Category Archives: church planting

Leadership Writing #1 Courage

As Ephesus Church grows, my heart to see more leaders raised up and trained increases. It seems to be in my mind and on my heart more and more these days. God is working at Ephesus, of that there is no doubt. I firmly believe that over the course of the next year we will see tremendous growth spiritually and numerically. With that, comes much excitement at being a part of God’s work, but it also means it will become much bigger than me (which has already happened!) and require a large team of leaders to effectively accomplish the mission attached to this vision of loving Jesus, loving people and loving the city. That’s why I keep thinking about training up and equipping leaders. Which has led to this: the first of approximately 14 writings on qualities and key issues of leadership, specifically as it pertains to Ephesus Church and the direction God has called us. I’m not intentionally writing to a global audience or attempting to be overly original. My intent with these writings on leadership is to speak into the lives of emerging leaders at Ephesus Church. I will include thoughts and ideas from many sources. My prayer is to impact the ability of Ephesus Church to accommodate and thrive in an environment of growth and change as we push forward with God’s mission by building up leaders. So here goes….



Effective leadership always begins with personal courage. If you’re not willing to step out and move forward in the face of great (or small) odds you won’t be able to lead at any level, whether it is leading one other person on a small project or hundreds of people across many levels and departments of the church. Leading means blazing new trails, not always following established procedure, and this requires courage. We’re inspired by leaders who take risks, who are bold, and step out. If we are unable to step out courageously, nothing will ever be accomplished. The church will plateau and eventually decline into mediocrity. My heart and prayer is that we are a church of courage, both personally and corporately. For some of us that means taking HUGE risks, for others it is courage that manifests in the form of baby steps. Both are to be commended, because what is key is that we are all exhibiting courage in our lives and our ministry. Below I’ve laid out 6 key aspects of courage.

1. Courage means moving forward in the face of risk

Courage at its root is exhibited in action. Doing nothing takes no courage at all (unless you’re facing a Grizzly bear and doing nothing is the right thing to do, because if you ran the bear would chase you and eat you, but come on we live in Charlotte!). We know the story of David and Goliath, I preached on it a couple of months ago! That is one of the great stories of courage in the bible. Why? It is a story of courage, because David moved forward in the face of risk. Saul had the title and position, he was king, everyone was supposed to be following him, but what did he do when faced with Goliath? Nothing. No courage, therefore no leadership, and the people gave their hearts and lives to David as their king and leader. 1 Samuel 17.48 sums David’s courage up very well, “David hastened and ran…to meet the Philistine.” This past Sunday (2/8/09) we looked at Jesus’ first call to the disciples to become fishers of men. They had much to learn and a lot of growing ahead of them, but they began their ministry with courage. They dropped their nets and followed Jesus. They gave up everything for a guy they had just met. They didn’t know where this would take them or what all the implications were, but they were already budding leaders because they had the courage to act, to move forward, to be decisive in the face of risk. One of my favorite books/movies is Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose, and yes, I’ve actually read the book too! The central personality in this story of an airborne company in World War 2 is Dick Winters, who rose from the rank of lieutenant to major over the course of 3 years. Even before becoming company commander, the men trusted and respected him because of his courage. One such example of action in the face of risk was at a crossroads in Belgium during Operation Market Garden. His unit was pinned down and had seemingly nowhere to go except forward into the German lines. Winters acknowledges that he was scared, but something had to be done. So he stands up and runs toward the enemy force. There was incredible risk! The enemy all carried rifles and greatly outnumbered him! But then his men followed his example of courage and they ended up capturing an enemy unit nearly 4 times their size. If Captain Winters had not moved forward in the face of risk his entire unit would most likely have been killed or captured. Courage means moving forward in the face of risk.

2. Courage is not the absence of fear

Too often we think we must not be courageous because we’re scared! Not true! Courage means moving forward in spite of fear. Any great leader or hero, who is honest with himself, will always acknowledge the fear that accompanied their actions and decisions. Courage is being able to act in spite of fear. Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian, says “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” How many of us were scared the first time we got behind the wheel of a car on the open road? But most of us are still driving (probably all of you!). The destination was worth moving past the fear. The idea of taking the car out on your own on the weekend motivated you, that was courage. Now you probably don’t think twice about getting into a car and driving just about anywhere. Not long ago I read a book called The 4 Hour Work Week, by Timothy Ferriss. I’m not a huge fan of the book, because his main theme is to figure out a way to make lot’s of money without you having to do much and then spend the rest of your life on vacation. Maybe that sounds good to you, but it’s like I mentioned in a recent sermon, do you really want to be known as the person who went on a lot of vacations, or do you hope your life counts for more than that? Anyway, back to my illustration, Ferriss does have some good applications for life and how we do things. One of those is about stepping out even when a little scared or there’s a big chance of failure (which I’ll hit on in #6). He said do something you’re afraid to do. He challenges business students to email people they think they have no chance of getting in contact with like Bill Gates or J Lo. I took that challenge. I sent an email to my not-so-secret hero, Pastor Mark Driscoll in Seattle, and to a more local pastor I greatly respect, Tyler Jones of Vintage 21 Church in Raleigh and asked them both if I could have a meeting. Mark Driscoll still hasn’t replied! But Tyler Jones did. Side note: Last week I finally introduced myself to Mark Driscoll face-to-face at a conference. I’ve been to his church twice and seen him at 2 different conferences, but I finally faced my fear, and my inherent introvertism and said hi and shook his hand last week. And yes I have washed my hands since, because I’m not a teenage girl with Tiger Beat photo spreads pinned up in my bedroom. And no, I didn’t mention the email, because I’m pretty sure it never made it past an assistant somewhere and I didn’t want to come across as a stalker. That email with Tyler Jones has led to the beginnings of an invaluable mentoring relationship as Vintage 21 started 5 years ago with a very similar foundation and vision as Ephesus and has since grown to 1000 in weekly attendance, and therefore I have much to learn and glean from Tyler. But I had to face some fear and thoughts of “this will never work” and just send an email. Sometimes building our courage up is that simple. A more challenging example in my life was the planting of Ephesus. Our initial plan was to start Ephesus Church in the suburbs of Charlotte near Concord and the University area. I have to be honest, perhaps it was pride or ignorance, but nonetheless, I wasn’t that scared at the prospect of planting a church in that area. Then God shifted our focus and began leading us to plant in Uptown. That immediately was scary! I was scared of what that meant and what it would take. I was scared because I didn’t really know how to plant a church in an urban center. I didn’t know anyone who had ever done it, none of the church planting books really talked about that type of church plant. It was unknown, I didn’t know if I was up to the challenge, and there was fear. But something else came with that fear, a realization that this truly must be God’s plan. He was calling me to courage and faith in Him. True courage means facing fear and moving forward in spite of fear, not in the absence of fear.

3. Courage inspires commitment from others

I believe it was Rick Warren who said if you think you’re leading and no one is following you, you’re just going for a walk. A leader who acts courageously inspires commitment in others. No one wants to follow someone who is indecisive or a wuss! We are all looking for someone who is bold and moving forward to follow after. Again, the example of Dick Winters. Following D-Day Winters’ company was tasked with taking the French village of Carentan. As they approached the village, the occupying Germans opened fire and caught the Americans in the open on a road. Realizing they would be systematically mowed down by machine gun fire, Winters jumped up, yelled at his men to follow him and in the midst of a hail of machine gun fire began running towards the village and the Germans (this was also toward the safety of the walls and buildings of the village as opposed to the open road they were on). Men recounted years later how they were in awe of Winters standing there in the middle of the road with bullets throwing up dirt and debris all around him as he called his men forward. They were inspired to follow and charged into Carentan eventually taking the village. His men then recounted that after Winter’s actions on that road, where they witnessed his courage and leadership, they were willing to follow him all the way to Berlin. If you’re looking for ways to build a committed team, lead with courage.

4. Courage expands your influence, your impact and your world

Too often our influence and experiences in life are limited because we don’t have enough courage. John Adams, our nation’s 2nd president and signer of both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution was tasked with a dangerous assignment in the midst of the Revolution, travel to France to build a strategic alliance. Today, going to France doesn’t take much, a few dollars and a plane ticket and you’re there in a few hours. A few years ago, Casey and I traveled from London to Paris on board a high-speed train through the Channel Tunnel. I remember marveling at how quickly and easily we could travel from one nation’s capital to another, underwater, never leaving our seat between breakfast and lunch. But for John Adams this meant a month-long voyage in a small sailing ship across the dangerous North Atlantic in winter. Not to mention any British ship they encountered was ordered to sink them. Adams faced the journey with courage. He ended up having a hand in brokering an alliance with France, was then sent to Holland as an emissary and ultimately became the first United States ambassador to England. Because of his courage to face that first transatlantic journey he was acknowledged as the most understanding man in the new nation of world cultures and the thinking of other nations. No one else in America traveled as extensively as John Adams and this breadth of knowledge and wisdom led to his being elected the 2nd president of the United States. Increasing your impact and influence begins with courage.

5. Courage means thriving on change

At the place we are now as a church and the stage in life many of you are in, this may seem fairly easy. As a young church we’re only now building in systems, programs and procedures, the “way we do things.” With that, everything is changing constantly. Many of you are new to the area, are starting new jobs or first venturing out into a new phase of life. Change is a normal part of many of our lives right now. But that won’t always be the case. We start to settle into routines and predictable patterns, which then can lead to the danger of “coasting,” personally and as a church. You often hear the term “sacred cows.” In the Hindu faith system, cows are considered sacred animals, the culmination of many lifetimes and positive karmic choices which eventually land your spirit in the holy and revered body of a large, slow-moving, smelly, fly-covered, patty-makin’ cud-chewer. The glory! But to many Hindus, cows are sacred, Hindus don’t eat beef, they don’t butcher cows for their meat, they allow cows to roam freely and can be imprisoned or even executed for hitting a cow with their car. That’s the foundation for the term “sacred cow.” If we allow ourselves to resist change and settle into comfortable patterns we begin developing sacred cows in our life and become stagnant. We can’t kill or change the pattern or routine or program or system because it is special or sacred just because we’ve done it that way for a while, or we used to do it that way where we came from, etcetera. Courage means thriving on change. Consistently challenging the system in a healthy way to be more effective or more engaging. It takes courage because it means being willing to try new things, to experiment and to let go of the comfortable patterns we’re used to, but may not be as effective or efficacious as they once were. Often this includes being willing and courageous enough to hand over status and position in support of positive change. This may mean stepping down or to the side and allowing others to take up the banner on the front lines. George Washington was a great example of this kind of courage. There is no question of his leadership ability and courage exemplified throughout the founding of the United States. He then stepped into this very new role of “President” in leading the new republic, and for 8 years he led and solidified this nation through very trying times. But then his courage really showed forth when he stepped aside after two terms as president. What many don’t know is that the two-term limit on US presidents was not legally instituted until the ratification of the 22nd Amendment in 1951 as a response to Franklin Roosevelt being elected to an unprecedented 4 terms. George Washington willingly and courageously refused to run for president a 3rd time to allow the new Constitution to gain traction as the underpinning of an elected, republican government. Change was an essential to the strength of the Constitution; Washington understood this and had the courage to support fresh change by his actions. Andy Stanley says, “Leaders challenge what is for the sake of what should be” and then they act on it courageously.


6. It takes courage to be willing to fail

Too often we think of courage only accompanying success. But failure often leads to the greatest lessons leading to the greatest future success. If we only focused on the possibility of failure we would never act, and therefore truly fail by accomplishing nothing! There’s a story of Tom Watson, the founder of IBM instilling this principle in a junior executive. The junior man had taken a risk that cost the company $10 million, a lot of money then and now. When summoned to Watson’s office, the executive sheepishly offered his resignation. Watson’s reply was, “You can’t be serious, we just spent $10 million educating you!” Watson understood the courage it took to take the risk and the lessons gained from failing. Our society has developed this unspoken “one-strike and your out” mentality. If that was the case Lincoln would never have freed the slaves, Edison would never have invented the light bulb and Neil Armstrong would never have set foot on the moon (and yes I believe we really went to the moon!). They had the courage to try and fail and try again. Now, it must also be understood that having the courage to fail does not equate to being careless and reckless. God has entrusted us with people and resources that we must steward well. As a nascent mountaineer I have an intense level of respect for Ed Viesturs, one of the world’s pre-eminent mountain climbers. Several things set Viesturs apart from his contemporaries, he’s still alive (!), he has climbed all of the world’s tallest peaks without oxygen, he’s failed to reach the top on nearly every first attempt of those peaks, and he moves forward with courage, but never carelessly (which is why he is still alive!). Viesturs didn’t make it to the top of several mountains on his first attempts, but he learned his lessons and had the courage to come back and try again. He didn’t let failure stop him or carelessness to kill him. Being courageous means being willing to fail and continue to move forward.


Work it out:

o   Where have you acted courageously? Not acted courageously?


o   What opportunities have you missed because of a lack of courage?


o   How would you rate your willingness to be courageous?

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Matt Chandler brings a smackdown…in a nice way

I don’t often just post a link to other blogs/articles etc. but this one is too good to pass on. Matt Chandler pastors a large church in Dallas that has seen phenomenal growth while being focused on content as opposed to flash. I was convicted reading this article in ways I didn’t realize were inside me. What’s your true motivation? Why do you pursue what you pursue? Are the motives what they should be? Matt Chandler challenges us in this post.

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The radical church model at Ephesus

As I’ve gotten to meet a lot of new folks at Ephesus over the last few months one common theme keeps popping up. People are saying they have to hunt and hunt for a church that is solidly biblical in their teachings and actions. Unfortunately, this hasn’t caught me as much of a surprise, but shouldn’t it be surprising? Christian churches that aren’t obviously putting Scripture right out front? This often includes putting Jesus (or not, as the case may be) right out front. People are truly hungry for Jesus and Scripture and tired of wasting their time with feel good theology that makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy, but leaves way too much open to debate and makes no, true, eternal change in people’s lives. As a pastor, and a church, we’re committed to God’s Word and Jesus. It’s amazing how “attractional” this has been in our early months as a church. I’m very excited about how people are landing at Ephesus, because they see a church that is biblical and loves Jesus. At the same time, it’s exciting to see people discover who Jesus truly wants to be in their lives and then seeing their lives change, while we follow our “radical” model of preaching Jesus and the bible every Sunday. I love our church!

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I’m working on our final sermon in Ephesians this week and found some info from Barna that just really brings the reality of the Church’s mission to light in the US. We’re not cutting it. The reason we’re not cutting it, is we’re creating our own systems and culture and expecting the unchurched to come to us. But they have no buy-in or reason to come to us. We go to conferences and read magazines that show us all the latest and greatest (“bigger, better, faster” I like to call it) in the “church world” but nationally, church attendance continues to decline. I think we’re blinded to this reality by the emergence of ever more “mega” mega-churches. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing at all against big churches. It’s just that they really are the minority of what is happening spiritually. And while some of these large churches are doing tremendous things to advance Jesus in the US, others seemingly go a little bit the way of the cruise ship (I’m trying to be diplomatic, I’m really not at all wanting to be the bitter church planter because that is not at all motivating this post, long live the megachurches everywhere!). My worry is that kind of thinking and programming just moves Christians around from church to church and has too little impact on truly reaching those who don’t comprehend the reality of who Jesus is. Here’s a portion of Barna’s analysis of the particular study I read today:

“Unchurched people are not just lazy or uniformed,” the researcher continued. “They are wholly disinterested in church life – often passionately so. Stirring worship music won’t attract them because worship isn’t even on their radar screen. More comfortable pews cannot compete with the easy chair or the bed that already serve the unchurched person well. Church events cannot effectively compete with what the world has to offer. The only thing the Church can provide that no one else has is a life-changing, practical encounter – and on-going relationship – with the living God and with people transformed by similar encounters. Until such a connection is made, focusing on features, programs and benefits other than such a life-shaping encounter is more likely to lose ground than to gain it.”

Barna noted that the millions of young unchurched have no understanding of or interest in a church, even if it is “contemporary” in style. “Millions of young adults are more interested in truth, authenticity, experiences, relationships and spirituality than they are in laws, traditions, events, disciplines, institutions and religion. The confluence of preconceived notions, past experiences and evolving lifestyles and values means that existing churches simply cannot reach millions of today’s unchurched people. The rapidly swelling numbers of unchurched people may be forcing existing churches to reinvent their core spiritual practices while holding tightly to their core spiritual beliefs. It will take radically new settings and experiences to effectively introduce unchurched individuals to biblical principles and practices.”

This Sunday we finish 17 weeks in the book of Ephesians. Paul finishes this letter by challenging God-followers to pray all the time, in the Spirit, for each other and for our leadership so that the Gospel will go out with clarity and boldness. I believe today, that clarity and boldness means we must heed the findings of Barna and realize “missional” and “context” are not just the hip buzzwords of the Christian subculture, but are absolute necessities in impacting people all around us with the eternity of Jesus. That’s where our prayer will be focused this Sunday and going forward as a local church in Uptown Charlotte, I hope you’ll pray for Ephesus and pray the same for wherever you are.

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Manning the battleship

Last week Brad Abare was twittering from the ECHO conference hosted by Watermark Church in Dallas, TX. He quoted the pastor of Watermark, Todd Wagner, asking the question, “do you want your church to be a cruise ship or a battleship.” Usually, I’m not too big on quaint phrases on churchology but this one really stuck with me for a week. Now for anything to stick in my head for a week that means something! Over the last few weeks I’ve really been looking at Ephesus and what we’re becoming vs. what God is calling us to. That’s why that phrase is stuck in my brain. Planting a new church in a new urban center like where we are in Charlotte is a tough deal. It doesn’t follow the “models” at all. I’ve known this from day one, and the team knows this too, but when things get a little tough I have this tendency to let my brain slip back to the “church planting handbook.” By that I mean ways to generate a crowd and conduct uber-marketing etc to get hiney’s in the seats (we’re not allowed to say “butts” in our house anymore because our 4 year old would abuse it, much like his old man does…). I have the thought that all this leads us to is marketing to other Christians looking for a cooler, hipper church that they can brag to their other Christian friends about. So with all that struggle running through my head I see this Tweet from Brad Abare about the cruise ship v. battleship and it really stuck. 

I was thinking about it some more on my way to the office today, fleshing out the analogy. This past week at Ephesus we were in Ephesians 6.10-13 where Paul is laying out the reality of the spiritual war raging around us constantly and I used a LOT of military illustrations in the midst of the sermon (Casey got on me about that so I knew there were too many) because it is a battle, a war we’re in. We’ve grown complacent as Christians, Satan’s favorite tactic. So this cruise ship/battleship analogy so speaks to that as it pertains to the kind of church we are a part of developing. When you go on a cruise, you look for the boat with all the stuff, that is going to cater to YOUR every want and desire. You’re going to stuff yourself silly at the midnight buffet. Look for all the activities you can handle at every port and give a cursory thought to the personal responsibilities you have in case of emergency. Other than that you’re going to sit back and ingest and be served throughout the entire voyage. Then when it’s over you’re going to get off the boat without much thought to the ship and the staff ever again. Maybe throw a couple dollars in tips to the crew and feel good about yourself. Maybe next time you’ll take the same ship again, or maybe a newer, bigger, better, more exciting ship has come along and you’ll jump onboard that one and have a good time in padded, comfortable luxury. If there’s a war going on, do you really want to be in a war zone on a cruise ship? Contrast that to the battleship. It’s all gray, and maybe has a TV and a weight room if you’re lucky. In WWII, the last major use of battleships, those too were unheard luxuries. The food was not that great, and if you were at sea for any length of time, all fresh food was gone and you were stuck eating out of cans, literally. Your bunk gave you about 6 inches between your nose and the bunk about with a small locker for all of your belongings and a shared bathroom that you were responsible to clean yourself. Not to mention necessary painting, scrubbing and cleaning that everyone participated in all the time. You weren’t served or catered to. You didn’t have snorkeling and jet skis to look forward to in the next port. If you were lucky you got 1 can of beer and a couple hours of baseball on the beach before it was back to work loading and fitting out the ship for the next journey. When you went in to battle you were singled out by the enemy because you were on the biggest ship with the biggest guns. Constantly under threat of attack, manning the guns almost constantly, putting your life on the line. If you come on board brand new, it’s not easy, but you know you’re part of something bigger than you, with long term purpose. The old guys train and teach you to become a part of the crew and fulfill your role to its fullest. And you know the sailors on those ships fought valiantly for each other and for the bigger cause. They willingly sailed into the war zone. When you leave the cruise ship you feel no ownership, no connection. When you serve as a part of the crew of a battleship you’re a part of that crew for life! How many old veterans do you see still wearing the ball cap of the ship they served on 50 years ago? They own it, they fought with and for that ship. They’re a part of that crew for life. It’s no fleeting fling to the Bahamas…their life is wrapped up in fighting and maybe dying for that ship and the cause it represents. They willingly give up the comforts and trappings of the cushy cruise ship to fight and battle for something that literally changes the world.

That’s the kind of church and people I want to be surrounded with. I want to man the battleship…

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