Island of knowledge, shoreline of wonder…

Spiritual darkness was alluded to, but not well defined, in our circles in the early 1960’s. For decades, visiting missionaries at our dinner table had tipped us off. They told of ominous encounters with an unseen world, but privately, seldom in public meetings.
A summer mission team assignment to Hawaii led to early hints of spiritual warfare. My cottage was behind a dune at this beachside on Maui’s North Coast, near Paia.  Eight of us, mostly grad students, conducted Bible schools for Islander children, toured on weekends and worshiped with the sponsoring church. The children were easy to love, but they did not respond as Stateside children had when the Gospel was shared with them.
One Sunday afternoon our team had a massive confrontation. Everyone had a gripe about the non-performance of others. Even the missionary reported his wife was oddly unhappy with us. Her health was why they relocated to Maui, to find a safer place for her.  In those days, we were not equipped to help her find healing and freedom.
As we met and prayed, it occurred to me that our experience was a result of an attack by the enemy of our souls. The dissention and complaining had come upon all of us, all at once, and was obviously a vicious blow to our morale.  As a team, we confessed our faults to one another, asked for forgiveness, and specifically rebuked all spirits opposing our mission in the authority given us by Jesus Christ.
The Monday that followed was unremarkable to any observer, except that at day’s end, when we recounted our contacts with the children throughout that day, we recorded 29 conversations in which a child had asked to pray and received Christ as Savior!
We had stumbled into a spiritual ambush, recognized it for what it was, used the authority and tools given to us by our Savior, and witnessed the outcome to which our mission was dedicated.
We did not understand how demonization works, nor did we have the insights and tools that might had led to freedom for our missionary hosts. That was still to come. But our island of knowledge had grown, and with it the shoreline of wonder was enlarged, preparing us for next learning steps that continue even now.

Two profound questions that help leaders

I was early in my appointment as Director of the Church Growth Department at Fuller Evangelistic Association. Travel to all parts of North American by airplane was frequent. Occasionally, due to overselling of seats, airlines would move passengers to suit their purposes. I always booked tourist fares, walking past first class seats to find my more economical place.
But on one flight, heading into Hartford, CT, I was placed in First Class, next to a large man in an obviously expensive white shirt.
He was open to conversation, and my interest in him and his work opened a window on his world. He traveled to develop the most promising salesmen in his insurance firm into top producers. He and they were very effective.
When I wondered, out loud, how he achieved such outstanding results, he offered to share his secrets, since I viewed my work with pastors in a similar light. With his permission, I opened my notepad and recorded his two most persistently used questions. These have been profoundly helpful questions that have enriched my coaching of leaders for nearly four decades.
“First,” he said, “I ask them repeatedly to tell me what they were trying to do.” After a time, after asking the question in a variety of ways, he explained that the question helps to focus the sellers. Then he moved to question two. “I then ask them to explain to me how they are getting in their own way, as they try to do what they say they are wanting to do.”
The genius of these two questions has helped many church leaders and group leaders, wherever I have been able to use them.
They even help me, when I remember to use them myself, on myself.

I lost my innocence in the Summer of 1959…

…the innocence of a young man who had never been in touch with murderous hatred in the flesh.  It was a summer to hitchhike from Greenville, SC, to New Orleans.  Long on time and short on cash, I grabbed a backpack and stuck out a thumb, heading southwest to the mouth of the Mississippi River.  Along the way, I met some very kind people, until reaching the border of Mississippi.  The old man pulled over his pickup truck.  He was dressed to fit the scene, with canvas overalls, thinning grey hair and a scruffy beard.  After miles of silence, the conversation began and drifted to topics of his choosing.  Between tobacco spits, he boasted of his personal involvement in kicking a black man to death, as he lay on the floor. That portion of my trip is unforgettable.  I had never been exposed to anything or anyone so cruel or so gleeful about making another human being suffer.  Hatred moved from the pages of a dictionary into the stomach wrenching fearful emotion of evil.  I have never been able to regard such meanness with detachment since that day.

Fifty six years passed, until nine black believers met for prayers at Emanuel in Charleston, on June 17, 2015. They came for conversation.  They had no forewarning they would see the face of God that night.  The stranger who entered their room seemed harmless enough, so much so that they welcomed him. Dylan Roof, 21, white supremisist, had come to Emanuel that night, hoping to start a race war.

When news of the racially motivated murders came to me, I was sick at heart. But my pickup truck ride in Mississippi had forced me to recognize that such people could and did exist.  I resolved that day to do something, but didn’t know where to start.  I prayed, I read, I wondered how people on the other side of the race divide were taking this sad news.  I reached for my phone to call someone, anyone, to console them.  I had been living in South Caroline since 2006.  Nine years, and I had no one on my phone to call to talk about it.   I resolved to find someone to talk to.  Someone from the black community.

I met a black lawyer at an art gallery, but he wouldn’t return my calls.  I left a note on his office door, but he didn’t respond.  I tried calling the pastor of a small black church a few blocks from where I had been working. He refused to speak with me on the telephone. Undaunted, I went to his church at the time for the Worship service, hoping to get to meet him in person.  He and I shared the whole service.  The whole congregation were with his wife on a mission trip, leaving him to keep the doors open in their absence.  He gave me the whole service, sermon, hymns, offering, and altar call.  Afterwards, he shook my hand and told me he would speak with me, now that he knew me.  He even offered to introduce me to some of his fellow pastors, if they were available. A small step of progress.

I solicited names from friends, and gathered a list of half a dozen names.  My wife and I spotted a young family with several children eating together in a favorite restaurant. We played forward some birthday money and bought their lunch secretly.  The waitress gave us away, and we met him and his family. He is a bi-vocational pastor and was very friendly.

Finally, my list was beginning to take form.

Nine victims in Charleston.  So, I determined to find nine people of color who would be willing to take my calls and I would dial each one for one time each month, for nine months.  I would not offer them advice.  I would put myself in the place of a learner and ask them for their opinion and their point of view.  I would open a door and attempt to begin building a bridge toward them.

That was the seed idea for this blog.  I would first make and begin using such a list.  Then, I would invite others to join me and make lists of their own.  Once each month I would open a telephone conference line for conversation with whomever might be willing to talk. I would post to a blog, at least once a week, about the adventure of bridge building.

If the idea went nowhere beyond me, so be it.  I would do something, for me, for nine others who might find some encouragement that we were able to talk. And we would pray for one another. That’s it.  Simple, short, but not stuck, not despairing.

If you would like to join me, leave your contact information.

Bridgebuilders wanted.


Exponential East 2017 in Orlando FL April 25–27

Over the past five years, one organization has called church planting leaders from many denominations to any of five annual events.  The largest such event is set for April 25-27 in Orlando. The purpose of these gatherings is to energize church planting efforts. They encourage the planting of churches that will commit to plant churches! One of their keynoters, Ralph Moore, has stimulated the planting of 2300 churches!
I have agreed to participate as a workshop presenter for two topics: one to explore the challenges of church plants based on four decades of observing them and their leaders, and the other to offer a glimpse of some powerful tools that are useful in healing the shattered souls of church planters so as to overcome their spiritual handicaps and increase their effectiveness. See my page at for details.

How to Break Growth Barriers, useful for a generation, gets an update

In the early years when teachers in the Church Growth Movement trained pastors for effective leadership, I organized a series of seminars that focused on the issues faced by lead pastors at each size they would encounter on their growth path. We produced “Breaking the 200 Barrier,” then “…the 400 Barrier,” then “…the 800 Barrier.”
(Along the way we wrote the ultimate barrier clearing books “Prepare Your Church for the Future,” and “The Coming Church Revolution,” followed by a how-to manual for group leader development “Nine Keys to Effective Small Group Leadership.”)
We recorded my presentations at these seminars and Warren Bird transcribed and edited them into a book. That book.”How to Break Growth Barriers,” has been in print for over two decades, and the publisher, acknowledging the continuing benefit it was to leaders in the churches, asked us to revisit it and release an updated version for 2017.
Much had changed over the twenty two years, including the widespread appearance of megachurches, video venues, multi-site churches, the World Wide Web, email, smartphones, ebooks, Google, eBay, PayPal, Amazon, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of the social media scene. Yet, in spite of the marvelous tools technology has made available, the challenges faced by church leaders continued to haunt them at each scale of congregation size. Baker Books will formally release the 2017 version on April 4. It will be announced on twitter feeds of our friends and acquaintances. And, yes, it will be available in paperback and ebook. [book page]

The first of the three themes from a lifetime of experiences: Race

Race, church leadership, spiritual freedom. These themes are a three-fold cord that cover a lifetime.
Let me start with race. It is the topic that prompted me into using a blog format. It was triggered by the Emanuel Nine murders in Charleston, South Carolina. For me, the topic began with a childhood question about fairness in a Jim Crow segregated country.
Growing up in a segregated society in West Miami, I did not see the kinds of radical hatred found in many parts of the true South. Florida was too far south to be considered truly in the South. In the Roaring Twenties, Miami had been a developer’s dream. It had become a economic nightmare after the Crash of ’29. Miami Beach was a Jewish retreat from the snow and West Miami began as a spill over from The Beach during the boom years. We had a Baptist church and a Temple. The Methodists worshiped in next door Coral Gables. Beyond us was the edge of the Everglades, traversed by the Tampa-Miami highway called the Tamiami Trail. Dad and his brother, my Uncle Bill, ran a garage and later a hardware store, where I first pondered the puzzle that a segregated South presented.
In the hardware store were restrooms and a drinking fountain. Blacks (called Negroes in those days) were allowed to use the restrooms if they asked, but the drinking fountain was another matter. A coffee mug was hanging above the drinking fountain, decorated with a metal spring from the hardware shelves, and a note that indicated the blacks could drink from “the spring.” How, I thought, if whites were afraid of Negro germs so much they wouldn’t want to drink after them, how was it fair to make them all drink from the same, unwashed cup? It just didn’t make sense. It felt wrong. But as a child, I had no voice yet, only a wonderment.
Our families were from Ohio and Kansas and Nebraska. I was never exposed to anything recognizable as hatred toward any group. We feared the protection racketeers who drove over from Miami Beach and demanded “insurance” from time to time as they visited our out of the way borough in the forties and fifties, but racial animosity of a violent sort was not part of our scene.
The first person of color I can remember was a Caribbean black who used his machete to open coconuts on the sidewalk in front of our house. Fresh coconut juice and the sweet white meat from inside. A friendly fellow whose help was appreciated by thirsty children.
I did not meet the kind of white people who exhibited racial animosity until after college.

Where do I want to be in ten years?

Yesterday, a longtime friend was laid to rest. He and his widow were in ministry with us at the beginning since our Miami days. We were out of touch for many years, resuming just ten years ago.
As talented musicians and educators, they published music instructional materials for Christian schools and homeschoolers. His survivors will continue the work.
He had been diagnosed with cancer and we prayed together that the Lord would give him ten more years. He was granted most of those, and functioned well several years beyond what his doctors had forecast. His parting gift to his wife was a seventy page manual detailing their home and business and online activities. The final task was to be putting page numbers on the index, and that was all that remained to be done. The door on his life closed quietly, without spectacle. His nurses said they had never seen a more peaceful passing. His work here was done.
My father worked every day for ten years beyond my current age. If I am similarly blessed, what contribution will I hope to make before seeing the angels and the face of God? This blog may become the record of that journey.
To begin, I am focusing on three themes. The longest running theme deals with racial reconciliation, then congregational leadership, and then, matters of freedom in body, soul and spirit. Matters of race, leadership, and freedom.