These thoughts really are connected.

ConnectAbout thirteen years ago, I was part of a group of guys who met to create a space for younger (and older) youth ministers to come together, be encouraged, be mentored, face their struggles, and be held accountable to the lives of service, leadership, and example to which they were dedicated.

We travelled to the mountains of Colorado for a week of rest, contemplation, confrontation, relationship-building, study of the Word, counseling, and refining.  The years I co-led this experience were some of the most memorable and meaningful in my life.  I genuinely looked forward to each fall, knowing I would reconnect with old friends and meet many new ones…and be able to pass on wisdom in life and ministry that others (and experience) had taught me.

A few years back, the organization I was partnering with started to have a shift in leadership.  Younger guys began replacing the older ones in positions of influence.  There was a subtle (at the time), but noticeable culture shift in the priorities and structure of the whole organization.  Two years ago, after all those years of investing my time and my heart in this thing I had helped create, I was simply not invited back.  No email.  No phone call.  No Rolex watch for years of service.  I found out by accident.  I assume it’s doing well without me.

If you see the sadness in my face and melancholy in my voice, it’s not because of this shameless act of age discrimination and shunning (this is a joke, people).  I was over it a long time ago.  No, the doom and gloom in my life right now, is more related to the loss of innocence and wonderful memories of my life as a fan of the San Diego Chargers and what’s become of them.  Because of political in-fighting, greed, the machinery of the NFL, and a myriad of other contributing factors, my beloved home team is imploding.

With the threat, and now probably reality, of relocating to Los Angeles, this personal little piece of mindless, entertaining diversion… namely, my lifelong support of the San Diego Chargers… is being shredded.  Opposition fans now outnumber the locals at home games.  Ownership has undermined the team’s ability to put a championship team on the field for years.  Financially hostile transplants to SD refuse to support ballots to build a new stadium.  Being embarrassed by the Oakland Raiduhs yesterday is nearly the final nail in my emotional coffin.

For a guy who has championed change at every intersection, I just want a little stability.  Something from my past to hang on to.  Is that too much to ask?

Our church family is at a crossroads.  Those who God used to build it are aging.  We have been the providers.  The backbone and steadiness that formed the foundation is as strong as ever, but the time is coming for the mantle of leadership, financial support, heart and “ownership” to spread to others.

North Point has meant so much to so many over the years.  Home to the wanderer.  Friend to the rejected.  A place of refuge for those torn apart by the toxic structure of modern church machinery.  A breath of fresh air for those suffocating under the weight of legalism, heavy-handed leadership, doubt, or guilt.

We have never, ever, been the church for most.  We probably never will be.  But for those who have, and will continue to call North Point “home”, the future must remain a reality.  The baton must be passed.  New voices must be heard.  New strategies must be formed.  New people must partner with those of us who are older, to create a new and sustainable leadership in the years to come.

To be honest, I have mostly embraced my aging process.  I am not afraid of growing older and the senior discounts are pretty cool.  I know I cannot keep doing what I do forever.  I am comfortable knowing I am not irreplaceable.  Far from it!  A true test of our effectiveness as leaders, parents, teachers, ministers, counselors, coaches, civic leaders, and the rest, has always been to leave behind a stronger, healthier, bolder legacy.  This must be true of North Point as well.

It’s time to step up, youngsters.

This road I travel…#6

This Road 2I spent many years of my adult life functioning in circles that assumed if your church was small, there was something wrong with it.  I was also led to believe if your church was large and growing in numbers (people, buildings, and budget), it was healthy and receiving God’s blessing.

These two assumptions were simply givens.  And you know what they say about assumptions…

I grew up in a small church, but moved on to the world of big churches in my early twenties.  I became enamored and enthused by growing churches and the dynamic leadership teams that managed the forward movement.

I attended leadership conferences and hung on the words of church growth experts.  Big names and big churches and big strategies and big organizations convinced me of what I needed to do and be, if I dared to embrace the role of leader in the body of Christ.

I even began my personal ascent (such a horrible concept) to significance and recognition in that arena.  I was pursued by much larger churches.  I was encouraged to enlarge my territory and expand my influence. I spoke at conferences.  I was asked to write for publication.  I taught in Bible college.  I lead worship at large outreach events.  I played an Ovation Custom Balladeer, for crying out loud.  With pearl inlay…

But I don’t think my soul was ever at peace in that role.  It was certainly what I did.  But I never wore it well. And in my heart of hearts, this square peg in a round hole was constantly looking for the square hole.

And then North Point happened.  The square hole found me nearly twenty years ago.  1500 miles away from what I had always called home.  The story still amazes me.

My old world would probably pat North Point on the head.  “Hang in there, little camper.  Maybe someday you’ll grow up and become the church God designed for you to be.”   I never would have said that, but there is no doubt we all thought that about small churches.

So wrong.  So very wrong.

There’s a new book out called “Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus”, by Chris Smith and John Pattison.  Here’s an excerpt from the intro:

In the beginning, the church ate together, traveled together and shared in all facets of life. Centered as they were on Jesus, these seemingly mundane activities took on their own significance in the mission of God. In “Slow Church”, [the authors] invite us to leave franchise faith behind and enter into the ecology, economy and ethics of the kingdom of God, where people know each other well and love one another as Christ loved the church.

It’s the book I should have written twenty years ago.  I speaks well of my change.

I read a post today that inspired me.  If you are part of the North Point family, read it.  Really.  Read it.  It will inspire you and affirm why you are part of this familyby somebody who has never met even one of us.  If you are not, read it at your own risk.  Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite

I can’t help thinking though, that our Christianity in America is losing something, little by little; that as large, modern churches become the rule in our spiritual landscape, we’re sacrificing the unique, special, artisan expression of Jesus that can only be found in the small and the personal.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with shopping at a big box store and picking-up a nationally-known pizza on the way home, but I’ve always believed in “shopping local”, and in supporting the little guy. It’s about retaining something intangible; something elemental; something worth holding onto.

Wow.  The beauty of such finely crafted words touches deep.

I’m no expert

No ExpertA couple of weeks ago, I wrapped up two weeks of teaching at Lakeview Bible College and Seminary in Chennai, India.  I was invited to come as a guest professor to teach on church ministry and leadership.

Usually, those kind of gigs are reserved for the experts.

Clearly, I’m no expert.

The church world is full of successful ministry models.  The seeker-sensitive model.  The purpose-driven model.  The pastor-centric model.  The missional model.  The small-group church model.  The multi-site model.  The family-church model.  The we’re-gonna-get-big-at-any-cost model.

And there are tons of successful big-dog, pastor-leader-teacher experts out there.

Then there’s me.  And the North Point model.

Yeah.  That model.

I’m still working on a name for it.

So far, the best one I can come up with is the “we-don’t-know-what-we’re-doing-but-we’re-having-fun-doing-it” model.

When the Farraclan came to Texas 19 years ago, I came to do youth ministry.  I had a lot of experience in church leadership and church growth and church politics, but the one thing I really knewthe one thing I was comfortable withthe one thing that made sense to me as a Kingdom worker was youth ministry.

So when my best friends asked me to step up and assume the head pastor-leader role in our church family a few years ago, I politely declined the request.  “Are you guys crazy?  This is a sure-fire recipe for disaster!”  

My theology and my methods and my personality and my rule-bending and my frustration with church politics were always easily camouflaged in youth ministry.  As long as kids were coming and learning about the love of Jesus and submitting to Kingdom principles and practice, everybody was happy.  And nobody asked questions.

But moving to the lead-dog role was going to expose me for what I really was.  A youth minister.  To the core.

So when my friends would not back down, I made a fateful proposition.  I said since the only thing I really knew was youth ministry, then they needed to be willing to have our whole church family function like a large youth group.  That’s what I was willing to offer.  I was not willing to start doing things differently.

I believed in my heart that if something of substance worked in youth ministry, then it would work with a whole church full of adults.  And it would be good.  There were no models to learn from.  There were no books to read on the topic.  There were no conferences to attend.  Nobody I knew of had done what we were going to do.  This was going to be totally uncharted territory.

Here has been my conviction:  Kids hang out with each other.  Kids pursue fun.  Kids are open to change.  Kids are willing to be taught and challenged.  Kids are interested in changing the world.  Kids are moved by compassion.  Kids laugh and joke and play.  Kids freely accept others and are not quick to judge.  Kids are not wowed by programs and structures and rules and guidelines.  Kids are honest and speak their minds.  Kids embrace wonder and see doubt and questions as friends.  Friendship means everything to kids.  Faith is instinctive.

And then kids turn into adults.

So what is our model of ministry at North Point?

I don’t really have a clue.  But teaching adults to act like kids again has been a good place to start.

The thoughts of a bus driver

Bus Driveri have a thread of thoughts running through my head this afternoon.  I hope you’ll see the connection by the end of this post.

There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in the greater church world these days.  Abuse of power.  Manipulative theology.  Political posturing.  Gross, unloving judgment.  Financial impropriety.  Sex scandals.  Over-the-top church leader celebrityism.  Infatuation with the Big Show.  More than I want to list right here.

When the  Farra-clan decided to fly below the radar (move to Texas, work in a small renegade church, smoke my own brisket, etc…), I forfeited my insider’s position and my seat at the big boy’s table.  I now watch them play from a distance and reserve the commentary to those in my personal blogosphere…or those I can eat lunch with.  But it doesn’t mean I care any less.  I just realize the only real difference I can make is in my own church family…and that is more than enough for me.

Here are some words from one of the most prominent and influential leaders of young pastors in the world today:

Here’s what I’ve learned. You cast vision for your mission; and if people don’t sign up, you move on.  You move on. There are people that are gonna to die in the wilderness and there are people that are gonna take the hill. That’s just how it is.

Too many guys waste too much time trying to move stiff-necked, stubborn, obstinate people. I am all about blessed subtraction. There is a pile of dead bodies behind the busand by God’s grace it’ll be a mountain by the time we’re done.

You either get on the bus or you get run over by the bus. Those are the options; but the bus ain’t gonna stop.  And I’m just a—I’m just a guy who is like, “Look, we love ya, but, this is what we’re doing.

There’s people who get in the way of the bus. They gotta get run over. There are people who wanna take turns driving the bus. They gotta  get thrown off.

And by moving on, he doesn’t mean the pastor is supposed to up and leave.  Nope.  The new way of doing church business is much more slimy.  The new plan might just be to kill off the church you are serving.

“Replanting” is a term used these days to define the process of determining if an existing church needs to die and start over again.  Apparently, God will give the young leader a vision for killing off the old and starting the new.  Here are some words of advice given by an experienced church planter and mentor to young men who dream of following in his footsteps:

In speaking of his own “dream”…

But was it all a dream? Could it be realized, I asked myself. Was I stuck in an endless continuum of leading one self-centered, apathetic, prideful, spiritually-arrogant, biblically-ignorant church after another with no real lasting change?

Prayerfully determine if God has called your church to enter a replanting at this time. Do you feel God is calling you to replant your church?  Once affirmed, lead fearlessly through the rough waters, people jumping overboard, sea sickness, and mutiny among the crew.

Many people (including leaders and even spouses) will become disoriented, discouraged, and dissenting.  Lead the body patiently, lovingly, but firmly  – just as Jesus would.  But don’t lead fearful of losing popularity, friendship, or a comfortable, secure job.  A manager is a pleaser of people.  A visionary leader is a pleaser of God.

In preparing for my sermon on reconciliation yesterday, I came clean.  I am not a fighter.  I am a peacemaker.  I have few, if any, real enemies because I am a peacemaker.  I follow in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul as an ambassador of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5)…an ambassador of peace.

People can disagree with me.  They do all the time.  We have different theological points of view.  People may not be drawn to my personality or are uncomfortable with the roles I play…especially in my church family.  We have the freedom to go our separate ways…and some do.  But it is never without great cost and great pain.  And it is never with me invoking the last word because of my vision, my authority, my position, or my calling.

I do not believe that pleasing God and disagreeing with people needs to be militant.  It will never require me to run over people who get in the way of my bus.

More to come.

In the meantime, I think I need a shower.

Of leading and parenting

Good ParentingI’ve been kind of bugged lately.

Not the stuff that pushes me to full-blown depression, but definitely enough to keep my mind and heart pre-occupied most days.

I’ve grown weary…deeply weary…of reading about abusive church leaders.  About pastors who live opulent lifestyles.   About theological wars between Bible teachers and the churches they lead.  About affairs and divorces and toxic relationships of those who claim a calling to shepherd.

I’m sick and tired of how ministers are portrayed in the media, because much of it is deserved.  My frustration with celebrity preachers and pastor-worship is at an all-time high.  Stories of power and politics and judgment and immorality seems to be everywhere in my leadership corner of the ecclesiastical world.  Sometimes, I’m just plain embarrassed to be part of the fraternity.

It’s a shame.  I feel with all the posturing and flexing and middle school locker room antics that goes on among the spiritual power brokers in the church, the point is simply being missed.  We are here to serve and love.  We can do that in a lot of ways.  Teaching.  Shepherding.  Leading.  But always as a servant.

Over the years as the lead sheepherder of my church family, I’ve come to see my job is more like good parenting than being the boss, the chief authority figure, or even the lead dog.  I’m not abdicating responsibility…I’m just choosing to redefine it.

A goal of good parenting is to raise children that are strong and independent.  Sometimes I think pastors are deliberately raising people who are dependent on their teaching…dependent on their priestly postition…dependent on their approval…dependent on their blessing.  Teaching, approval and blessing are generally good things, but not when it breeds co-dependance.

Another goal of good parenting is to create an atmosphere of exploration and questioning.  Yeah, we spoon feed five-year-olds the “right” answers.  But we can’t do that when they’re teenagers.  That’s what produces rebellion.  I’m afraid much of the rebellion we see in the church is related to the lack of space for questioning and the affirmation of doubt as a positive part of the faith process.

Good parents are not frightened by their children becoming different than they are.  I think deep inside, most parents want their kids to grow up with similar goals and tastes…but most of the time, it doesn’t happen.  Just like parents need to let their kids grow up and march to their own drum, good shepherding in the church is much the same.   We are not in the business of cloning people.

We all are reading the same book, but we don’t all understand it the same way.  (Witness the thousands of different denominations.)  I’m pretty sure we ought to tolerate a little variance in our own church families, don’t you think?  Isn’t that what love does?

And speaking of love, the church must learn to welcome and love all kinds.  We need to point them to Jesus and let his words and counsel (Holy Spirit) take up residence in their hearts and minds…on his timetable, not ours.  We need to learn patience.  We need to practice grace.  We need to give people room to grow and learn and develop at their own speed…and enjoy the ride.  And, oh yeah…make mistakes and still get hugged anyway.

We need to leave the heavy-handed approach to behavior modification to Gitmo.  We don’t need it in our families.

Either of them.

Young Eagles

young eaglesIt’s not uncommon for my mind to wander these days.

Am I slowing down and my struggle with focus is just the inevitable result of getting older?  Could be.  Is it my adult onset ADD acting up?  Sounds like a good excuse to me.  Or maybe I’ve got an over-active mind that is constantly processing the overload of information constantly at my fingertips.  Yeah.  That’s the ticket.

Or maybe I’ve just grown undisciplined.  Great.  Honesty sucks.

Anyway…my wandering has been taking me to the same place for quite a while, lately.  I imagine there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t spend some time thinking about how to make my days in the fourth quarter good days.  Productive days.  Days that make a difference.  Days where I make plans to intentionally pass the mantle.

(I wrote about some of these things a couple of years ago in two of the most important posts I have ever written.  You can check them out here and hereor you can wait until I re-post them soon.)

Larry Osborne is a seasoned pastor… and the author of a book called, Sticky Teams, a book on building leadership in the local church.  He has some interesting things to say about passing the mantle of church leadership on to the younger generation:

In the church, says Osborne,  The seniors never graduate (at least not until they’ve become literal seniors and start dying off). They hog the leadership table, shutting out the next generation. It’s one of the main reasons that most churches stop growing and lose their evangelistic touch (and cultural relevance) around the twenty-year mark.”

And then a little later, Leadership is a zero-sum game. One person’s emerging influence is always another person’s waning influence. That’s why making room for the young eagles is a hard sell, especially to those who already have a seat at the table.”

I know the reasons we have fewer young people stepping up to take on significant leadership in the church (yours…ours) are complex.  Family demands.  Work demands.  Money demands.  Home ownership demands.  Recreational demands.  School demands.  Demands…demands…demands.

Finding more time in already-packed-schedules seems impossible.  And if time is found, there are already many great, important things that our time can be devoted to.  Fitting even more in is a crazy proposition.  Taking on leadership/ownership in a church family can feel outrageously stupid.  But it can be done.

My church family was started and lead by a group of twenty-somethings and early thirty-somethings.  If it weren’t for the dedication and tireless work of these young couples, there would be no North Point today.  These were all people with full-time jobs and families and homes and children and demanding schedules.

But they figured it out because it was important.

It can be done.  The reason they became the leaders is because there were no other leaders.  They were it.  Without them it would have failed.  That’s why I so totally agree with what Larry Osborne said.  Those who currently hold the seats of leadership need to make room at the table for the young eagles.

Young eagles have huge liabilities.   I had no idea how to lead a youth group when I took over the leadership at age 18.  But I am a great believer in this statement by the philosopher, Plato:  “Necessity is the mother of invention.”   And God is faithful to make up what is lacking in the lives of those who are willing to serve Him.

We live in a culture where leadership is most often based on tenure, experience, and education.  Leadership isn’t handed to just anybody.  It’s earned.  You have to pay your dues.  You have to prove your worth.  But the church shouldn’t be dictated by culture.  It should influence it.

I am sensing a huge need to make more and more room at the table of leadership to those who are younger.  And you don’t have to earn it.  You simply have to see the need, have the faith of a mustard seed, and desire to make a difference.

Any young eagles out there who are ready to fly?

Breaking my silence…with this.

no-girls-allowedi guess it’s about time to break my silence.

there were no problems.  my schedule has been packed.  my thoughts have been random.  my brain has been tired.  the rest of my body has been, also.  every morning and evening when i have sat down to write, the results have been incomplete.  i’ve heard of this thing called writer’s block.  maybe that’s what i have…

but i’m going to plow through tonight.  true to form, it’s random…but it’s what i’ve been thinking about this evening.

i grew up being taught that men were to be the leaders…in the home…in society…in marriage…in the church.  i’m pretty sure it was based on a combination of physics, anthropology, cultural tradition, and in my case, some bible interpretation.

i guarantee you there are very few people who have digested the male-female debate more than yours truly.  i’ve read so many books on the subject, i’ve lost count.  i’ve studied…and re-studied…every passage of relevance in the bible.  i’ve gone to conferences where the topic was front and center.  i’ve listened to those i know and respect and to those who came with only a recommendation.

i worked in a mission organization whose co-founder and CEO is a woman.  she was my boss and still continues to be a close, trusted friend.  she is an author, a speaker, a visionary, a seminary professor, and one of the best preachers i have ever heard.  her life and words have taught and inspired thousands.

she was raised in a church that taught that women were to be silent in the church and to be quietly submissive in their marriages and in society.  i’m grateful she heard other voices along the way…voices that gave her a broader interpretation of scripture and the confidence to use her talents and gifts to the fullest for the good of the kingdom.

this past tuesday, i sat outside the door to our children’s worship room and listened to angela, our children’s pastor, preach the good news about jesus to a room full of kids…with passion and clarity and boldness.  some would say that was where she needed to be teaching…in front of children and their moms.  i say she can…and should…do it in front of anyone.   she suffers no shortcomings because of her gender.  she’s an amazing leader and motivator and communicator.

last wednesday evening, i attended a dinner to promote the family mentoring program for the chin refugee ministry, held at a huge church in our community.  after nearly two hours and five or six presentations, a lady got up to close the meeting.  she was the host church’s volunteer coordinator for family mentoring.

she’s a forty-something mom of kids and a wife of a teacher.  on the outside, she was stereotypically conservative…a perfect match for the traditional church family she was representing.  but then she opened her mouth.

she spoke with power and conviction.  she was articulate and convincing.  the room hung on the words of this simple housewife, as if she had the calling of a pastor.  she gave a passionate, biblical appeal to live our lives the way jesus would…to care for those in need and to seek the lost.  to say that we were inspired would be an epic understatement.

afterward, i went up to her and told her how moved i was and asked her how often she gets to speak to her whole church family.  they really need to hear her.  she chuckled and embarrassingly said that probably wasn’t ever going to happen.

i told her i was going to have her come and speak to us at north point.  we need some of what she’s got.

we need to carefully rethink and restudy the women-in-leadership-issue.  soon.

there are simply too many women’s voices being left behind.

just what i’m thinking tonight.