ReThink Everything

What we plant determines what we grow.  Farmers understand this but for an urban guy like me, it has taken a while to figure out.

For 25 years, I’ve been involved in what evangelical-Anabaptists refer to as, “church planting.”  The Christian world can be divided into those who think church planting is a good idea and those who are actually doing it.  I’ve lived in both camps, and I think that some of my fellow-travelers (myself included!) have been involved in a great adventure in missing the point.

 Leaders have engaged in church planting as institutional formation.  We focus on executing strategies that attract a collection of people who we hope find spiritual meaning in the church plant’s wonderful programs.  Growing a church requires the planter to commit to sustaining program excellence, manage costs, and form relational bonds through customer intimacy.  Mission agencies sustain this model by offering venture capital to the church plant with the expectation that a sustainable and self-funding church will emerge that supports the mission agency in return.  In short, the system demands we plant churches as institutions.

What if we did gospel planting instead?  What might it look like if we see every follower of Jesus as a church planter and believe every church can plant another church?  What if we incarnated the victory news that Jesus is Lord of everything?  

Gospel planting requires leaders to re-think everything:  our definitions of mission and church; our leadership cultivation and discipleship formation; and the way we use money in the formation of church plants.

Our current church planting models grow from the same Christendom assumptions that have informed much of the way we have done church over the past 1700 years.  Instead, let’s start planting the gospel, and experience the church fruit that grows from that seed.

 Scary, huh? – JW

“Say it ain’t so Joe”

Leaders need to remember that trust is hard to acquire and easily broken. This week Joe Paterno was fired from Penn State University. If you don’t know the story simply Google his name. The short version is that this much loved, legendary, well respected coach of an American college football team did not do nearly enough to report the criminal actions of an alleged pedophile who was a senior member of his staff.

We earn trust one rung at a time as we climb the ladder of trust with the people around us. However when that trust is broken we don’t just lose it one rung at a time. When you fall off a ladder you hurdle all the way to the bottom, the same is true of trust. It is a delicate thing and no leader gets to abuse it and survive for very long.

The Roman Catholic Church as well as the Boy Scouts of America are two large institutions that have been in the headlines for breaking trust along with a whole host of other church, business and political leaders. The news cycle provides leaders with regular reminders that looking the other way or if I ignore ‘it’, ‘it’ will go away doesn’t suffice.

PLEASE use this current tragic story to be certain you, as a leader, have a firm grip on the trust ladder. At the very least you can do what Joe failed to do; muster the courage to protect the children and youth in your sphere of influence. – BB

Don’t Be Sheep – Ask Questions!

Two viral videos have caught my eye in recent weeks.

The first is this very funny, controversial video made by a couple of guys questioning some of the laws and controls imposed on us here in the UK – laws which seem to have crept in and become accepted and obeyed without anyone daring to question why.  With an incredible wit and with the passion and communication skills of a seasoned evangelist they enable the scales to drop from our eyes and give us permission to ask why we don’t think twice about complying with so many unwritten and arguably unhealthy laws and expectations. (It is 8 mins long – so grab a coffee before you watch – and make sure you don’t spill it because you will laugh!)

The second video appeared on BBC News yesterday and tells of a 2yr old girl in China who was hit by a van.  Not only did the van drive off but CCTV shows that no less than 16 people walked past the fatally injured girl before someone stopped to help.  The reasons seem complex and  knee-jerk theories appear to centre around people being reluctant to help for fear of  being liable for fees for medical help or being blamed for the incident.  One quote said:

“There’s been so many cases where people have been treated unjustly after doing good things”.

A modern day Parable of the Good Samaritan if ever there was one!

These two stories cause me to ponder the gift of asking questions and I find myself reflecting on why many people, organisations and churches find it so threatening when people pose them.  Is it because when people ask questions it opens the possibility of those in authority losing control?  Is it because most of our self-confidence is so low that questions feed our insecurities?

But yet asking questions can help us to reflect on why things are the way they are and seek better possibilities.  Asking questions also releases us from the disabling fear of not conforming and gives us power to act justly even at the risk of personal cost or false accusation.

I am intrigued by the fact that Jesus seemed to ask many more questions than he appeared to give straight answers.  In fact I could well imagine Jesus standing with a megaphone pointing out the obvious, asking the questions, mocking the system, making people think and reminding people that there are always other options.

The opening verse of Romans 12 challenges us:

‘Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.’

Let’s not be sheep – Let’s ask questions!




A Failure to Communicate

I walked into the leadership meeting with my travel mug of green tea. My colleague smiled at me pointed to the coffee pot and said, “You didn’t need to bring your own from home, we have coffee here.” My response was simple and I thought quite clear, “Its tea.” Her reaction puzzled me as she walked over to the coffee pot, looked at it, smelled it and said as a matter of fact, “No, I’m quite certain it’s coffee.” At which point I held up my mug and said, “No, I have tea. I don’t drink coffee.” We both laughed and went about our business.

Words are one of the critical tools leaders have for communicating. Yet there is too often a failure to communicate with our words. We talk to our colleagues or our disciples using words which everyone can understand yet misunderstandings still happen. In high pressure situations it is tempting to repeat the same words, say them more loudly and firmly with the belief that this will solve the failure to communicate. As leaders it is best to accept our own culpability and take responsibility. Extend a little grace to others; be willing to laugh at our own foibles.

Abbott and Costello, the comedy team from the forties created a marvellous film best known as “Who’s On First?” It is a classic sketch. Go ahead and watch for the first time or the hundredth time. Hopefully it will help you to see the humour in your own failure, at least on occasion, to communicate. Enjoy!  Brian

Jesus Spring

Last week in the UK a programme was broadcast on BBC2 called ‘How Facebook Changed the World’.  It investigated and charted how social networking underpinned the revolutions and uprisings that have become known as the ‘Arab Spring’.  The ability for young men and women to circulate information about the injustices they witnessed, galvanise support and communicate the whereabouts of demonstrations enabled a swift and effective liberation movement of like-minded people, particularly in the initial nations such as Tunisia and Egypt. 

This week-end I was invited to share a story at a conference called Future Church.  Organised by the Northumbria Community and the Anabaptist Network it wanted to explore the factors that will be impacting church in 20 years time. In part of my story I imagined how church might look with two further decades of social media behind it.  Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson in their recent book On the Verge which calls itself  ‘a journey into the apostolic future of the church’ state that ‘the digital era, with the associated network thinking and acting, sets us up to experience movement again in a significant way.’ (p32)

We talk with longing in our hearts about church as a movement rather than an institution but I do wonder how many of us mainstream church-type people are ready for or indeed would welcome such a spontaneous and seemingly out of control movement of Jesus followers – just regular people trying to peacefully do what Jesus would do – a ‘Jesus Spring’ if you like! 

Hirsch and Ferguson go on to say that ‘Christianity is designed to be a people’s liberation movement, a social force, a viral idea passing from person to person through the medium of gospel and discipleship, creating gospel communities in its wake.’  This week I find myself asking what type of leadership we need to begin practising that could  facilitate, release and cope with mass levels of disorganised but holy Jesus chaos. 

In my story I included this rather wonderful ‘parable for a church tucked up in bed’, written by my friends Matt & Juls Hollidge at Kore.  After 2000 years of packaging and controlling the gospel I wonder how we as leaders can keep the focus on the Wild Thing!  JK

Dream BIG, take small steps

Big ideas from a passionate, intelligent, charismatic and articulate visionary can be incredibly inspirational even intoxicating. One such example is Martin Luther King Jr. for whom a National Memorial in Washington D.C. is being dedicated. Like the memorial itself, no one could ever accuse him of dreaming too small. The virtual tour is pretty cool

In the realm of church life where I spend much of my time I often find that leaders struggle with two things. There are those who are afraid of dreaming big. It feels overwhelming or there is always that nagging thought, “What if I fail?” So they choose to play it safe.

Then there are those leaders who love to dream big, real BIG. They know the talk and they’re sincere in their belief that this vision is from God. Unfortunately they haven’t learned how to build the dream into reality. They’re in a hurry to get to the Promised Land. The notion of one small pain staking, deliberate step at a time is too pedestrian for them.

 The God we read about in the Christian Old Testament left his people in the land of slavery for 400 years. Then they were detoured on their way to the Promised Land for another 40 years. Great leaders like MLK Jr. aren’t afraid to dream big and his purposeful, courageous one step at a time is an example for leaders to emulate today. – Brian

Love, Hope and Optimism

Jack Layton, the 61-year-old Canadian political leader, succumbed to cancer this week. He transformed the NDP, a gang of students, granola eating leftists, unionists and others into the Official Opposition in Canada.  And he did it while still being liked even by those who fought his agenda for social justice.  

In his last days Layton did something extraordinary.  He wrote a letter to Canadians. The letter is not full of sentimentality.  It is, in the best sense of the word, partisan – it has a clear bias, and a clear object of resistance.  The letter’s bias is toward a vision of a just society and the letter resists giving in to desolation. Layton’s final message to the people of the nation he loved reads, “My friends, love is better than anger.  Hope is better than fear.  Optimism is better than despair.  So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.  And we’ll change the world.”

Those of us engaged in aligning our lives with God’s mission of reconciliation through the church find that Layton’s words ring true.  In the midst of bureaucratic systems that can do us in, rather than invigorate us, love is better than anger.  In the midst of hard times when we are misunderstood, hope is better than fear.  In the midst of failures and ‘not-quites’, optimism is better than despair. 

Maybe it is ironic that a social democratic politician has a word for church leaders to hear. Perhaps irony is simply God’s truth told with humor and perspective.  Whatever it is, love is better than anger.  Hope is better than fear.  Optimism is better than despair. 

So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic leaders and participate with a God who continues to heal this broken, beautiful creation. – JW

Leaders Build Team

Steve Jobs, the iconic leader of Apple, resigned as CEO on August 24, 2011. The only things I know about Jobs is what I read in the press releases today. I don’t know his marital status or anything about his upbringing. I don’t know his temperament in the office or his belief in God or any god for that matter. I have no clue as to what authority and power he will have in Apple going forward. I know next to nothing about Steve Jobs

What I have come to learn in the few online articles is that Jobs is an amazing leader. He has prophetic like vision in this technological age. He must have astounding tenacity to fight pancreatic cancer and continue to be CEO for as long as he did. Clearly the guy is really smart for a college dropout. Then to be forced out of the company he founded only to return years later to become the CEO requires a gutsy audacity.   However the leadership quality that intrigues me the most about Jobs is that most of the press clippings refer to the team he has around him.  

Leaders who will never be as smart, iconic or rich as Jobs still have to ask, “Who is my team? What leaders am I attracting and developing who will have the capacity to step into my leadership shoes when my time is done?” Leaders everywhere figure out how to build a team. – BB

Say You’re Sorry

The recent ranker in the public square called Washington D.C. was a reminder of what great leaders do and what lesser leaders resort to doing. Great leaders accept responsibility especially when mistakes happen, a good idea goes bad, progress isn’t made, or a tragedy happens on their watch. Lesser leaders respond with, “Don’t blame me. It’s not my fault!” Unfortunately we didn’t get to witness great leadership in the face of the debt crisis instead there was a failure to lead in Washington. I was disappointed in President Obama, the Democratic Senate and the Republican house, these so called leaders of the free world.

Accepting responsibility isn’t much fun and it isn’t easy. Also it’s true that if you have opponents they may take the opportunity to kick you while you are down. Nonetheless great leaders know how to say they are sorry. With courage and humility leaders can express remorse. Then they strive to do better, to learn from the mistakes, to recover from the tragedy.

For those of you who have had the courage to apologize in the midst of adversity you know that the “I’m sorry” is like a breath of fresh air. The relief may not arrive immediately but it does arrive. King David of ancient Hebrew days is credited with saying, “Those who weep as they sow the seed come back singing for joy as they bring in the harvest.”  The public square needs more weeping and singing from great leaders.


This past week marked the one year anniversary of the killing of a friend who was working in Afghanistan.  He had gone to Afghanistan motivated by being a “little bit of Christ” among the poor.  By all indication, he indeed was a “little bit of Christ” to many.

As I ponder my friend’s tragic death, many questions continue to fill my mind.  But one which continues to linger is the question of leadership.  How and by whom was my friend motivated to take such loving action?  As leaders we are often called to be agitators within a system of oppression.  In doing so we become the motivators for many to step out in faith and risk much–even their own lives.  We have all too often witnessed the other side of leadership which motivates others toward destruction such as those who committed the atrocious act in Afghanistan.

As leaders, we must not allow incidents such as this to dissuade us away from motivating others to take risks through actions of love which benefit our communities.  At times like this, there exists the temptation to step back and become overly cautious motivators.  However, such action will eventually lead leaders to become like salt which has lost its flavor.  I suggest if we as leaders are not stepping out and taking risks in the name of Christ ourselves we will indeed become flavorless.  JM