Monthly Archives: October 2010

A Texas Ranger Surprise

As a lifelong Texas Ranger fan dating back to the days of legendary Ted Williams and the towering Frank Howard, I must admit I am still in shock. When Elvis Andrus squeezed the last out in a historic victory by the Texas Rangers I sat in stunned silence with a silly smile on my face.

I must confess I feared that something terribly was going to go wrong especially after having my heart-broken by the two losses in Arlington.

However, I must admit my pride in being a Texas Ranger fan only soared after I witnessed footage of the victory celebration in the club house. Instead of a drunken hoard, the Rangers’ celebrated with real class.

MLB editor Andrew Johnson reported it as follows:

In a display of team unity, and deference to Josh Hamilton‘s well known past struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, the Texas Rangers celebrated their American League Division Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays with a shower composed of Canada Dry ginger ale rather than the customary one of champagne and domestic beer.

Texas beat Tampa Bay 5-1 in Game 5 of the ALDS to seal a spot in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees Tuesday night, and Hamilton was the last Rangers player off the field because of a television interview with TBS.

That gave his teammates more than enough of a window to break out the ginger ale in his absence, lie in wait and then douse him with it when he finally made his way into the clubhouse.

“That was cool,” said Hamilton, who famously spent years out of professional baseball because of his struggles with drugs before returning to the game in 2006.

In a day when our kids–and adults for that matter–need real heroes the Texas Rangers showed real class and an example to follow. It appeared to me there was no diminishing of the fun and celebration when ginger ale flows freely.

Pitcher C.J. Wilson made a strong point when he said:

“I’m drug-free, he’s drug-free. We stay away from anything. It just allows the team to jell maybe 3 or 4 percent more, and allows us all to experience the traditional celebration without having any sort of downside.”

This kind of creative “out-of-the-box” thinking I hope will be remember long after everyone forgets who won the World Series this year. Good examples are hard to come by in the world of professional sports, but the Texas Rangers won both on and off the field last night in my book.

Their example reminds me of the words of Jesus:

14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 NIV)

Go Rangers!

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“Who would you suggest?”

Last week as I was traveling across the great plains of West Texas I listened to a lecture by Dallas Willard, philosophy professor of the University of Southern California. Willard presented this lecture a couple of years ago at Bethel University in St. Paul.

During his opening comments Willard mentioned how in his academic circles he often catches people of guard when they discover he is Southern Baptist–and a prolific Christian writer. At times he gets this question: “Do you really follow Jesus?”

I love Willard’s response:

“Who would you suggest?”

For me I cannot think of anyone I would rather follow than Jesus. The longer I follow him the more his intellect, mystery, power, and brilliance amazes me.  I totally agree with Willard who says that Jesus is the most brilliant man who has ever lived. Or for that matter will ever live.

I have never regretted for one day my choice to follow Jesus!

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The Challenge of Downtown Ministry

Dallas: This weekend Robyn and I had the opportunity to attend a reunion of the First Baptist Church of Dallas Chapel Choir (i.e…the youth choir). Back in the last 1970’s my wife attended FBC Dallas and came to faith in our Lord through its ministry. In fact, one of the high lights of her life was a private meeting with Dr. W.A. Criswell before her baptism when he treated her like a princess. Robyn still to this day tears up when she thinks of the night when the Lord called her to be His own through the preaching of Dr. Criswell.

Even though Robyn’s parents were Methodists, Robyn actively participated in the youth group and one of the highlights of her life was a three week tour of Europe with the Chapel Choir. During the reunion Robyn and I slipped away for a few minutes and found ourselves looking at an elaborate model of the new Worship Center designed for FBC Dallas.

Next to the model was a huge video screen and I noticed a panel of buttons and I punched the button listed by Dr. Criswell’s name. Immediately the image of Dr. Criswell appeared in black and white from a message he preached years ago. During his message, he spoke of the challenges and opportunities of downtown churches. He noted that they either are great churches in the heart of the city or they slowly diminish into struggling mission points that depend on the churches in the suburbs to sustain them. With his typical charisma and power, Dr. Criswell challenged the people of FBC Dallas to be a great church in the heart of Dallas.

His message resonated with me in a powerful way since just a few months ago the Lord assigned me to lead the historic First Baptist Church of El Paso in the heart of this great international border city. I must confess I struggle with the mysteries of how to lead a downtown inner city church to be vibrant and effective.

One lesson I learned in just a few moments of listening to Dr. Criswell was the vital importance of vision. How a church sees itself makes all the difference in the world. Downtown churches need to focus on the Lord and His calling on their lives and ministries rather than the challenges and difficulties.

I pray under my watch FBC El Paso will continue to be a great church at the heart of the city, and for the heart of the city of El Paso. Thank you, Dr. Criswell for inspiring me to believe.


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First Baptist Church Roanoke Homecoming 2010

Roanoke, Texas: This weekend I had the honor of returning to participate in the centennial celebration of the First Baptist Church of Roanoke, Texas. This historic old church in south Denton County began its ministry in 1874 and moved to its current location in 1910. Over its 136 year history fifty-two pastors served the church, and I had the privilege of being one of its youngest pastors back in 1982. These hardy people called me to be their pastor when I was at the ripe old age of twenty-two years old!

As I look back on their willingness to take a risk on a kid, I am filled with gratitude. In Roanoke, I was ordained, performed my first wedding, baptized my first follower of Jesus, and stood at the table of our Lord as we celebrated communion. Among these saints, I led my first business meeting and worked closely with a small band of deacons who loved me and believe in me.

As I mixed among my friends, I was amazed at the flood of memories. It was also interesting to learn how I was remembered. No one spoke of my sermons, but one lady remembered the week I worked with her husband digging out the sewer line at the parsonage. Another member commented how I impacted her husband because I spent time with him and reached out to him as a friend. When I thank one of the older ladies for her love and support—for raising me as such—she said “We always looked up to you.” This homecoming was good for me. It reminded me of the lessons of “incarnational” ministry. It is not so much what we say, but how we live that makes all the difference. People don’t remember our sermons they remember us as servant leaders.

As I begin my ministry in El Paso, I pray I will not forget the lessons I learned when I was wet behind the ears. I pray I will not forget to “love and lead” the people of God.

Footnote: When you choose to love you also take the risk of being wounded and hurt, but it is worth the risk. Always lead with love and grace and trust God for the results.

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Leadership Trap: Silo Thinking (vol.3)

In the Harvard Business Review article “Four Mistakes Leaders Keep Making” Robert Shaffer pointed out the danger of:

“Excusing subordinates from the pursuit of overall goals”

One of the major keys to organizational success emerges from getting everyone to pull in the same direction–pursuing the same vision or big dream. Unfortunately this is much more difficult than you might expect. According to Shaffer the leader and his or her handling of those under his or her charge makes a significant difference. When the leader allows subordinates to focus only on the challenges and opportunities in their own division this will undermine the overall effectiveness of the team.

This kind of mistake grows out of seeing the venture as an organization rather than an organism. It is critical for every leader to realize how inter-dependent they really are to each other. Some have liken the narrow view of the task to “silo thinking.” The mental image is that each endeavor is a silo standing separate from the others on the same farm. Each silo stands alone, and evaluates its success and failure based on its performance.

Sadly this kind of thinking runs rampant in the church. The youth minister focuses on his or her ministry, while the music minister gets caught up in the worship ministry while ignoring the demands upon the preschool minister. Each minister does his or her thing while ignoring the health and vitality of the whole. This kind of thinking is very illogical when one realizes the church is a “body” not an “organization.” As Paul apply points out each part of the body depends on the others, and each part is essential for the success of the whole.

It is essential in leadership of the church, that the pastor stress the importance of each ministry working together to accomplish the overall mission of the church. This “big picture” thinking trickles down from the leaders through the system and must also bubble up from the very roots of the laity. From top to bottom each member needs to buy into and become fully committed to the mission of the church and its unique vision to be the presence of Christ in their context.

To avoid this common mistake, the pastor must take very seriously the role of being the “steward of the vision.” It is the pastor’s calling to keep the vision in front of the leadership, and the people. Some have suggested that if you don’t remind the people every forty days who they are and why they are here–the church will forget.

I believe vision casting and accountability are keys to overcoming the common flaw of leaders and organizations.

Paul spoke to this challenge in Ephesians 4:

15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

From Paul’s perspective when Christ is the head, then the whole body is “joined and held together.” Making Jesus Lord confronts the challenges of selfish thinking or “silo thinking.”  He also observes the body grows up “in love, as each part does its work.”  Most churches and organizations struggle under the 80/20 principle–80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. Can you imagine what would happen if this trend were reversed?

Leaders must call everyone to pull in the same direction all the time in every way.

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Houston Baptist University Delimna: The Slippery Slope

This week the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board wrestled with a very complex difficult issue facing distinctly Baptist schools across the land. Houston Baptist University approached the board with a request to all the school to select “non-Baptist” trustees to serve on its board. Under their proposal the school would be granted the freedom to elect “non-Baptist” trustees which would comprise up to one-fourth of their board.

Chairman of the Board Ed Seay, pastor of First Baptist Church Magnolia, stated that the change was needed so a number of Christian leaders from the Houston area could be added to the board. He noted that HBU stands as the only evangelical university in the great city of Houston, and that the evangelical community wanted to rally to the support of the university under the vision and leadership of Dr. Robert Sloan.

This change as you might imagine created quite a stir for the Baptist leaders entrusted with the care of our Baptist institutions and convention. There was much talk of the slippery slope that led many religious universities of note to abandon their Christian roots and to become secular universities of higher learning. Any one close to this issue knows all too well the story of Ivy League schools that were established to train the clergy that today are far from their conservative Christian roots.

As was reported in the Baptist Standard, I spoke in favor of the change, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share my perspective on the matter. First, I was moved by the passion and desire of Dr. Seay and Dr. Sloan. I know these two men to be leaders of the highest Christian character and men who deeply hold to our Baptist values. If they believe this is a necessary change in their context I am prone to trust them. Our colleges and universities are in a life and death struggle in these days of social and economic change, so we need to listen closely to our trusted leaders. I believe the man on the front lines knows much better the actions needed for success than those who sit back in the safety of the command tent.

Secondly, I believe the evangelical community is in search of leadership and direction. Baptists for too many years have work in isolation from the greater Kingdom of God. We were big and strong and could do what we wanted, how we wanted to do it, and when we wanted to do it. Instead of collaborating with the greater Body of Christ, we created a Baptist clique of sorts, and tried to protect ourselves from the influence of others. However, today the next wave of young Baptist leaders often consider themselves more Christian than Baptist and they speak of the Kingdom more than the BGCT or SBC. In this fluid environment, I believe as Baptists we need to begin to network and work closer with the Body of Christ around us. If we tighten the circle out of fear of slipping, we may be safe for the moment, but not secure for the future. We need more trusting relationship rather than more list of rules to sign.

I believe the early example of Judge Ken Starr at Baylor should serve as an inspiration to us. Judge Starr was not a Baptist when he came to us, but I believe he has demonstrated that he was a “Baptist” at heart. You see being “Baptist” has more to do with a vibrance of faith and commitment to the Word of God than it has to do with church membership.

I believe as Baptist we need to do be able to clearly define what it means to be “Baptist” and look for evangelical leaders who hold these values and principles along with us. You see the world has changed. There are many among the evangelical community that we resonate with as Texas Baptists.  Dr. Bill Pinson speaks of the Baptist recipe as follows:

The Baptist recipe includes several key beliefs or doctrines:

–the Lordship of Jesus Christ

–the Bible as the sole written authority for faith and practice

–soul competency

–salvation from sin and eternal death to forgiveness and eternal life only by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior who is the grace gift of God

–the priesthood of each believer and of all believers in Christ

–believer’s baptism

–baptism and the Lord’s Supper as wonderfully symbolic but not essential for salvation

–church membership composed only of persons who have been born again

–religious freedom and its corollary, the separation of church and state

Built upon the foundation of these beliefs are certain practices or polities that are part of the Baptist recipe:

–congregational church governance under the Lordship of Christ

–the autonomy of churches

–voluntary cooperation for various causes

I believe there are many brothers and sisters in Christ who worship in evangelical churches that hold these very same values. I also believe there are many within our own Baptist community that could not even articulate nor do they hold these values. Just being a member of a Baptist church does not make you a Baptist.

The slippery slope demands that we do our homework. The slippery slope demands that we select trustees that we can trust. Men and women who demonstrate the Christian character and convictions that will keep our schools tied to the Cross.

Leadership in the new world will demand bold moves. It will demand new networks. It will demand a “Kingdom-consciousness” among our leaders.

Only time will tell if HBU has taken its first step down the slippery slope, but I pray it will be the first step toward greater influence within the evangelical community and the world.


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Leadership Traps: Clear Expectations (vol.2)

Robert Shaffer aptly pointed out that one of the major mistakes leaders make is:

“Failing to set proper expectations”

As a leader I am notorious for painting bold picture of the future with board brilliant strokes of color which stirs the emotion but leaves the follower with few practical ways to make this dream come true. Often within the circles of faith we cover up this mistake by speaking of following God by faith and not by sight, but in reality our people don’t know where to take the first step.

If a leader desires to create meaningful lasting change, he or she must be able to articulate in clear steps how we are going to get there today. Where do we start. What do we need to do, and when do we plan on getting there.

A few years ago I serve with a pastor who loved to plan and planned down to the minute. When you traveled cross country with him he gave you an itinerary that announced the departure time and the arrival time and even had rest stops planned to the minute (i.e…rest stop, Trust or Consequences, New Mexico, 8:28 a.m. CST). He knew where he was going. He knew how he was going to get there, and he planned every stop along the way. His way may have been a little rigid for some, but everyone on the trip had confidence of their arrival on time at their destination!

How does a leader break out of this trap?

First, the leader need to clearly understand the vision for the organization. If you don’t know where you are going, then how will you know how to get there? Once the vision is clearly defined and understood, then the leader must work his or way back from the destination to determine the steps necessary to get there.

Each of these steps must be clearly defined and understood. The leader must be able to explain what he or she expects and what the end product looks like. As the leader empowers those who serve along side, he or she must be willing to articulate to his or her team what is expected of them. These expectations need to be definable and measurable so the team can evaluate their effectiveness. These expectations will help the team know how to plan their work week, how to develop and spend their budgets, and how to deploy their workforce.

Yes ago, Andy Anderson revolutionized Sunday School by producing the Sunday School Growth Spiral. This planning tool focused the Sunday School leadership on key actions and activities that would facilitate growth–actions like contacting prospects, enrolling new members, training new leaders, and starting new units. The power of this tool lay with its ability to point out to leaders and workers alike what to do.

Another key aspect of having clear expectations is creating accountable relationships. Accountability and responsibility are vital important when it comes to getting things done. When I was a church planter years ago, I had to make a monthly report of my activities and actions. Knowing I had to report my actions often inspired me to get out and make visits to prospects when I would have preferred to do busy work. I struggle with this aspect of leadership, but if I am serious about leading in these days I am going to have to learn to be more assertive and directive in my approach. I must remember people are depending on me to lead and set the tone for the future.

When a staff works in a fog of big ideas without specific plans and objectives don’t be surprised if little significant change really ever happens. This is a mistake we cannot afford to make.


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Leadership Traps (vol.1)

This week one of the corporate leaders in my church forwarded on to me an article from the Harvard Business Review written by Robert H. Shaffer founder of Shaffer Consulting. The article was entitled “Mistakes Leaders Keep Making: How to Overcome Deep-seated Obstacles to Change.” As I read the article it was like taking a long look in the mirror after a long restless night of sleep. I saw more of myself and my flaws than I wanted to see.

Too often leaders are blinded by their own trappings. Our past successes blind us to opportunities for growth and improvement not only for our sake but also for the sake of those we serve and lead. Over the next few blogs I am going to explore these four obstacles to change and make applications to own life and ministry as well as some suggestions for church leaders in general.

Meaningful lasting positive change eludes organizations and churches across the land, yet we live in a day when the need for change and progress is undeniable.  In a day when the darkness seems to be growing with eery gloom and churches are struggling for relevance and survival positive meaningful change must become the norm.

Shaffer noted these four mistakes made by leaders that undermines significant change:

1. Failing to set proper expectations

2. Excluding subordinates from the pursuit of overall goals

3. Colluding with staff experts and consultants

4. Waiting while associates prepare, prepare, prepare

Without doubt Shaffer has uncovered a number of significant ways that leaders undermine their own effectiveness and the effectiveness of the organizations entrusted to their care.

Leadership begins with leading your own heart and life. The key to change for the church begins in the heart of the pastor. Until the pastor models and initiates change within his own heart there will be little hope for change within the church.

The writer of Proverbs observed:

Like a city whose walls are broken down
is a man who lacks self-control. (Proverbs 25:28 NIV)

As I read this article I came face to face with a number of areas I need to address in my own life and ministry.  Now the journey begins….

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