Slow Church and Church Growth: What is a Successful Church?

This thing called ‘our flesh,’ or others would call it ‘the natural mind,’ has been culturally conditioned to believe that our forms and methods about how to build the Church are more important than God’s forms and methods. Now of course, none of us say this outright, rather we do what is comfortable and familiar to us to the point of doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, believing this is God’s form or method, but really it’s culture that has shaped how we do it, and what it looks like. Driven by our egos and a desire to self-preserve, we often lead ourselves while saying we are following Jesus. Our desires reveal what we really want though, and we can see it in the dominant model of building and growing churches.

What’s silently tragic about this, is that we inevitably begin to care for ourselves, or our tribe first, and we quickly become ethnically, nationally, culturally, and socially divided. It has been called the homogenous unit principle by some. This idea that churches grow faster and more conversions happen when people are lead by those who are ethnically, nationally, cultural, and socially similar. This is a church growth model that has been rejected by many leaders, at least in theory, but as we look at the way their churches are still being structured, this principle is winning the day.

Again, it’s a good intentioned self-preservation, that slowly erodes our ability to see other forms that God may want for his Church. This type of self-preservation always leads to the dehumanization and oppression of those who aren’t like us. We have anesthetized ourselves from the reality that we could actually be deceived in our understanding, and prove the social theory of the false consensus effect: the tendency for humans to over estimate the degree in which everyone agrees with us.

Chris Smith and John Pattison are co-authors of the book Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. This book indirectly answers the question of what it looks like to be successful as a church, as Chris and John unfold a new kingdom ethos for being the Church, present and rooted in a particular place. In the opening chapter they address the danger of our culture’s commitment to individualism (which plays into the false consensus effect):

“In the Western world where individualism reigns supreme, there is unfamiliarity, awkwardness and even slowness in our calling to live as a community of God’s people. We are so accustomed to living and acting as autonomous individuals that the idea of being God’s people in the world can be tough to wrap our heads around. Being God’s people is messy at best. We are broken human beings with fears, prejudices, addictions and habits that are harmful to ourselves and others. It can seem more practical and convenient (and even considerate!) to keep to ourselves and minimize the risk that we’ll get entangled in the lives of others. And yet, as much as we are formed by Western individualism, and though we have allowed that individualism to shape the way we read Scripture, our calling in Christ is to community, to a life shared with others in a local gathering that is an expression of Christ’s body in our particular place. The people of God become a sort of demonstration plot for what God intends for all humanity and all creation.”

Our preoccupation with the question of how to build the church, what a successful church looks like, or how to build something large and significant for God, has led many of us away from the simple truth that Jesus will and is building his Church through a display people (a family). Jesus didn’t write scripture, he was Scripture, and he left us not with books, but with a community, a gathering of new creation family members.

We desperately need God to restore to us the simplicity and power of our faith in Jesus, a faith that rests in God’s sovereignty and believes that if we gather around the person of Jesus, God will grow the Church together as a new family in new and fresh ways.

Later in their book, Smith and Pattison clarify a core ethos of what “Slow Church” is: “Slow Church is rooted in the natural, human and spiritual cultures of a particular place. It is a distinctively local expression of the global body of Christ. ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood’ (Jn 1:14 The Message).”

Pastor, missionary, theologian, and author, Lesslie Newbigin, has written extensively on the nature and mission of the Church, and reminds us that the emphasis in scripture is not on church growth, that’s God’s job. The emphasis is on faithfulness. Jesus says in Luke 18:8, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Will the Son of Man find faith in the Western church, or will he find sophisticated forms and methods that have become clubs with members who are more pre-occupied with running a good business, than being faithful. We have to keep asking ourselves, have we worshiped the form of church more than we worship the one who formed the Church? Have we been more impressed with church growth models and large churches that offer everything and do it with perfection and creativity, more than we are impressed with faithful living among a local community? What really makes a successful church? Is a slow growth model that is rooted in the patient ways of Jesus, committed to building a neighborhood parish to care for the least, the last, and the lost even worth it? Is it possible for a church to be more concerned about being present in the neighborhood they’ve been planted than in growing numerically so it can become financially self-sustainable in our Western church model? This is my prayer.

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Lessons from Jesus: The Family Gathering

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Jesus is saying many things here, but one we often miss is that He is referring to His family gathering ‘together’ in this passage. The Greek word for “gathered” here is synegmenoi, which comes from the word sunago, which means “to lead, to assemble, to gather together”, and in this instance it is referring to a gathering at a particular place. Where is that place? Jesus makes it clear to us when he says: “In my name.” The gathering together around, or in a name, is referring to a family gathering, where families would gather together according to their ‘name.’ A family reunion of sorts.

The beloved apostle John tells us in the prologue of his account of Jesus’ life, that he came to his own [people], and [they] did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed ‘in his name’, he gave the right to become ‘children of God’,” (John 1:11-12, emphasis mine). To believe in Jesus’ name, his family tree, his divine heritage, is to become part of his family, to receive his name. The Church, at the core of it’s function, is a family gathering in Jesus’ name. Often times, in our pursuit to shape a certain form of church, we miss and lose the function.

Family, it’s the basic unit of society. It’s the place where we share our lives together; where we find belonging. It’s a place, in the case of a healthy family at least, where pretense is absent, where we don’t need our masks, where we run to for comfort and rest. In the family unit, everybody knows one another by name and “real presence” is lived out and practiced intimately, the way Jesus intended His family to relate.

If only two or three of the family members get together, it’s still considered a family get together. The same his true for the Church. When two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name, he is there “in the midst of them”, honoring the family gathering. If Jesus is in the midst, if he is the center, the focus, the chief reason for the gathering, then those two or three, and others who are watching, are experiencing and witnessing the mystery of the Bride, the gathered Church, Emmanuel, God with us.

There is nowhere in all of Scripture where anyone stressed, directly or indirectly, the supposed importance of gathering in large numbers. The twentieth-century (and now twenty-first century) Western (modern) Church has been trained and formed to do most things in a big way. “The larger the better”, we often say. Many Church gatherings of today have become incredible multimedia events, supposing that the numbers justify the means. Concerned with numerical growth, and the supposed need for the Church to appeal to the masses, this new program-driven machine, mass manufactures unique religious experiences, tailored to appeal to the interests and cater to the comfort of a specific demographic or a specific tribe or local church.

This form has been so pervasive, that even small churches have invested great amounts of money to compete with large church technology and programs. We desperately need new forms that affirm the smaller gatherings as beautiful in God’s sight if Christ is the center of the gathering, and not have the small church pastors feel like failures for not becoming the next famous pastor with 100’s or 1000’s of butts in their seats.

One of the great preachers of the twentieth century, A.W.Tozer, says this: ”One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization does not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team.”

We need to re-learn the basic math of Christ’s kingdom: 2 or 3 gathering in Jesus’ name = The Family Gathering of God; in street terms, the Church. I like to call this the Mustard Seed Church; small intimate gatherings, patiently working together across the world to display the beauty and worth of Jesus, producing great fruit and large trees for many to come and find food, shelter, and shade over the centuries. This Mustard Seed Church is more of a new ethos than a new form. It can be experienced through larger gatherings as well, but it will take much intention and many challenges to leadership and congregants alike, to abandon the thinking that the big crowd and good feeling worship is somehow more church than the small street gathering around the corner.

But the catch to this basic family gathering is that formations come and go, and transformation is messy and slow. Picture change within your own family structure. If you’re family is anything like mine, we all love each other, but are radically different, and appreciating the beauty of diversity and arriving at a place of unity within our diversity, takes hard work, commitment to staying together, and patience over the long haul. This is what “church work” is supposed to look like; small family gatherings, patient brothers and sisters slowly maturing along with other family members, keeping their home and table open to sojourners and guests, all with a heart to be reconciled together in Christ. But as we know, families don’t always choose to live in truth and work through the pain and tension.

Jesus, in explaining the kingdom of God to his disciples, said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” (Luke 13:18-19) I don’t think Jesus is wanting us to take this literally, but rather wanted us to understand the nature of a mustard seed, the smallest known seed in his day, that very slowly, and slowly is the key word here, over the course of a season, would grow into a large, fruitful bush that offered much to it’s immediate environment. It’s an agricultural understanding of growth, which is slow and arduous.

The Church, like the kingdom, is organic, pliable, easily shaped into various forms, and in Jesus’ words, is like the mustard seed. By looking at a dead mustard seed, you cannot tell what the plant will look like when it’s full-grown. The pattern is in the seed and every seed is different and unique; it will bear fruit after its kind, but in different patterns and forms. In the same way, the Church has its own divine DNA and will grow accordingly as God sees fit, from era to era, and context to context.

Immediately after the mustard seed parable, Jesus shares another parable about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like on earth: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” (Matthew 13:33) For those concerned with Church growth, this passage ought to be on your radar! A very small amount of leaven is powerful enough to leaven a whole batch of bread.

Two or three gathered together in Jesus’ name, in a home, in the office place, a courtyard, a community center, or a church building, or a downtown park, are leaven. These small intimate, intentional gatherings, are like a mustard seed, or a little leaven, that makes all those around them, watching them, rise up and become who they were supposed to be, but this is a slow process. The witness of a family gathering’s visible love for each other, declaring the love of Christ next door, upstairs, or outside, that is the purpose of being the Church.

Jesus did not send us to entertain the world, but to go into it, underground like a seed, or smothered in the middle of it like leaven in flour, with the subtle and yet overwhelming dynamic of His love, in the context of being a family. This is the Mustard Seed Church, or the Leaven Church, where just a little bit goes a long way. It is a matter of keeping the right math, or the right ingredients: 2 or 3 gathered in Jesus’ name = The Family Gathering of God, or as Lesslie Newbigin says, “The Household of God.” These ingredients will always change the world in huge ways. Do you believe that?

Often times our belief is hindered by layers of Church culture that has sold us many false notions of success. Pope Francis has been an outspoken proponent of the Church reforming not in form as much as a reform of our hearts, our ethos. In one of his many profound speeches he has made, he has said this about the Church: “We are impatient, anxious to see the whole picture, but God lets us see things slowly, quietly. The Church [has] to learn how to wait.” We need to hear those words and let them sink into our ethos.

“Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13 of the leavened dough and the mustard seed remind us that God’s transformation comes slowly, working outward from the place where the change begins. In an age when instant gratification reigns supreme, the lesson of these parables is provocative and surprisingly insistent—but this seems to be the way God usually works in the world.” Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, Smith and Pattison, 24.

The Cost of the Life You’ve Always Wanted

This summer my wife and I decided that we wanted to make the most of each weekend, and for us, making the most of it was camping as much as we could. Yes, we voluntarily signed up for packing for 6, setting up camp, putting out fights and complaints from our kiddos, and sleeping on hard, stoney ground (which used to be easier when we were younger). Crazy, not really. It’s the Phoenix heat we’re escaping. We’ll do anything to get out of the heat come summer time. It’s been a great summer, and now our kids start school in a couple weeks and routine will soon set in.

One of the reasons we wanted to get out was to ditch the heat, but something that motivated us even more was to leave the frantic pace of the city, slow dow, and learn to listen and see and smell and taste things that we would normally look past in the every day life of the big city. I have thousands of stories I could share about our summer, but one very small moment this past weekend near Williams, AZ has stood out to me. We were camping off of a forest road near White Horse Lake. We decide to take a walk and explore the forest. I’d like to say it was a great walk, but the family was divided, some of the kids were bored and one child was angry with me and all the awkward family dynamics were in full swing.

We were determined to push through it though, so we kept walking. As we did, we passed a tree that at one point in it’s life had died, or was burned at the top, as you can see in the pic. My wife stopped us and drew our attention to the tree. She has a canny eye for seeing things behind what you see at first glance. Notice the trunk, and how it just stopped growing at some point. All the glory that it promised to display has ended. The thick trunk no longer growing. I’m not sure what was going on when this tree’s life took a turn, but if you continue looking at the photo, you will notice a few more things.

There are about 4-5 shoots that have sprouted off the side of the trunk, and are reaching for the sun, now taking the water that the main trunk originally gulped for itself in years past. Water is dispersed now to younger, smaller shoots keeping alive the once promising tree. And they’re healthy shoots, with green leaves, working hard to provide a canopy in the midst of an ocean of other trees. Something else that is beautiful about this photo is all the new trees that were given birth by this once promising tree that lost the glory it once sought after. Dozens of new trees, growing, seemingly thriving, contributing to the earth what they were meant to contribute: oxygen, life, beauty, commitment to struggle through the elements.

There’s so much to say regarding this photo, and I would love to hear what others see and experience as they look at it. Some things that stands out to me as I look at this and think of the message it was speaking to me on that slow day up in the woods are:

Death gives life. Moving out the way give others a chance to get in on the action. Luxuries must be sacrificed to some degree for others to have the chance to participate. Glory doesn’t always look pretty. Beauty is diverse and mysterious. Death isn’t the last word. Sacrifice will rob you of luxuries. Inclusion means we won’t have the whole pie to ourselves. Sharing sounds nice when we’re teaching our kids to share, until the cost of sharing means we lose what was once “promised” to us. 

We live in a culture that gives lip service to kindness and sacrifice, but when the very cost of being kind and sacrificing is the cost of our own comfort, then we say, of course not orally with our words, “To hell with kindness and sacrifice.” We say this with our lives, our actions, by the way we treat others and neglect many evils right in front of our eyes. We protect our own privilege at the cost of others not having the same privilege, and we make up really great sounding ideas as to why we choose to live this way, vote that way, neglect those things, etc.

We love the Christian idea of God dying so we can live, but when the call to die comes to us directly, we say, “To hell with the Christian idea of dying.” Now again, we do not dare say that outrightly, because that would sound too harsh and make us feel like we’re bad people or we don’t believe in God or something. But our lives are lived harshly. We preach resurrection, but try to get the resurrected life before the cross. We keep broken people at arms length saying they’re not healthy for us to be around, and then turn around and say to the broken, dirty ones, “God bless you, be at peace” while the heavens weep!

We want the good life without the sacrifice. We want change, but not at the cost of our comforts and luxuries. We want glory that looks good to the eye, and loathe the brokenness that brought about glory to the Son. We want to be the large, glorious tree towering in the forest proving to be a work of beauty and strength, and look down upon those who don’t have it together like we do.

We want change. We need change. And for things to change, we must die to what we think is the good life, the glorious life. We must take responsibility for the injustices we’ve ignored or perpetuated (individually and corporately). We must allow the seeds of humility and death to be scattered all over the forest floor with new life, life that will take a portion of the pie away from us.

We’ll have to learn to share again. We’ll have to be willing to be re-ordered. We’ll have to allow the time and space and place for corrupt systems to be re-storied and re-constituted to include the ones that have been cut off in the past at the cost of the luxuries of the dominant culture. We’ll have to be willing to hear differing opinion without lashing out in anger. We’ll have to be confronted with our own privilege and not be so fragile. We’ll have to learn a new way to be human.

It will take a million deaths, but the life that will be re-born will be much more beautiful and intoxicating than anything we have seen in the past. This is what the life and death and resurrection of Jesus preaches and promises. This is the way forward. This is the life you’ve always wanted, but are still deciding if it’s worth it or not.

Diversity and Unity: Necessary Inconveniences

This past Sunday evening we gathered together with various churches, denominations, ministries, ethnicities, and generations. To say it was beautiful would be an understatement. It was so utterly normal and unimpressive on so many human levels, but the message this gathering shouted reverberated throughout my soul. It shook the heavens. It defied cultural norms. It was a corrective to the usual Christian gathering.

Each church/ministry/ethnicity/gender was able to contribute to our time of worshiping Jesus. Multiple gifts were exchanged. Blessings were offered. Confessions were made. And the Lord’s table brought us together as one broken body. All this was done on a Sunday night when some families were stressed trying to get there, others sacrificed other routines, and a night at home to rest alone or with friends and family was forsaken.

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The inconvenient exchange was a night to display the brining together of diverse peoples and beliefs, a foretaste of the “every tongue, every tribe, every nation” reality that is proclaimed in the book of Revelations. It was beautiful, but disrupting of rhythm and comfort, and as we all worshipped together, I couldn’t help but to reflect on the way in which we’ve formed our typical weekly worship experiences.

We live in a culture that is fairly homogenous (ethnically, denominationally, generationally, etc.) when it comes to Christian worship. Some say we’ve splintered the table of the Lord into little pieces, and each Sunday we partake, we are only getting scraps compared to what God intended to offer his people. I’m not sure about that, but I do know we’ve been divided over the Lord’s table, and as the words of a good friend once said, ” It’s not our table to divide.” Some will read this and begin to defend their church, or stance, etc. My point isn’t to stir up a defense, but to call us to something altogether different than what we’re normally used to.

I’m reading a book by James K.A. Smith entitled You Are What You Love. In this new book, he shares a short vignette about the polar expedition of the USS Jeanette in the late 1800’s. The whole mission was established on a faulty map and false visions of what the Arctic was really like. In short, the ship and crew got stuck in polar ice, only to break free months later and eventually parish in the cruel Arctic. After this vignette he writes this:

“We become misdirected and miscalibrated–not because our intellect has been hijacked by bad ideas but because our desires have been captivated by rival visions of flourishing… this contest of cultural practices is a competition for your heart… More precisely, at stake in the formation of your loves is your religious and spiritual identity, which is manifested not only in what you think or what you believe but in what you do – and what those practices do to you.” 22

It’s my opinion that our ideas of church and how we form as corporate entities have been terribly misguided by cultural homogenous norms. What we do and how the practices of what we do actually affects us is not fully known. But what we do know is that we are changed by the habits we have in life. What we believe to be the way life is supposed to be is made known to us by how we behave, who we gather with, and the things we make time for. What we love shines brightly in our thought life and in the way we organize our social world.

To say we love diversity and unity and are “All for it!”, yet have little to no experiences of eating, praying, worshiping with those who are radically different from us, is to prove that we “like” the idea of diversity and unity, but we do not “love” it. We are not committed to it. We make time for the things we love. We sacrifice other good things to ensure our “loves” get primary time in our lives.

This is precisely why a worship gathering with those who love Jesus and are of various ethnicities, tribes, denominations, and generations is a corrective voice to our typical way of living. These gatherings stimulate our prophetic imaginations. This is why an evening like last Sunday is worth the inconvenience, discomfort, or any awkwardness you may have while joining a gathering like this.

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We’ve had many cultural practices that compete for our hearts, our loves. And if diversity and unity isn’t an intentional part of our lives, it will be left out every time, and we will either admit we don’t really love it, or will make excuses as to why diversity and unity aren’t a major part of our Christian worship.

What are you calibrated to? What is it that you love? Be slow to answer these questions. Take a life survey of the last month before you answer. Who do you hang out with? Who do you worship and pray with most? What’s your church look like? Does your church intentionally connect with other ethnicities and denominations? Or are the gathering mostly a single local church focus? What events are promoted in your tribe?

I hope you can admit with me that we can do better, that we have work to do. We have some decisions to make and some things to consider sacrificing for the sake of glueing the splintered table of the Lord back together, metaphorically of course. And we need to be able to do this in humility without pointing the finger; offer a voice of correction, YES… start accusing certain people, churches and movements, NO. Look around you. Who’s crossing the aisles, joining other tribes, carving out space to do life together with those who are different than they are?

Join them, but don’t leave your church. Invite others from your tribe to join you. Be a change maker, a trendsetter. Make it attractive and mainstream to be uncomfortable and uncommitted to homogenous worship gatherings and leadership teams. We need new normals, and I know that our time this past Sunday night was one of many of gatherings that have already been laboring towards this end. I pray for more to come and for a flood of professed Jesus lovers to welcome inconveniences for the sake of diversity and unity.

For Revolutionaries and Visionaries Only

One of the gifts I’ve been given from the construction world is that I understand it takes time to create something beautiful. And that ‘time’ includes lots hard work, sweat, many mistakes, sometimes broken bones, blood, busted budgets, mental toughness to keep the vision in mind when all you see is a mess, and the willingness to keep at it, to do it the right when things get difficult, and not cut corners. I have many terrible stories of what cutting corners does in the construction world… just go out to a new housing suburb and ask a homeowner what issues they have with their “new” home. Good work, beautiful work, takes time and commitment to do things right.

With many jobs I work on, there is demolition that has to happen before we can start actually ‘building.’ Whether it’s digging the footer for a stem wall that is going to hold the bearing load of a building, jackhammering out old concrete and rebar to build something more functional or more aesthetically pleasing, or tearing out walls, ceiling or floors for a remodel. The homes or buildings where demo takes place becomes a dusty mess, full of hazards and is in need of strong labors to tear out and haul off all the junk that is no longer necessary.

It takes this…

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To get to this…

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Or this…

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To get this…

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In life, this struggle is the same. We all want the beauty without the work. We want the resurrected life without the death. We want healing but not the pain. We want the finished product, but not the long journey of demolition and clean up to get to the point where you can actually start building again. We want to live in peace, and run from disorder. We want to ignore what’s broken. We want to cut corners. This is a human desire. I don’t know anyone, who in their right mind, loves pain and waiting a long time for things to become whole. But not loving these things does not mean we can dodge them and expect the beauty we long for.

You see, this work is hard because if forces us to deal with that which we are afraid of: exposure of our shame, ignored trauma and loss, an invitation to grieve, asking others to help us haul off the junk that’s been demolished… This work is hard because it invites us into the truth of the way things really are, and to ‘willingly’ move into our shame and grief seems like a death wish at worst, and stupid at best.

But it is precisely the digging into the shame and moving into the grief that is what creates the beauty. It’s the asking for help and recruiting strong laborers to help with the heavy lifting. But remember, it’s the ashes covered over the forest floor that brings about a plush forest in years to come. It’s the work of sitting in your pain long enough to die to the old ways that have kept you numb isolated, and without passion and intimacy for years. Death must be at work within us for beauty to ever surface in the purest sense.

So here’s to the hard work of creating beauty when there is no clear vision of what it will look like once we get there. Here’s to sitting in our pain (not completely on our own though) long enough to die, and in the tomb of grief, in time, it will turn into a womb. And once again, you will be invited into the pain as you will labor to give birth to the hidden beauty waiting to be revealed.

This is an invitation for the revolutionary, the visionary, the one who is not happy with the way things have been, for those who are not willing to cut corners, and move past the comments that are meant to keep you from feeling and dealing with what’s really going on under the slab. May this encourage you today to stay the course, and as Mumford and Sons puts it, to not succumb when the world is wrapping round your neck. Find your broad-shouldered beasts and invite them in to your shame and grief to share to weight and pain of this journey towards beauty.

Down in the Pits?

I’m a contractor. That is to say, over the last 20 years of my life, one of the main ways I have financially provided for my family has been via construction jobs. I started out as a framer/roofer, then started laying tile, became a journeyman bricklayer, got into all other types of floor covering, then got into small scale general contracting work. It has been a nice trade to have when I’m in the middle of life transitions, as I am now. It also serves as a great platform for life lessons.

A couple of weeks ago, my brother-in-law approached me about a plumbing issue he had with his main sewer line. It had been backing up and overflowing into the shower/bath tub… shit doesn’t always flow downhill, especially when underground pipes disintegrate. This was their problem. They had a plumbing locator come out with a digital “snake” that could go down in the main plumbing drain with a camera to see what the problem was.

Years ago, plumbers replaced an old 4″ drain with new ABS pipe. The problem was, they stopped 4′ short of the city main, thinking the old pipe was good enough since it still looked like it was in good shape. Well, years later, the downhill ascent of the messiness of our lives came to an end at this residence. The locator marked the ground where the pipe was, and gave us a depth of 6.5 – 7 feet, and a range of a few feet wide of where it “could” be.

The answer: hand dig over 6 feet down, find the pipe where the new meets up with the old, and then chase the disintegrated pipe to the city main and replace it with new ABS pipe. It’s a crap shoot (pun intended). I agreed to help out my brother-in-law since he was having a hard time getting a plumber to commit to remedying the problem, even though I was totally nervous about accomplishing this feat in a days work. I headed out there with a helper named Red. He’s a little younger than I am, and was eager to get after it for the day, but I didn’t tell him that this was going to nearly take our lives today… I wanted to keep his spirits up!

So we got to the job and stuck our shovels in the dirt and went for it. Hour after hour, we would dig, then widen the hole and create steps so we could actually dig, shovel the dirt out, and climb in and out of the hole. The deeper we got the narrower the pit got, and the more the oxygen around us seemed to absorb into the walls of dirt around us, instead of our lungs receiving the refreshment. It got to the point where we would switch digging every 10 minutes. I never told Red, but I was discouraged when we got to the 6.5′ mark and couldn’t find the pipe.

Eventually after digging around we found the new pipe fitting at the very corner of our hole. If we didn’t widen the original hole by 6″ at the beginning, we would’ve missed it altogether, because the old pipe had disintegrated and we could not see where it was. At this point, we new roughly where the city main was, so now we had to tunnel our hole toward the alley, and pray that we would hit the main. Now I am thinking this one day job is going to turn into two days or more, and we will possibly have to get a permit to dig in the alley and rent a back hoe, etc… this was not going to save my brother-in-law money like I wanted to.

There Red and I were, tunneling a dirt hole that had turned mildly muddy from the “watered-down toilet papery poopy” water coming out of the main sewer line. We were in the “shit pit!” Literally! This was one of the hardest days of work I’ve had, and I’ve had some hard days. The physical pain of digging, the psychological battle of trying to decide if we dig 6″ more to the left or go 6″ more to the right was wearing me down, and Red wasn’t as excited about getting after it anymore at this point. Finally, I was in the pit and started yelling out, “Mercy, mercy, mercy!” Red looked into the pit and was wondering what in the world was going on. I finally broke. I told him, “I’m done… I don’t think we’re going to find this stupid pipe.”

So I got out of the pit and he started digging, crying out for mercy too, in his own way. It seems that this is all we can do sometimes when we get into the pit, and we come to the end of what we have brought to the table. Two grown men, begging for mercy, weary and feeling a sense of powerlessness to change our situation. Pathetic, I know! This is typical to how life gets sometimes though, when we are worn down with nothing left to give. Crying out for help never seems to be a good answer until you’re at the bottom of the “shit pit,” then, that’s all you got.

So we kept taking turns digging. Finally after a few hours of tunneling, I was in the muddy pit, crying like a poor school boy, complaining about everything under the sun, and then I heard a high pitched “DING!” That was it. I hit the main! I busted out in an old hymn, “All creatures of our God and king, Lift up your voice and with us sing…” Red was laughing at me, and my sister-in-law was in her house and heard me singing and then came out on the patio and joined in with me and started singing… “Alleluia! Alleluia!…O praise Him! O praise Him! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

We hit the main! We can fix it. We can make the smell stop and flow get back to the way it’s supposed to be. Mercy showed up and offered relief, and Red and I knew, we couldn’t have done this alone. We needed each other, the breaks, the mental and verbal encouragement, the knowledge that someone else is there and they care about this problem too. Oh how we need this type of lesson to speak to us in the midst of the craziness and relentlessness of life.

If you’re down in the pits, cry out for mercy! It’s okay to cry out, even as adults. Sometimes we find ourselves in the pit, and need others to be in it with us, to cry our for mercy with us, to share the load with us, to sing with us when relief comes. This is a picture of why we need one another in life. Don’t go at it alone. Invite others into your journey. Be vulnerable. Be available. Don’t be afraid to get messy. Cry out when you’re in the pit of despair. And if you’re sitting with others in the pit, cry out on their behalf. We need each other.

Are You A Leader?

Leadership is a funny thing. Everyone’s got a different idea on how to lead, or different philosophies of how lead a business or a group of people. It’s hard these days with all the digital content flying in cyberspace onto our computer screens. Who’s right? Who should you listen to? Do you even care?

So, if you’re still reading this, I’m assuming you sort of care, so I have put together a list of quotes from various high capacity leaders that I’ve collected over many years, and they all capture something about what they think leadership is. So read on, but at the end of the blog, please leave a comment or two about what you would add to the question, “What is leadership?”:

Peter Drucker: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”

John Maxwell: “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

Warren Bennis: “Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential.”

Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester: “Leadership is the process of influencing the behavior of other people toward group goals in a way that fully respects their freedom.”

Larry Osborne: “Leadership is having a message, sharing that message, and living that message.”

Dave Kraft: “Great leaders: 1. paint a picture of a compelling future that allows others to see what could be accomplished; 2. equip their team members by giving them tools, resources and training to fulfill their responsibilities; 3. release their team members by letting go of the tendency to micro manage so that others can learn how to lead.”

Andy Stanley: “Leaders don’t let success or momentum overshadow their vision, they’ve got to keep the vision out in front.”

Theodore Hesburgh: “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion.”

Andre Maurois: “The most important quality in a leader is that of being acknowledged as such.”

Eleanor Roosevelt: “Leaders do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Theodore Roosevelt: “People ask the difference between a leader and a boss… The leader works in the open, and the boss in covert. The leader leads, and the boss drives.”

Henry Miller: “The real leader has no need to lead – he is content to point the way.”

Dwight Eisenhower: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Lewis H. Lapham: “Leadership consists not in degrees of technique but in traits of character; it requires moral rather than athletic or intellectual effort, and it imposes on both leader and follower alike the burdens of self-restraint.”

Walter Lippmann: “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on… The genius of a good leader is to leave behind him a situation which common sense, without the grace of genius, can deal with successfully.”

Jesus of Nazareth: “You’ve observed how godless rulers (leaders) throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.” Mark 10:42-45 (The Message)

Max DePree: “A friend of mine characterizes leaders simply like this: ‘Leaders don’t inflict pain. They bear pain.’”

Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin: “Ah well! I am their leader, I really ought to follow them!”

Peter F. Drucker: “Charisma becomes the undoing of leaders. It makes them inflexible, convinced of their own infallibility, unable to change.”

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf: “Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy.”

Albert Schweitzer: ”Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.”

Martin Luther King, Jr: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

General George S. Patton Jr: “Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a good leader.”

John F. Kennedy: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

Stephen R. Covey: “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” (This is one of my personal favorites!)

Grace Murray Hopper: “You manage things; you lead people.”

Ralph Nadar: “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”

Bill Gates: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

Harvey S. Firestone: “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”

Max DePree: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.”

Richard Nixon: “People are persuaded by reason, but moved by emotion; [the leader] must both persuade them and move them.”

To close it out, I’ll share a few of my own I’ve put together from gleaning from others: 

“Leaders are good listeners, then they will know who they are leading to better motivate them to accomplish what they all really desire.”

“Leaders walk with a limp, but they don’t let the limp define them.”

“Leaders are vulnerable enough to be real and authentic, and thick skinned enough to keep being vulnerable.”

“Character defines a leader, not charisma.”

“Leaders never grow out of being a servant.”

“Those who are die, and are willing to die for justice are leaders.”

Hope this has been fun to read. I would love it if you left a few of yours to share with us as well!