May 2014 Posts

The Hardest Thing I’ve Had To Do As a Leader: Part II


This article is a follow up to another article I wrote a couple weeks ago. Read The Hardest Thing I’ve Had To Do As A Leader: Part I here. 


I was bracing for impact. I thought this was going to hurt us bad. I thought people were going to leave.

Most of the time in church when someone falls morally, it’s one of two things. It’s either this real mysterious so and so left for personal reasons, and no one really talks about it, and their office is now cleaned out, and their home is for sale and they’re gone.

Or, it’s a public witch hunt where the offending party is asked to confess their sins to the congregation and brace for public execution.

So either they’re fired or it’s hidden. Either way, it’s neither completely honest nor healthy.

The challenge is the church tends to gravitate toward these two extremes. And that doesn’t help the congregation grow, or help people see what church discipline should and could look like. It’s failing to educate the body.

Elders who continued to sin were warned by Timothy to confront them publicly so others will be fearful of sinning. This wasn’t just about my worship director, and my friend, this was about every staff person we would ever have for the rest of our tenure of our church. So I’m making a statement, one way or the other.

I was going to be honest, candid, forthright, upfront and clear.

I told the church. I told them what happened, what went down, and this is what we’ve done, but we are going to love them and try to restore them into the body, restore their marriages, and restore their spiritual lives. That’s what restoration looks like. It wasn’t about employment at that point. And I was very forthright to the congregation. No sweeping it under the rug. When you are in a platform ministry, the standards are higher. There’s very little margin for error in ministry; your moral life is your ministry. And the higher you climb, the narrower the margin. And the more public you are, the more public your fall has to be. You can’t hide a fall. You lose trust with your congregation. People want to follow a leader of a church that’s willing to be honest even when it hurts.

People saw that we were going to be honest, and we grew.

Pastors, don’t worry about keeping or losing people. It’s about keeping or losing the blessing of God in your church. If you begin to compromise or hide sin in your midst, you can forget it. God will move on.


How One Word Can Change Everything

The hardest thing about marriage: you thought you were marrying a spouse who would be there to meet your needs – but really, you were marrying a spouse whose needs you were going to have to meet.

And it’s one of the biggest disappointments people have.

Dudes think, great, I’m going to marry this gal and she’s going to cook for me and clean for me and break out the gifts from her lingerie shower. I’m now married and it’s awesome. But she’s not going to cook the way you wish she would. And she’s probably not going to clean the house as much as you would like. And she’s probably going to put on the don’t-you-dare-touch-me pajamas with a double knot – and that’s marriage.

The divorce rate is what it is because people are so narcissistic and self-centered that they think it’s all about them getting their needs met. It’s just not working out. I’m just not happy. So I’m going to divorce.

Who told you the goal of marriage was for you to be happy? How selfish are you? You can create this narcissistic expectation of marriage and the whole thing falls apart because you realize you were completely wrong.

So what do you do with that?

The longer you’re married, you should begin to see that your husband or your wife is there so that you take initiative into his or her life to help them to be all that God created them to be.

And what makes a marriage fantastic is when you can say to your spouse, I’m sorry. I’ve been so selfish. It’s been all about me. Will you forgive me? And they do. When forgiveness or apologies are reciprocated with grace and forgiveness or restoration, that’s what makes a marriage fantastic.

My marriage with my wife is awesome. Not because we never fight. It’s awesome because when she realizes that she’s being selfish and apologizes, or when I realize that I’m being selfish and apologize, there’s a guarantee of restoration.

The challenge is to take the first step. I know if he or she would apologize first that would make it easier for you. If they would, then I would… But there you are trying to control or manipulate the situation. How about you humble yourself and you be willing to enter in with your spouse and say the hardest thing you’ll ever have to say in in your marriage: I’m sorry. I apologize. I did this. I own my part.

Song of Solomon Chapter 5

It’s a classic story of conflict because it comes right after the honeymoon. The couple just had sex and it’s as graphic as you can get. I can’t even teach it the way it should be taught because people would freak out. And the very first thing that happens after incredible intimacy is they fight.

He comes to the door. He’s locked out. She’s says, I’ve already taken off my dress. How can I put it on again? I’ve already washed my feet. How can I dirty them again? Meaning, not tonight, I have a headache.

So the guy, instead of yelling at her or breaking in a window, puts liquid myrrh on the door handle and goes away.

Earlier she had said, he is like a pouch of myrrh that lied all night between her breasts. Meaning, the thought of him was fragrant to her all the time. She would wake up in the middle of the night and be thinking about him. In our context it would be like a song. For my wife and I, it’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.” That’s our song. We danced to it on our wedding day. And that’s what myrrh was to this woman.

She was dead wrong for what she did, but he didn’t shove her nose in it like a puppy. He responds in love, leaves her to the Lord and goes away. And she pursues reconciliation. Literally, she gets up, searches for him, and finds him. When he sees her coming from afar, she never says a word, and he says, don’t stare at me. You’ve made me dizzy with one glance of your face. Because he knows what she’s saying without opening her mouth. There’s that look a spouse gives that says, oh, I’m so sorry. They know it; you know it.

He snatches her away into his chariot, and it’s the idea of complete restoration.

When conflict comes, if you are the one who knows you have blood on your hands, seek reconciliation. Seek it out immediately. The longer you wait or pause, the more you give an opportunity for a wedge to come into your marriage. Typically there’s wrong on both sides, but if you are waiting for the other person to make the first move, you allow your marriage to decay. If you know you have something to be sorry for, even if it’s only 10 percent, hold a mirror up to your spouse and say, I’m sorry. I’m doing my part. Your spouse will look in the mirror and either say, no, I will not apologize or be wrecked to say, I’m sorry too.

Sorry from The Well Community Church on Vimeo.


The Hardest Thing I’ve Had To Do as a Leader: Part I

hardest leader

Without hesitation, fire my worship director.

I was in Little Rock, Arkansas at a Song of Solomon conference, and he was our worship leader. It was five years in at The Well, and I remember thinking, this guy is fantastic, and wondered while I was teaching, is there any chance I can get him to move to Fresno? So after the event was over, I awkwardly hung around like a groupie waiting to ask him out.

“Hey, you want to go out for pizza?”

He said, “Yes.”

So we were eating pizza at a place called Damn Good Pie (and it really was), I knew immediately he was the guy.

He was our first full-time worship guy. Up until that point we had a crew of volunteers that carried the worship load. He was amazing. He was one of my best friends. We hung out. We BBQ’d together. We laughed. Our wives hung out. Ministry-wise he was phenomenal and together, we had great chemistry.

But he started spending time with his assistant. A lot of time. And it became a little bit concerning. I would walk in and see them sitting together on the couch laughing and talking. I said, hey, are you okay? Is this relationship on the up and up? He said, yeah, yeah we’re good. We’re good. She and my wife are friends. It’s cool. Then one day they were singing Phil Wickham’s “Divine Romance,” and I remember watching the chemistry on stage, and thinking, oh no, something is not right. I don’t know what it is but something is not right.

It was early morning. 7 a.m. He busts in and says, “I’ve go to talk to you.”

“What’s going on?”

“I blew it. We crossed boundaries we shouldn’t have.”

He goes on to tell me what happened and I bring her in with another gal on staff and said, “Tell me what happened?”

“What did he tell you?” she asked.

“I don’t care what he told me, I want to know what you have to say.”

“I want to know what he said.”

“He said enough.”

She tells me what went down and it starts the chain reaction, which begins with him asking, “What do I do now?”

“You go tell your wife.”

“She’s going to kill me.”

“Then take it like a man. You have got to go tell your wife.”

He had crossed moral boundaries that any of us can cross if we’re not careful. My hope was to be able to restore him. I’ve never seen anyone restored after moral failure. So I really wanted to see if there was a way that we could work through this, but I was too close to think objectively. I was too emotionally connected. All I wanted to do was find a way to keep him – keep him in my life, in my church, on my team. But once I began to distance myself emotionally, I knew as a leader I had to think objectively, not as a friend.

I remember sitting and listening to his wife, with him by her side, tell me the rest of the story. You know – the real darkness lurking beneath the water that comes out over time  – and the more I listened, the more I realized this was a disqualifier. I have to fire him now. There’s no restoration here. Not into the same position of ministry. It wasn’t just his job, it was his position as a spiritual influence in our congregation. He was a leader, a pastor, and a huge platform presence in our church. He was on stage as an example to the multitudes. He represented Christ and his position on the team eliminated the margin of error.

We were sitting on my back patio—the same patio that had been witness to ministry carnage, job transitions, marital confessions, and everything in between. I told him, I’ve got to let you go. But I want to walk with you, I love you, I care for you. This is still your church and when you decide you want to worship with us, I want to know so I can greet you at the door.

It was extremely difficult for me to let him go. He was my friend and I was deeply grieved by the weight of the decision. We shared a great conversation through tears. He was not surprised. In fact, I think he knew the inevitable outcome from the start. But we walked down that dark road together.

A week later, he and his wife came. And I greeted him, literally at the parking lot, and proudly walked him in. Crying together, I walked my friend into church. He sat down in the back left, right by the pillar and I sat with him hugging until it was time to walk on stage.

This church is a home for the broken. We want to restore the broken. Not back to their job – that’s not what it’s about – but back to health in their marriage, in their spiritual life, and in their community. And we tried.

It’s been years since I’ve seen my friend.

They came for a short while and I think the wounds were too deep for his wife. She wanted to get a fresh start, so they moved. For many years, he was driving a delivery truck.

He would stash black crows around as a reminder of his sin—as a reminder of the temptations of sin that surrounded us as men. They served as symbols of the sin that could so easily entangle if we are not vigilant. He would put them in places to remind himself: Be careful. They were everywhere. He put one in the chandelier at the North Campus and I keep it I keep it as a reminder of my friend and of the carnage that immorality can bring to us all.

The irony is I get accused of not caring about people, and that’s not true. As a leader, I care deeply about our staff. All of them. Here’s a guy who was close to me, a friend, a guy with incredible musical talent and pastoral chops, who fell and I saw it coming.

I’ll never let it go again. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Never again. There’s too much at stake. In some ways, I felt like I could have stopped it…  if I would have pressed more, but sin is deceptive, and I’m not sure that’s a healthy thought. But I saw it coming. I saw it coming from a mile away.






My Greatest Desire as a Father


Growing up as a dude who was a bit of a relational addict – who always had a girlfriend – and now having been in ministry on the counseling end of things, I know that very few girls grow up without some sort of a father-wound. And typically, it shows itself in unhealthy ways: a need for attention, for affection, for approval, a distorted view of self, an insecurity of body image, a desire for male affirmation. And all of these things can, in many ways, be traced back to a father-wound.

My greatest desire as a dad is to raise two girls without a father-wound.


My affirmation of them is internal not merely external. I have two very beautiful daughters, but seldom will I compliment them on their looks. Why? Because that’s not the most important thing. I’ll say I appreciate your work ethic or I love you for who you are on the inside. I let them know that their beauty comes from the inside not from the outside.


I’m very intentional to snuggle with my girls every day. We snuggle in some way. I’ll tell them, I don’t care how big you are, this lap is always yours. You’re always welcome here. This is always a safe place. I want them to see that there can be affirmation and affection that’s non-sexual.


I try to do what is almost impossible for men to do – and that’s to speak woman. I don’t speak woman naturally. I don’t understand the language. But I recognize that my little girls are little women, and they’re emotionally charged.

And they have more words than I do. Oftentimes, those words are covered in tears. I have to learn how to listen with my face, and let them see my eyes, and say, how does that make you feel? I have to filter through the emotion to get the root issue. Peyton was crying in bed one night, and I said, “Sweetie, what’s up? Why are you crying?”

“I don’t know.”

I realize there will be hormonal power surges in their life and they will not know how to process them. So I need to be patient with them in those moments.


We’re into My Little Pony. I can tell you all the fairy names; I know all the princesses. We’ve seen Frozen 14 times. I watch the princess movies. Not because I’m into them, but because I want them to know I’m interested in what they’re interested in. I enjoy watching things with them because it helps me see their world. It’s really important for a daughter to want to sit on a daddy’s lap and watch something that he wouldn’t watch alone.


My daughter is playing volleyball right now. She needs my approval – bad. I can’t believe how bad she needs it. She’ll get a point and who does she look for? Me. She messes up. Who does she look for? Me. In between each game, who does she want to talk to? Me. Now Momma is there, but Momma is always affirming her and she knows that. There’s something about the affirmation she needs from her dad.

So I breathe life into them. And I practice with them. And I encourage them. I realize my involvement in their lives will show them what a man ought to be.


Go for walks and hold her hand while she still wants you to. Take her to dinner. Open the door. Pull out the chair. Why? Because one day she is going to date a boy, and she is going to compare that boy to everything you did. So if you threw down a couple too many beers, got annoyed because she got in the way of the football game you were watching, and spent all your time on your fantasy teams…

Then she’s going to go find a man who drinks too much beer, is annoyed with her, and spends too much time on his fantasy teams.


“Where did you come up with that?” I asked.

“It was written on the playground.”

I had a choice to make. Do I brush off the issue or do I deal with it? I explained the term. This is what it means, this is what it’s about, and this is why people say it – and that’s why we’ll never say it in our house.

Dad needs to be safe, a safe place for them to come and be honest about what they’re feeling. You don’t ever have to ask a friend, you don’t ever have to look on the internet, you don’t ever have to try and find someone else to answer it. Whether appropriate or not, you can come to me and I will answer any question you ever have.


They need to see you love your wife. My kids know they’re second.

People will ask, how does that affirm them? Shouldn’t they feel like the most important thing? No. That’s a spoiled brat. They need to know they’re important but Mommy is more important. If they ever talk back to my wife, I’ll say, you don’t ever speak to my wife like that. It’s not that they don’t speak to their mother like that. She is their mother – but she was my wife first.

If they whine about date night, I tell them, I loved her first, and long after you’re gone, she and I are going to be together. So this relationship is the most important relationship in this world for me. And if that means I sacrifice time with you to get time with her, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.


Does that mean you need to teach your kids the Bible? Not necessarily. But they need to see you in your Bible. Now every night before Peyton goes to bed, she reads her Bible, and she asks me questions. And we talk about what I’m learning. I read this and I was convicted… I read that and I was encouraged…


I’ll let them see Jen and me being affectionate. I’ll kiss Jen in the kitchen, and they’re like, that’s gross. But they’re giggling about it, which means they’re happy about it. They try to get in between us and I say, get outta here. Point is: Mom and Dad are going to be okay.

We don’t always conflict in front of our kids, but we’re not afraid to talk things through in front of them either. I want them to know we’re working things through just like they will have to. But they never have to worry about the safety of our home. We don’t mention divorce. They know I’ll never leave Jen. The cycle of dysfunction stops here.

So when my girls get married, God willing, Jen and I will be there – hopefully passing on the healthy things we want them to replicate in their homes.



Are You Making Disciples or Just Influencing People?



In my own life, I’m recognizing there’s a difference between influence and discipleship. I’ve spent the last 12 years influencing people. Influencing from the pulpit, influencing in meetings, influencing in counseling, in weddings, at gravesides – influencing people toward Christ. But you typically influence people broadly and from afar.

Discipleship, however, is few and up close.

Pastors, myself included, are notorious for confusing the two. So a pastor will have a Bible study on Tuesday morning and have 50 men, and think he’s discipling 50 men. You’re not discipling 50 men. You’re influencing 50 men. Now that’s good. But what’s better is to get two men and to pour into them up close and personal.

When I talk about discipleship, I go back to 1997 when I discipled Mike and Shea. That’s a long time ago. The busier I get, the broader my reach gets, the more elevated my position gets, and the harder it is to find time to disciple up close. I’m becoming more and more convicted of the fact that I don’t think that’s an excuse.

I’ve thrown the gauntlet out to our staff team. I want us to get a select group of people and pour into them, and move beyond influence to discipleship. And if I’m going to ask them to do it, I need to do it.

I got a call yesterday from a buddy who said his son is in need. “I need someone to help disciple him. Do you have anyone on your team who can do that?”

And I said, “Yes, I can do that.”

“You? You have time for that?”

“No. But yes, I’ll do that.”

So we’re going to start meeting and I’m going to do life with this kid. How do you do life with someone or disciple someone? Most people think discipleship is being Gandalf or Yoda, being able to dispense wisdom in all things at all times in any situation. I don’t think that’s the case. I think you have to be one step ahead of the person you’re discipling, and you must have a lifeline if you need it.

Here’s the beauty of discipleship. When I started meeting with Mike and Shea, I was teaching them the Bible. They wanted my advice on issues. They met with me because they needed me to share something with them. But over time we began to talk, and as I shared with them, they shared stuff with me. You could argue it moved from me discipling them to us discipling each other, and I think we are better men because of the mutual contribution.

Stay one step ahead of the person you’re discipling, but recognize you don’t have to have all the answers. You just need to enter in with someone over time. You’re not going to disciple anyone in 12 weeks, but you are going to disciple someone over time.

People grow in crisis. So you’re going to spend 6 months discipling someone, you’re going to meet with someone, hey, how’s it going. What are you learning in the word? What’s God showing you? And then, bang! Tragedy strikes and now you’re discipling someone. They’re going to have a death in the family, or illness, or lose a job, or their marriage is going to hit the rocks. Now they’re open, and now they’re listening. And you’ve earned the right to speak into their lives – and you become a pastor of the moment.

So find people who you have affinity with, people you connect with, and spend time with them regularly. Spend time over time, and above all else, teach them to be self-feeders; don’t make them dependent upon you. One of the best tools I’ve seen in discipleship is daily devotions. Get someone to read their Bible on their own and just talk about what they’re reading.

Be aware that discipleship can become so dependent on the Yoda, that people never realize that the real Yoda is Jesus. They’re waiting for advice from you: tell me what I should do; tell me what I should say… It creates spiritual dependence. So be cautious because it’s like a narcotic. You want my opinion? Well, let me tell you what I think. Maybe the best answer is, I’m not sure. Maybe we should pray about that and see what the Lord lays on your heart. So 10 years later, when you’re not around anymore, they’re going to be able to pray about something and make a decision without you.