Master’s In Organizational Leadership (WHY?)

81logoI have been asked consistently for the past year why I would subject myself to the discipline of obtaining a second master’s degree.  I have a seminary master’s in counseling, but last year I began work on a master’s in organizational leadership from Eastern University in Philadelphia.  I should finish this degree in early 2010.

The answer is fairly simple.  I am an idiot who loves to torture myself.

Actually, the truth is that I felt the need for more education in a field that I practice most.  As a pastor and church planter I need seminary training.  Honestly though, I went to seminary later in life also and much of what I learned about the Bible I had studied previously as a layperson.  I have been a student of the Bible since I was in my early twenties.  What I have found the need for most in my leadership role in the church is insight on leading an organization.  The more we have grown the more I have sensed the need to grow personally.

So far in my studies we have looked at organizational leadership, strategic planning, organizational efficiency, human resources, strategic thinking and change management and financial management.  All of these are vital to what I do at Grace Community Church and the training has been directly transferable to my work.

There are a few other reasons I am pursuing this degree.

  • Our church has grown faster than my ability to keep up with it at times.  I recently wrote about leadership capacity and, as with many posts, this one had personal implications.
  • I want to make the organization of the church better.  One of the reasons I blog is to help others grow in their leadership with principles I have learned in business, church and through my education.
  • I am a Kingdom-builder. When God called me into ministry, He called me for who I am.  I am not a sit still, detailed, or single-minded person.  I think big!
  • I never want to stop learning.  Ever!

It has been a fun, but stretching and expensive venture for Cheryl and me, but I am thankful God has given me the opportunity.  I am also thankful to Cheryl for allowing me the time and to spend our money to do this.  As an added benefit, I have learned to love Philly cheesesteak.  I even have a favorite.

How are you learning and keeping up these days?

One Sentence That Impacted My Life Greatly

Cheryl and I were invited to dinner at a woman’s house that attends our church.  She had previously attended The Gathering in Nashville, but the drive was wearing on her each week, so she was excited to find a similar church closer to home.  She wanted us to meet her former pastor and his wife, David and Paula Foster.  I cannot accept every invitation, simply because there are too many in a church our size to accommodate them all, but I am glad I accepted this one.  David is a great leader and church planter.  I had met David several times, but never spent any time getting to know him.

David Foster made a huge investment in my life Friday night.  I had previously written a post about this need.  (Read that post HERE.)  God must read my blog…or my heart.  ☺

It was really simple.  David is a great listener so he heard my story of planting the church.  I shared with him the struggles, the heartaches, the sadness in losing friends, and of course, the joys of seeing God do amazing things in people’s lives.  I do not talk about the struggles much, but David understood firsthand the difficulties in church planting and he encouraged the conversation.  David said he considers himself a renegade.  In fact he wrote a book about it.  See an excerpt HERE.  I am sure he has faced controversy, but his words to me were invaluable.

David said one line to me and it rocked my world! He said, “Ron, you know this already (I am not sure I did.)

Find your affirmation in the people to whom God has called you to minister…in whose lives God is changing through your work.”

Wow!  Such a simple thought, but honestly, I am not sure I had really stopped long enough to see things through that paradigm.  I had probably spent more time seeking affirmation from other pastors or comparing our ministry to other churches. Sometimes I compare myself to them competitively.  I may get discouraged if I am not as successful as them. Frankly some pastors seem to resent or question the reasons behind our success.  There may be struggles if we have different methodologies.  I can wish the church world was less competitive, but even though its leader is perfect (Christ) it is an organization run by imperfect people.

When I apply David’s principle of finding affirmation I am overwhelmed at what God is doing.  He is molding, shaping, changing, growing, spurring, releasing, capturing, and saving countless lives through the work of Grace Community Church.  I have never been so encouraged to continue the work God has called me to do!  In addition, my greatest calling is to my family and they are flourishing in Christ!  (I am writing a separate post about this in recent days.)

Thank you David for investing in my life! You have no idea the impact your few words had.

Have you ever had a few words impact you in a powerful way?  Who is investing in you right now with words of wisdom or encouragement?  In whose life are you investing?

One Secret To Our Success At Grace Community Church

theGbwI had a great conversation with one of our original core members this morning as he stopped in to say hello.  We were reminiscing about the first four years at Grace Community Church.  Our anniversary is in September.  God has continued to amaze us with His presence.  Last Sunday we had a 43% increase in attendance over the same day in July last year.  Wow!

I think my friend nailed one of the reasons for our growth.  He told me he had a bad experience in his last church and because of that was anxious to begin a new work where drama, tradition, committees, and anything that hindered reaching people for Christ was kept to a minimum.   He also told me that before he started he had told his wife, “Honey, we got to make this church work, because if it doesn’t, we don’t have anywhere else to go.”

After a good laugh-out-loud moment, we concluded that he was onto something.  Everyone in our original core knew what it was like to feel like an outsider, to wonder if there was something more to the church experience, or to have struggles in life that seemed unbearable.  We knew how it felt to hurt and we were ready to build a church for other hurting people or people who wanted more from their church experience; people with whom we could easily identify. We still attract similar people today…and we love them when they come!  (When we were planting I called it a “holy discontent”, but then Bill Hybels wrote a book by that same name.  Good book too.)

Thank you God for life’s struggles that can be used to make us better and help us reach others that struggle with life.

Ugly Clothing Marketing Works Great For Churches

UglyTie-33053I love shirts that do not have to be ironed. I travel a lot and right now the nylon, breathable shirt appears popular, at least among my age, and so I can be “in style”, comfortable and basically wrinkle-free with little effort. I have to confess to something, however. My style is usually determined by what other people do not want. I choose to dress primarily in rejected clothing! You see I am hugely price conscious. I love new clothes, but the thoughts of spending more than $10 for a shirt bothers me, so if it’s on sale for $6, I tend to like it even more. I have often wished there were a store for folks like me that sold only the clothes others didn’t want…the rejects…at dirt cheap prices.

I realize this would not be the best marketing approach for the clothing industry. Imagine the ads going after customers no one else wants. What kind of commercial would you make from the clearance rack?

It may not be the best approach in retail marketing, but guess what? The system I use in clothing myself is a great marketing approach for churches. If you want your church to grow, go after people no one else wants. Go after the ones who feel unwanted. Attempt to reach the people the world has rejected.

It worked well for Jesus. It has worked well for Grace Community Church. Perhaps it will for your church as well.

The Economy is Driven by Greed and Fear (Lessons learned from Lithuania)

DSCF7748One of the primary purposes for our recent visit to Lithuania was to work with business leaders and individuals on issues related to personal finance, leadership, and budgeting.  This was our initial trip, but we were able to open doors and build trust with key people in the church and community for future interaction.  Our end goal is Kingdom-building, but instead of a medical or construction project, which is typical for many mission trips, we went addressing the primary need of the Lithuanians at this time; the economy.  Naturally we received lots of questions about the economy in the United States.  There was keen awareness that our economy impacts their economy.

Lithuania was under the communist rule of the Soviet Union until the early 90’s, so capitalism is a fairly new concept for most of the people.  The fast introduction to a free market has led to tremendous problems in the country.  There were lots of “instant” millionaires and success stories and now they are experiencing a natural correction.  Unfortunately, because their economy grew so fast it will also decline fast and that has caused panic within the country.

In one of our meetings a leading businessman seemed to capture the essence of the problem in a couple of words.  He said, “It appears to me that the problems in our country started with greed and now they are being continued with fear.”


My new friend may be onto something.  In fact, I think he is.  The problem in his country seems to mirror the problems in our country.  It may have taken us longer to get to our place of struggle than in his country, but we face the same struggles.  What got us into our economic condition was largely triggered by greed and what is keeping us from fully recovering is largely triggered out of fear.

I was also reminded that the church has answers to each of these struggles, greed and fear.  Perhaps it could be said that we should have been addressing the first problem better all along and we may not have to be addressing the second problem as much, but either way, we have a role to play in the current state of the economy.

What do you think?

Preaching at City Church, Klaipeda, Lithuania

DSCF7412For over a year Grace Community Church has partnered with City Church in Klaipeda, Lithuania.  This partnership has at this point consisted primarily of frequent Skype or Tokbox conversations between me and Pastor Saulius of City Church.  This trip was primarily a vision trip for our church, combined with a focus on building business relationships between our churches.  We learned a lot about the culture and how our churches can continue to learn from each other.

I love to invest in other pastors and churches and this provides a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other.  They currently are meeting in a T-shaped attic of an old hotel the church has purchased and is renovating, so the picture of me speaking here actually shows one smaller portion of the crowd.  They average about 150 people each week, which in relative terms makes the church a thriving Protestant church in a country fairly new to freedom of religion.

Last Sunday I was blessed to stand where Saulius stands each week before his people.  By the way, I love the cheer of applauds the speaker receives before he or she delivers the message in Lithuania.  (Their custom also has them applaud a safe landing of an airplane.  I thankfully got to experience that custom also.)

If you have never experienced a translated message before, here is an example of one.  Click HERE to hear last week’s message from City Church Lithuania.  This was a simple message of hope, something the Lithuanians (and all of us) need a lot more of, but God somehow used it last Sunday in some people’s lives, according to the feedback from Saulius.

I am praying for the years of partnership between our churches to strengthen each of us and help further the Kingdom of God.  This week I will continue to share highlights of our trip.

The Strength of the Lithuanians

125px-Flag_of_Lithuania.svgOne thing that has kept us occupied the most in our culture training this week in Lithuania is the difference Soviet occupation has made on this country.  People talk constantly about “Soviet times” and “during occupation”.  We visited the KGB museum and saw the evidence of the stressed conditions of the people. Not one family here is unaffected by those days.

There are many visual evidences of those times, which ended about 20 years ago.  You can see it in the building disparity.  There will be a beautifully architecturally designed building Europe is famous for right next door to a very plain, no flash, almost ugly Soviet-built building.  It is obviously the major influencer of the economy here that has tried to learn to adjust to capitalism and the freedoms that come with it.  Sadly, you can see it in the fact that there are lots of older women walking the streets, but relatively few older men.

In spite of the hardship of this country, however, it has been amazing to see the tenacity of these people.  They are survivors.  They find a way to make something work.  They find a way to be happy, to provide for their family, and even to give to others.  I will be telling more stories later when I have more Internet time, including one man’s story that literally blew me away, but for now let me just say that I hope when times are tough for me I will have the courage and resolve of these people.

Are you having a hard time these days?  Perhaps you need to hang around my Lithuanian friends for a while.

Are You Planning For Your Church’s Future?

Where is your church going in the next five years? What will it look like it ten years? If nothing changes, will it still be as equipped to reach the community around you?

If we aren’t careful, church becomes a Sunday-to-Sunday routine process and we look up someday from the weekly grind and realize we never reached our potential. For most churches, when one Sunday is over they are planning for the next Sunday. The church addresses the ministry needs of the week, but little time is spent planning for the months and years to come for the church. The monotony of a repeating schedule can often replace long-term planning.

(Because every time I do a post like this I hear this comment I know that at this point one of my readers (maybe two) is thinking, “God is in charge of us reaching our potential”, and it is at this point that I have to remind said reader that planning exists throughout the Bible and in fact, God seems critical of those who fail to plan.)

This post is just a simple reminder to steal some time from the weekly grind to plan a few steps ahead in the life of the church. Think through issues such as worship, discipleship, staffing, space needs, volunteer recruitment, and community and world involvement. In addition to weekly impromptu meetings and our bi-weekly all staff meetings, our staff gets together three times a year in an extended staff retreat. We have found this process to be where major initiatives and ideas originate and gain energy.

At our most recent staff retreat at Grace Community Church, after we went looked again at the Growth/Maintenance/Development issue again (Read a post about that process HERE), we considered these three questions to help us think through some critical planning issues for our church:

  1. Missing Holes
    What needs developing?
  2. Dying Momentum
    What needs tweaking or killing?
  3. Gaining Momentum
    What needs energy/additional resources right now?

You may consider trying this with your staff. If you are the only staff member, recruit a few key people in your church to help you plan.

Tomorrow I will post some of the bullet point that came as a result of these three discussions. If you need more help with these issues, email me at

Let us learn from you.  How does your church plan for the future?

I Am Glad To Be In A Man’s Man Kind of Church

snake e-mailOne of my good friends is a man’s-man kind of guy. My friend’s name is Dirt and the name says a lot about this guy. He is a professional hunter and fisherman. He actually owns an International shooting supply company, has led professional hunting and fishing expeditions around the world and has a well known hunting show on several cable stations. (If he were a Bible character he would be a Jacob or a Peter.)

What impresses me with a guy like Dirt is that in addition to being a tough guy, he loves his wife, his two daughters and his grandchildren. Cheryl and I have traveled on the mission field with Dirt and Connie King, and underneath that rough exterior, that frankly would intimidate me if I didn’t know him, is the heart of a great guy who would do anything he could to help someone in need. Whenever he is not traveling with his television show he is sitting in church and is one of my biggest encouragers every week he is there.

I like that kind of guy. We see it in our brave soldiers who fearlessly defend our nation. We see it in the dozens of hunters and fishermen in our church. We see it in the football and baseball players and coaches. We see it in the guy who works an office job fighting his way through the corporate world or the factory worker who sweats 8 hours a day to feed his family. One thing I am so thankful for at Grace Community Church is that we have attracted a lot of men’s men who are tough outside, but inside they have tender hearts for God and their families. I love when a man leads his family to church. Of course, I am thankful for all our ladies who come even when their husbands don’t, but when  man leads the way his family will almost always follow.

I hope we are always that kind of church. Happy Father’s Day!

I Danced At Church Yesterday

I danced at church yesterday.  I did not dance alone, Cheryl danced with me, but I did dance. Several people indicated they would never believe it until they saw it, so here is the proof.

We are in the middle of a family series and I was talking yesterday about marriage and specifically the need to commit ourselves to making marriage work.  My co-pastor Chad and his wife sang while Cheryl and I danced.  It was a visual picture of the leadership of the church admitting that marriage is tough, but our commitment to make it work is what can make a marriage strong.

You would have to listen to the whole message for it to make complete sense. You can do that HERE.  I also share a few tips to protect your marriage in this message.  For other thoughts on marriage, check out that category of this blog HERE.

I am thankful for a church that allows us freedom to express Biblical truth in creative ways.  What a joy to pastor at Grace Community Church.

What plan do you have to protect your marriage?