Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Review – Deliberate Simplicity

I just finished another great offering from Leadership Network’s Innovation Series, Dave Browning’s Deliberate Simplicity, How the Church Does More with Less. I remember sitting at a gathering of pastors a few years back. We had just sat through a presentation on the latest “thing we should be doing.” We had broken into small groups to talk about how we would be implementing this thing at our churches. I asked the very unpopular question, “If we are going to start doing this, what are we going to stop doing?” It was odd because no one seemed to even understand what I was talking about. At least in our denomination, we tend to just keep adding stuff not realizing that we are doing more and more stuff with less and less quality.

Browing gets right at the issue to set the framework that is the basis for ministry at Christ the King Community Church International. He writes early in the book, “Many how-to books for church leaders suggest things for the leaders to do (in addition to what they are already doing) to improve the effectiveness of their church.” (p. 36) It is as though we don’t understand the law of diminishing returns. In order to do more, we are just going to have to stop. Fortunately, and this may sound kind of harsh, most churches have plenty of things that they can stop doing that do not have a whole lot to do with their mission.

The author writes, “Activity for God can be the greatest enemy of devotion to him. That is one of the reasons we try to prune the activity branches at CTK [Christ The King], so God has our time and attention.” (p. 102) As a person who is still fairly new to church (I have only been a Christian about 11 years) it occasionally looks like a bunch of movements and ideas just piled on top of each other. It was about programs, it was about connecting people, it was about small groups, it was about leadership. Without judging any of these ideas, a lot of churches just look like a chaotic, very busy mish-mash of all this stuff.

Browing and his church have said no to all the “stuff.” “At CTK we have chosen to forego meetings, bazaars, programs, fairs, potlucks, conferences, and other activities typically associated with church so we can have more energy available to put into our priorities: worship, small groups, and outreach.” (p. 43)

I think this book lays out the problem exceptionally well. As far as the solution they provide, it clearly works for them and I think it is worth a look for churches that are looking to shed themselves of busyness to make room for more ministry. At University we are addressing the issue but in a little bit different way. Our simplicity might look a little bit complex to some. But we hope it looks clear to those who join us. Our model is to shed the attention we put into a plethora of programming choices and put that energy into the Pathway to Discipleship. When people come to University and they ask, how do I get connected? the only answer is “The Pathway to Discipleship.” Instead of offering new members a million choices and praying that they meet Jesus and make some friends, we offer an intentional path to meeting Jesus, learning the message of Jesus and claiming their mission from Jesus. The Pathway to Discipleship cuts through the thousands of options and sets forth a clear pathway to beginning a life of discipleship. It is not the same idea as “get them in and get them busy.” It is about equipping people to begin a journey toward a life with God.

So our approach to deliberate simplicity is a little different but I totally amen the message and implementation of this book. Especially if you are involved in starting a new faith community or deciding where your church will go next, give it a read.



Thursday, February 25, 2010

Some Thoughts on The Methodist Church - Update

In my last post, I wrote about a series of posts from Craig Groeschel, Senior Pastor at on the topic of The Methodist Church. It started some good conversation. He is still posting so I thought I would repost all of the topics so far.

Feel free to post a response over at the swerve blog but I would love for you to come back here and join the conversation.



Monday, February 22, 2010

Some Thoughts on The Methodist Church

As I was sorting through my RSS feeds this evening I came across the first couple of posts in a series from Craig Groeschel, Senior Pastor at What caught my attention was that he was writing about The United Methodist Church. From his weblog:

A leader from the United Methodist Church asked me if I’d write a few suggestions for the denomination. I was very honored by his request and thought I’d share a few thoughts.

So far he has tackled financial resources and the itinerate system. I see no need to respond because I accept for what they are, insights from an outside perspective. However, I would love to hear what you think.

Give the posts a read and then come back here and leave some comments.

Suggestions For My UMC Friends (Part 1) - from swerve at
UMC—Part 2 - from swerve at

Looking forward to reading your thoughts!



Monday, February 15, 2010

How Goes the Memorizing?

We are in the second part of our "series of series" Season with The Savior. During "What the Man Said" we are spending some time memorizing scripture together. Read more about why we are doing it and see some tips for memorization in some previous posts:

We are in our second week of memorizing scripture together. So, I want to ask, "How is it going?" If you worship with us here at The U and are taking part in the challenge, is it going well for you? Are you facing any challenges? Have you picked up any tips? Have you found any benefit. If you worship with us here at The U and you are not taking part, any reason why?

I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, questions and stories in the comments below!



Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Little LCI Bonus

As a way of promoting the upcoming Living Congregations Institute ( and as a way of shamelessly promoting one of my workshops, I am making the following offer to pastors of United Methodist churches in The Southwest Texas Conference. If you register for the event and sign up for my workshop on Creating and Implementing a Core Curriculum and you like what you hear, I will offer a free workshop for you, your church or your staff. You can either come here for free or pay transportation (and lodging if you are far, far away) and I will come to you. (I am limiting it to the first three pastors who ask.)

We are having remarkable success with our Pathway to Discipleship and believe that the structure can be recreated in contextually appropriate ways in any church of any size. To read more about the pathway, check out some of my previous posts:



Sunday, February 7, 2010

Memorization Tips

During this portion of Season with the Savior, we are emphasizing the discipline of memorizing scripture. You can read more about what is behind it in another post: Memorizing Scripture.

I promised a little guidance for those who have never done it before, so here it is: (Note, the scripture reference below is in the New Revised Standard Version of The Bible, the text read on the South Campus. For our North Campus worshippers, your weekly memory verse is in the New International Version.)

  1. Realize that you can do it – I nearly dropped out of seminary when they told me everything I would need to memorize. However, I stuck to it. Memorization is harder for some people; but you can do this. We are starting out with some short passages and working our way up.
  2. Set aside a little time every day If you already have time set apart from prayer and scripture reading every day, this can be part of it. If you do not, you really should and this is a great way to get started.
  3. Don’t forget the reference – This week, we are memorizing Matthew 6:33. Just say that over and over until you remember it.
  4. Figure out the gist of the passage – It is harder to memorize a seemingly random set of words. So read the passage a few times through aloud and think about what it means. Don’t forget the reference. Say it out loud, “Matthew 6:33 - But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
  5. Start memorizing - I am going to give an A and B because people are wired differently. I realize there is a C, D, E, etc. I am going to leave that for the comment section. I will lay out two ways, and oral method and a written method.
    1. Oral – Write the verse down on a small piece of paper or use the tear-off that you received in worship. This is pretty simple. Start repeating the verse over and over. “Matthew 6:33 – But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” After a couple times, see how far you get before looking at the paper. If you do this enough times, you will stop looking at the paper altogether. Keep the paper with you. Put it in your pocket, wallet or purse. When you have a moment, try reciting the passage and if you get stuck pull out the paper. Don’t forget the reference.
    2. Written – This is pretty much the same thing. Take out a sheet of paper and start writing the verse. “Matthew 6:33 – But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” This is my method and I tried all sorts of tricks in school. For instance, after I wrote it a few times, I would cover up what I just wrote with another sheet of paper so I could try it without any help.
  6. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. Spend a few minutes every day and you will start getting it.

There are lots of tips and tricks. In many ways, memorizing scripture is like memorizing anything else. You just need to find something that will get the connections going in your brain and you need to work at it. I would love to hear some other tips that you have found useful. It was also be great to hear how it going. Feel free to share from your own joys and struggles as we memorize scripture together.



Thursday, February 4, 2010

Guest Blogger - Michael Andres - The Pathway to Membership

Based on the response to my post, "What Would You Like to See?" I have invited University UMC's Discipleship Assistant Director, Michael Andres, to give us a little more background and insight on The Pathway to Membership. As always, comments and questions for either of us are welcomed.

The Pathway to Membership

Howdy All! I’m Michael Andres, the Assistant Director for Discipleship at University United Methodist Church were I serve as the church’s primary program leader for discipleship ministries along side Pastor Will. Most of my work focuses developing, implementing, and launching elements of The Pathway to Discipleship. As a part of my work with Pastor Will, I have the unique privilege and blessing to work with the newest members of our church.

When someone expresses a desire to join University they have two options. The first is to answer the traditional invitation to local church membership given at the end of each worship service. The second is to attend one of our Pastor’s Luncheons – an opportunity to have lunch with our pastoral staff, and join the church in a less stressful venue than in front of hundreds of people on a Sunday morning. Regardless of which of these two options someone selects, they complete the first part of The Pathway to Membership – COMMUNITY. It is in one of these opportunities that they enter into the community of faith of University.

The next step in The Pathway to Membership is to attend U|CONNECT, a class led by Pastors Adam and Will, introducing The Pathway to Discipleship and University’s expectations of membership. This is the second part of The Pathway to Membership – COVENANT. It is here that they make covenant with University to engage in their journey of discipleship, and in so doing begin living out their vows of membership – to support the church through their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.

It is only once someone has completed both COMMUNITY and COVENANT that they are then received into the full membership. Rather than being focused on the sheer intake of new members, which isn’t necessarily an accurate indicator of church vitality, we’ve chosen to focus on the depth of the members we’re receiving. And yet, the number of members we’re receiving is not shrinking!

Prior to implementing The Pathway to Membership, only 46% of new members attended U|CONNECT. To be clear, I’m not saying that discipleship can’t happen outside The Pathways to Membership and Discipleship. But I am saying that a remarkable 54% of our newest members could not be accurately accounted for in terms of their spiritual growth or needs. This isn’t to say that they haven’t grown in their journeys of faith here at University, but what it does mean is that there was no certainty that as a church we were doing all we could to disciple and shepherd them.

However, once The Pathway to Membership was put in place in September 2009, that 46% began to change. After merely two months it rose to 74%, and after three more months it rose to 91%. In a matter of five months, the expectation of membership was raised, the number of members received didn’t decrease, and the church now had a more effective way to ensure a successful start in the discipling and shepherding ministries of its newest members.


Michael Andres

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Going Deep

Our Assistant Director of Discipleship, Michael Andres, will be writing a guest post in response to the comments from my last post. In the meantime, here my latest column from The U's "Encourager."

Going Deep

I have finally finished my latest journey through the Bible. It has been a while since I have set out to read every book, every chapter, every verse. I have never been very good at reading straight through. So this time, I split it up and read some from multiple sections every day (for instance: Torah, Psalms, Prophets, Gospels, Letters.) This journey took me the entire fall and into January. And as usual, it left me feeling refreshed, inspired, focused, connected and completely ignorant. I am pretty sure that between readings God is adding thing to the text. I am a seminary trained student of the Bible. I read the Bible every day and every time I sit down to take a comprehensive trip through, I feel like I am being confronted by things I have never seen before. It is not surprising if you think about it. I mean, how much time do most of us spend searching the depths of the prophet Obadiah? How often do we ponder the narrative differences in the story of God’s people as told in Samuel and Kings vs. the way it is told in Chronicles? How many of us could say for sure if the following names are really in the Bible: Asahel, Eliahba, Eliphelet, Igal, Ithai, Mebunnai, Zalmon? (Actually all of them, spelled that way in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.) How much time do we dedicate to reading the Gospels and pondering their message? How much time do we spend comparing and contrasting each account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and wondering why God led the different Gospel writers to focus on different aspects of Jesus Christ?

It was Albert Einstein who said, “The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.” That is so true for me and my life with scripture. But much like the ever curious Einstein, my realized lack of knowledge draws me to want to know more and more. While I feel like my tiny little human brain will never be able to take in the full depth and breadth of what God offers to us in scripture, my love of God never wants to give up.

This quest for knowing is not just an academic exercise in Bible trivia; it is an act of loving the one who created us and gave us a written account of our life together.

When asked about the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) Jesus calls us to be more than followers but matheteis – disciples, students, learners.

Mark Batterson, in his book Primal, A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2009) writes,

When you stop learning, you stop loving. Why? Because loving is learning more and more about the one you love. True love is never satisfied. It always wants to know more about the object of its affection. The more you love God, the more curious you become.

As we enter into the second portion of Season with the Savior, I encourage you to go deep, to engage your holy curiosity and learn more about the One you love and the One who loves you. While there are many ways to go deeper in our walk with God, let us focus, for a while on loving God with our mind through the study of scripture. During this second part of the series, That’s What the Man Said: The Key Teachings of Jesus, there are many opportunities to dig into the message of Jesus as found in scripture. You will find some of them laid out in this issue of The Encourager. But let me challenge you to a few very simple and clear steps. Through this series which goes through March 14, consider the following:

  • Buy a Bible if you don’t already have one that is specifically yours – The Word Store has a great selection of Bibles in all shapes and sizes.
  • Keep your Bible with you all the time – You will find that you have more time to read it than you think.
  • Bring your Bible worship every Sunday – Keep it open as we talk about scripture.
  • Memorize Scripture – We will offer scripture each week through the series along with hints and suggestions for memorizing scripture.

Maybe you are a lot further along in your journey than I am. Perhaps you have the Bible down pat. If so, consider the words of Harry Truman, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that really counts.” More importantly, remember the words of scripture, “Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge.” (1 Corinthians 8:2)

Blessings on your journey!