodical way, fully intending to keep all original core members if possible.

I love the fact that 3 and half years after we launched every one of our core members are still actively supporting Grace Community Church.  (We did have one couple move, but we knew they were going to before we launched and they return often and still support us financially.  Another couple moved to accept a call to ministry, but they are back with us at the time of this post waiting for God’s next assignment for them.)

As the founding pastor, I actually interviewed all potential core members a couple of months before we had our first informational meeting.  (I have a co-pastor, but he had not committed to the plant at this step in our formation.)  Everyone I talked with was told they “may receive an invitation in the coming weeks to an informational meeting”.  Not everyone I talked with was invited.  It wasn’t that they weren’t great people.  In fact, I only talked with great people. It was that we were looking for some certain characteristics of great people.

What makes a successful core group?  Some of these we didn’t understand until a year or more into our launch, but we are so glad God led us to these characteristics.

Here are the common characteristics of our original core members:

1.    The people were placed on our hearts before we ever approached them. Cheryl and I both agreed I should talk with each one.

2.    They were passionate about the church plant from the first conversation. We didn’t have to talk them into being core members. You might say we looked for the Mary heart not the Zechariah heart. (Luke 1) If they asked “When?” it was different then if they asked “Why?”

3.    They had a holy discontent with their current walk with Christ.  They knew they wanted something more, but didn’t know how to address it.

4.    They understood and were willing to own the vision as their own. They were willing to sacrifice and, once we started, would have planted the church even if no one else ever came.

5.    They planned from the beginning to contribute time, money and resources to the cause. (Everyone assumed responsibility.)

6.    Although not a requirement, every man I met with (I met individually with the man first) got teary-eyed during the initial conversation about the church plant.

Obviously planting a church should be a work of the Holy Spirit.  As you are praying for the people God wants to use in this way, trust the impressions He places on your heart.  You are certainly not a failure should you lose core members. I would encourage people to go elsewhere if their heart is not in it, but I do believe it is possible to keep all core members in a new church plant.

If you are a church planter or part of a church plant, how did you find core members?

Learning to Handle the Stress of Growth as a Pastor

Our church is three and half years old. We have seen God do some amazing things in our short time and we continue to stand in awe of His grace upon us. Planting a church is hard work and not for the faint-hearted, but it’s been a joy ride at the same time. I love seeing people get excited about life, and especially gaining passion for Jesus, so these have been some of the best years of my life.

I need to be honest about something though. It all seemed to be fun when we were starting the church and had a few hundred people hanging out with us. Last Fall when we broke the 1,000 mark in average attendance (now over 1,800) some things changed. It has actually become work some days!

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not complaining. It is still fun and I’m glad we are growing and meeting needs as a church.  I love the team I work with and we have some of the most fun people in the world at our church, but I am realizing my need to be more focused, more intentional, and more consistent in my leadership if we are going to continue at this pace of growth as a church. I certainly don’t want to quench what God is doing!

I’m spending more time learning from church leaders, trying to balance my time, encouraging our team, delegating when possible, exercising more, and spending more time in prayer and in God’s Word.

What other suggestions do you have for me?  How do you handle the stress of leadership?

Next Day Reflection On the Tragic Death Of Rev. Fred Winters

Pastors and churches as a whole are obviously in shock from the sudden death of Pastor Fred Winters yesterday. I posted my own personal shock in a post you can read HERE.

This morning we had our regularly scheduled elders meeting. One of our elders came prepared to encourage more security measures in all of our church services, a direct reaction to the news from Sunday about Dr. Winters. Effective immediately, we will add another on-duty sheriff’s deputy. We will ask our professional trained police and sheriff department employees; we have several in the church, to be available on a volunteer basis. Since we have a large military population, we plan to quietly identify some of our trained soldiers to be observant during services. I am in full agreement with each of these measures. In the long-term, we will evaluate all our security measures.

I do not know what measures were in place at First Baptist Maryville and it would be completely unfair to assume that enough was not done. I am not sure any measures could have protected their pastor in the way this incident occurred. Tragic events cannot be completely avoided. I think it is important, however, to allow this incident, and other tragedies in recent years, to cause us to consider the security measures of our churches. Ultimately, God is in control of His church and can protect His people, but we live in a scary world where deranged people carry out desperate activities and it is important for us as leaders to be prudent in these matters. (Certainly prudence and wisdom are Biblical concepts.)

I also believe that this incident should remind each of us as pastors how diligent we must be in doing the work God has called us to do. We are certainly living in turbulent times.

Please continue to remember Pastor Winters family and church in your prayers.

Encouragement Amidst Tragedy from Pastor Fred Winters

My heart goes out to the family of Rev. Fred Winters, pastor of First Baptist Church, Maryville, IL. According to news reports a gunman killed him in the middle of services at his church this morning. Read a news report HERE.

Cheryl shared the story with me this afternoon while driving back into town. It’s all I’ve been able to think about since. There’s not a sense of fear on my part as a pastor, I just can’t stop thinking about his family and his church. I don’t want to bring more undue attention to the family at such a time as this, although I’m sure the media will cover it thoroughly, but you can read about his family and even see a picture of them on the church’s website. (It wouldn’t surprise me if they take the site down for a couple days shortly.)

In looking through the site I was impressed with the church’s vision. Rev. Winters seemed to have great plans for the future. If you spend some time on the church’s website, check out the future building plans of the church.  Wow! One thing that impressed me, and made me realize how God prepares us at times, is the current sermon series Dr. Winters was preaching through. You can listen HERE. Pastor Winters was teaching his church how to be happy in the midst of a scary world. Listen to his sermon from February 22, 2009. He says, “The number one factor in finding happiness in life is faith”, based on Philippians 4:4-9. He goes onto say that all of us desire something deeper than happiness. We want joy and it is not based on our circumstances, but our faith. The news report says Dr. Winters was a “happy” person. I think I know why.  (He ends his faith message with a story about his daughters. Prior to the message on faith he had preached on the importance of family. I plan to listen to that sermon next.)  I would say he left a great legacy to all who will follow.  Let Reverend Winter’s message encourage all of us during the times of uncertainty in the world.

Please pray for this pastor’s family, the church, and the Kingdom of God in the coming days.

Reflections From Sunday

Yesterday was another amazing day at Grace Community Church. In three and half years our church has seen many such days, but yesterday seemed extra special. We concluded our series “Am I The Only One?” considering how God’s grace can change a life. I was not speaking, so I stood in the back of the room as my co-pastor Chad shared about God’s grace in the life of Bible characters such as Moses and Paul. He then shared how God had poured grace upon his own life eight years ago when he felt ministry was over for him. God breathed new life into him. You can hear the sermon HERE. (I think one of the things which has made our church grow as fast as it has is because we have been open and honest with people about who we are and the struggles of life that we all face, including the pastors.)

Chad’s message closed with our own version of the cardboard testimonies so many churches have done, where you share your hurt, brokenness or failure on one side and flip to the story of God’s grace on the other. As I watched those familiar faces and stories walk across stage, and I looked at the packed room of people in the auditorium, I was instantly reminded of all the lives God has touched through our church in a short time. I saw couples reunited, men who others thought would never come to church, former alcoholics, and those who have been so beat up by the world. It was all I could do to hold back the tears.

We concluded the day with an afternoon baptism service and that’s where I couldn’t hold back the tears. Several hundred of our people returned to enjoy the time together. We had a full band lead us in a few songs; then took the Lord’s Supper together and then the baptism. Twenty-six people were baptized. One of our practices is to allow the father, if he wants to, to baptize his child. Seven dads baptized their children. Two of these were core members of our church. Two were people who have been a part of my ministry for years. I remember sitting with one of these men when we started the church and watching him tear up about being asked to be a core member. He didn’t feel worthy of such a task. Today these men are leading his family well and have played a significant role in the life of the church. I looked into the audience and saw the families represented by those being baptized. I knew that God had changed not just a few lives, but many lives. I couldn’t hold back…the tears flowed.

At the end of the day, another man said to me, “My tear ducts have been cleaned out today.” I could honestly say to him, “I know what you mean”.

Thank you God for your abundant mercy and grace poured out upon us.

10 Values of My Starbucks Visit

I got to Starbucks this morning and couldn’t leave.  There was too much ministry and other activities happening.  Here’s a recap of my hour and a half experience:

1.     Met three people who are “considering attending Grace Community Church”.

2.     Talked with a family who visited the Sunday prior and enjoyed it.  (I wasn’t preaching, so it was one of our good Sundays.)

3.     Answered over a dozen emails, including one about “once saved always saved”, one about baptism, one about a marriage struggle, and one about the church’s doctrine.

4.     Met a man who really kept wanting to talk, wanted my input in playing his online poker game, excitedly shared that he won  $6 gambling, told me he quit church because all they do is “waste money”, and may give our church a try this Sunday! 

5.     Talked with and tried to encourage a new city councilperson who is doing a great job and has a positive vision for our city. 

6.     Accepted 6 new Facebook friends.  Welcome! 

7.     Responded to 9 direct messages via Twitter.

8.     Took a call from a desperate man trying to save his marriage.

9.     Encouraged an Austin Peay professor I hear is very well liked by her students.

10.  Visited briefly with a local pastor.  Great guy! 

The same type experience happens every Sunday night when Cheryl and I make our weekly Wal Mart trip.  I am thinking I may need to do this more often.  

Do you have similar experiences when you are out in public?  How do your convert those experiences into ministry opportunities?  

One Principle of Leadership Leaders Must Understand

One principle of leadership:

Not everyone will agree with you and/or even like you.  If you lead anything, someone will disagree with your decisions and you will divide people into different opinions.  (There has never been a president with 100% approval ratings.) Leaders must be prepared to lead towards the vision of the organization, even when it means losing approval ratings. 

The only way to avoid this is to never lead.  If you are someone who needs people to agree with you or who relishes popularity more than your desire to make hard decisions and do the right thing for the organization, then I suggest you choose something other than leadership in which to invest your energies.  

Tribute to the Staff of Grace Community Church

We have such an awesome staff at Grace Community Church. God has blessed us with people who love Him and love others and each of them has a true heart’s desire to be found faithful in their Kingdom work.  With the size of our church, by most standards we are under-staffed. We have a philosophy that everyone on our staff is a true minister.  There are no strictly administrative people working for Grace.  (I hope that’s always our philosophy.)  I want to take this opportunity to honor each of them for their special contribution to all God has done at Grace in the last 3 ½ years. Each of them encourage me in some way in what I do for the Kingdom.

Chad Rowland (Co-Pastor) 

Chad is my partner.  When we agreed to plant the church together the selling point for both of us was that either of us would have chosen to work for the other person.  Chad has the ability to take my weak ideas and make them far better.  He’s the “cool” of our partnership.  I also know that Chad is by far has a better pastor’s heart than me.  He truly cares for people and is so good at encouraging others.  Chad encourages me to consider people above progress. 

Michael Bayne (Director of Family Ministries)

Michael is one of the hardest workers I know in ministry. Michael excels best at connecting with students and their parents. I know on a Sunday morning that if I can get a visitor to talk with Michael, they will visit ReMix on Wednesday night.  Michael gives his attention to many areas of our church, even those he’s not directly involved in.  He’s a true team player.  Michael is creative, funny, and one of my favorite people in the world to pick on.  Michael encourages me to work harder and dream bigger dreams. 

Michael Higdon (Director of Creative Arts)

Michael has more talent and experience than we have yet to completely tap into as a church.  Everywhere I go people know Michael and are impressed with him.  Michael has the heart of a worshipper.  He likes real, authentic, genuine worship and has a true desire for us as a church to take people to the deepest places in their walk with God.  Michael is joining the other Michael in being someone I’m quite fond of aggravating.  Michael encourages me to continually find ways to point people closer to God.

Daniel Doss (Worship Leader)

Daniel was with us from the beginning. He took a leap of faith and trusted in Chad and me (really God) to plant a church that reached lost and hurting people in Clarksville.  Daniel’s golden voice instantly became a sticking point for those who visited Grace.  People love to hear Daniel sing and watch Daniel lead worship.  Daniel has a sincere faith in God and a loyal devotion to his wife, family and friends. Daniel encourages me to be more intentional in relationships.

Ben Reed (Director of Community Groups)

Ben is a bright and rising star in ministry.  His youthful enthusiasm is excelled only by his sincere heart, devotion and wisdom.  Ben is a “get it done” guy.  I love the way he networks in the church and with other churches. He is always learning new ways to improve in his work.  Ben is rock solid in his beliefs and unwavering in his commitment to his wife and new baby son.  Ben encourages me towards continual improvement in what I do.  

Karen Grizzard (Director of Volunteer Ministries)

Karen has a steadfast loyalty to Grace and it’s mission. She has a sincere desire to help other people and her heart for women, especially those who are hurting, is contagious. Karen is quiet, but her insight when she shares it is always dead-on accurate.  Karen allows her life experience to minister to others in her kind, caring, and understanding way.  She never turns down an opportunity to sit with another woman and lend a crying shoulder.  Karen encourages me to remember those who are hurting most. 

Katrina Watts (Director of Preschool Ministry/Family Ministry Coordinator)

Katrina has done a remarkable job organizing our preschool area.  Every church I have been in seems to always scramble for workers, but Katrina seems to have solved that problem for us at Grace.  Katrina’s heart though is in helping people.  I seriously believe Katrina probably ministers to more people personally than any person on our staff. There is hardly a day I don’t hear about Katrina impacting someone in a positive way. Katrina’s mother was a spiritual giant and Katrina becomes more like her everyday.  Katrina encourages me to take advantage of every opportunity to encourage someone. 

Christy Crosby (Director of Children’s Ministry)

Christy loves Grace Community Church.  As a member of the core group who started the church, Christy has always been ready to do whatever is necessary to help Grace flourish. She’s a wonderful mother and serves a role model for other moms in our church and community.  Christy is a great example of a Proverbs 31 woman. She works, supports her husband and family, and never seems to tire of doing good things for others.  Christy encourages me to continually invest my time in building young families in our church. 

Anne Loy (Financial Administration)

Anne is the master of organization. She makes my job so much easier by insuring the financial part of Grace runs smoothly and efficiently.  Anne is more than a number cruncher though.  Anne thinks for the church and always finds ways to save the church money or help us operate more effectively.  Anne is easy to talk to and genuinely fun to be around and she uses that well for Kingdom impact. She has a tremendous outreach to high school girls through her ministry, along with her husband, in Young Life.  Anne encourages me to be even more organized so I can accomplish much for the Kingdom.