Answers to 5 multi-site objections

I stumbled across a post by Jonathan Leeman at 9Marks offering a critique of multi-site churches. You can read the post here. He offers twenty-two objections to a multi-site approach. Some of his objections are reasonable, others fail. In many respects the validity of his argument depends on factors that are not established in the post itself and widely vary from church to church (more on this in a minute).


Here are his top five and my responses beneath:

1. There’s no clear example of a multi-site church in the New Testament, only supposition. “Well, surely, the Christians in a city could not have all met…” (but see Acts 2:465:126:2).

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the verses Leeman cites establish that the New Testament practice was for all of the believers in a city to gather for worship at a single location. I don’t think this requires a one-to-one correspondence in our practice today (i.e., its not a sin to gather in congregations). I’d suggest that these verses suggest more about the value of worshipping community (since our faith is covenantal, worship is first communal then individual) than it does about the internal organizational structure of the fellowship. 

2. If a church is constituted by the preaching of the Word and the distribution of the ordinances under the binding authority of the keys, every “campus” where those activities transpire is actually a church. “Multi-site church” is a misnomer. It’s a collection of churches under one administration.

At the risk of seeming pedantic, church and congregation are not the same thing. Here Leeman writes out of his baptist tradition with its emphasis on the autonomy of primacy of the individual congregation. For presbyterians these marks of the church are no less true. However, in presbyterian practice a congregation needs to be self-governing under the rule of a session (a council of elders). As long as an individual site has some degree of appropriate representation on the session of the sponsoring church, I see no problem. With Leeman I do see a second congregation (in function if not in polity), but I don’t see a problem with that.

3. For every additional multi-site campus out there, there’s one less preaching pastor being raised up for the next generation.

This is a concern, but not necessarily. At least, the same can be said of large individual churches–multi-site or not. It’s a generous preaching pastor who will share her pulpit with a junior colleague so that he can develop as a preacher-teacher.

4. What effectively unites the churches (campuses) of a multi-site church are a budget, a pastor’s charisma, and brand identity. Nowhere does the Bible speak of building church unity in budgets, charisma, and brand.

Here Leeman assumes that these factors–budget, pastor charisma, and brand identity–are the only things uniting a multi-site. I disagree. What unites a multi-site congregation is its theological vision and ministry expression. The other things are factors, but they’d be factors in a single-site church too.

5. To say that the unity of the church (i.e. the unity of the campuses) depends on the leaders is to say that that the life and work of the church depends that much more on the leaders. Members, in comparison to a single-site model, are demoted.

Leeman would need to say more in order for me to believe that this is more of a problem at a multi-site church than in a single-site. 

What do you think?


Five ways to respond to disappointment

ImageEach of us is going to experience significant disappointment during the course of our lives. Funding for a ministry project doesn’t materialize; a position you thought yourself well qualified for goes to another; attendance drops despite your fervent prayers and well-prepared sermons; the congregation chooses an option that you disagree with.

Failure and disappointment is often an inevitable by-product of the attempt to actually get off your rear and try to do something. As Teddy Roosevelt put it,

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

Knowing this, however, doesn’t take the sting out of disappointment. At best, it can help to redeem it. The question is: how are we to respond to disappointment? Is there a way to make something out of the nothing of rejection or failure?

My friend Kathy Tuan-Mclean has written about disappointment in the context of helping her children move through it. You can read her post here. Kathy identifies the five responses we typically move through in the face of disappointment or failure:

  1. Blame someone or something.
  2. Blame (or shame) the victim.
  3. Stop caring.
  4. Just quit.
  5. Work harder and try again.

Then she adds, “But perhaps the best thing to do, at least initially, is to mourn. To just be sad.” And to be sad is specific way: to grieve cleanly. Grieving cleanly means, according to Kathy, experiencing the pain without inflicting pain on others.

The promise when we grieve cleanly, as Jesus said, is that those who mourn will be comforted.  When we mourn with God, we remember that God, not our loss…defines our hope and future.

God reminds the exiled covenant community through Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you…plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” So when disappointment knocks on your door, remember to:

  1. Give yourself permission to mourn and feel the loss
  2. Entertain and reject poor responses
  3. Admit your weakness and lean on God’s grace
  4. Remind yourself that God’s purposes are greater than your circumstances

Doing this won’t eradicate disappointment from your life, but it will be the yeast that leavens the loaf of failure and redeems it to become something God uses to make you both holier and humbler.


Five things I learned at Global Leadership Summit

Leadership development isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. The art of leading has to be practiced, but it also has to be developed and deepened through training and education. When we neglect training, our leadership will eventually slide toward what is comfortable to us, rather than what is required by our context. When that happens, we can get lazy and eventually will become ineffective. This is especially true for ministry leaders.

Last week I took two days away from the office to attend the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit. It’s the first time I’ve been and it was incredible. Sure, stepping away from the computer for a couple of days has a price attached to it. I can tell you emphatically, the Summit was worth the cost (which was a bargain since I attended locally) and the time. I left the Summit feeling more deeply connected with Christ and energized to face the reality of ministry leadership, it’s toughness.

In reflecting on the experience, I had five take aways:

  1. I’m glad to work with a ministry that values leadership development. InterVarsity has made significant investment in developing leadership programs for its staff. The leadership development experiences I have had in InterVarsity–especially over the last two years–have been phenomenal.
  2. Leadership is like the tires on my bicycle–it has to be pumped up. Every time I get on my bicycle, I check the pressure and give them a couple of pumps. The activity of riding causes tires to lose air pressure over time. Likewise, the act of leading causes us to lose passion or to lose focus. Its critical that we invest in opportunities to recharge our batteries.
  3. Leading takes immense courage. Bill Hybels’ opening address was on the courage to lead. In it he said, “Too many leaders abort God’s vision secretly–out of fear that it is too risky.” Ouch.
  4. Leading isn’t just about vision. Joseph Grenny shared that casting a vision for something is only one of six ways in which influence happens. In fact, by itself vision is rarely enough to bring about lasting change. It needs to be supported by social structures and reinforcement.
  5. Stepping into leadership is an act of vulnerability. Brene Brown shared that stepping into leadership is stepping into vulnerability.

The Summit experience was so intense, so full, that I’ve blocked out time for the next week to work back through my notes and draw more lessons and actions that I need to take in light of it.

How do you prime your leadership pump?

How to train key leaders as disciples and leaders

Last week I joined staff and area directors from sixteen campuses, along with our executive coaches, for training in ministry building. It was the best training of my ministry career. One of the things that made it powerful was the synergy that emerged from sharing the experience with one of my direct reports and our coach. All told, we spent more than 40 hours together face to face, which is more than we’d normally get in an academic year.

Key to the training is a tool—we received more than thirty tools over the week—called the “discipleship cycle.” It’s illustrated below. The discipleship cycle is the most effective way to both guide Christians in maturing as followers of Christ, but at the same to move them along a continuum of leadership development as well.



“Hear the Word” – Through prayer, scripture, and in shared discernment, we come to agreement on what God is asking us to do. It may be agreeing to reach out to three people whom God has brought to mind. It may be taking the risk to approach another graduate student and encourage him in his faith. It could be any number of things.

“Respond actively” – When God leads us to do something—regardless of what it is—we respond actively. Hopefully out active response is also a full response rather than a marginal effort.

“Debrief and interpret” – This is critical to growth both as a leader and as a disciple. In community with another, we consider what God asked us to do and how we responded to his invitation. How did we feel? What was the outcome? What did we like about the experience? What was uncomfortable? What held us back from full obedience? You get the idea.


Asking questions is an incredibly fruitful way of coming to understand another. Answering questions is also an incredibly rich way to come to understand ourselves. Put these together with a trusted guide or coach who can, in reliance on God, attempt to bring some degree of interpretation to the experience and the combination is dynamite.

What’s so beautiful about this approach is that it can be deployed quite easily and naturally throughout the day and even a brief five minute encounter can become a micro-seminar with a very concrete, very particular lesson.

During the week, we used this tool and I found that it forced me to stop, consider the action or goal I had undertaken, evaluate my response to it, and then connect the two in the company of a coach who could help by clarifying, observing, and interpreting.

What tools do you use to help train followers of Christ as leaders?




Can an introvert be a strong president?

In a wonderful article in the New York Times, Susan Cain asks the question: “Must leaders be gregarious?” Read it here. I’ve written on the topic as well giving some reasons why I think introverts make great pastors.

Americans often assume that excellent leaders come in only one shape: the hand-shaking, back-slapping, everyone’s your best friend, All-American extrovert. Cain offers us Bill Clinton as an example. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney stand in sharp relief. Does that mean they are not effective leaders?


Far from it notes Cain:

“Many of this nation’s finest leaders have been extroverts — but plenty have not. Jim Collins, in his study of the best-performing companies of the late 20th century, found that they were all led by chief executives known primarily for their fierce will and dedication — and were often described with words like “reserved” and “understated”.”

Apparently no less a figure than Peter Drucker has reached the same conclusion as well:

“The one and only personality trait the effective ones I have encountered did have in common was something they did not have: they had little or no ‘charisma’ and little use either for the term or what it signifies.”

In the end it seems that the qualities of vision, determination, focus, and integrity are more central to effective leadership than the elusive “charisma.”

Too much to do and not enough time?

For the last two years I have had the privilege of walking with InterVarsity staff as they carry out the calling God has placed on their lives–to serve as missionaries to faculty and students at premiere universities. Over the course of my eight years on staff with InterVarsity, I have come to the conclusion that being a campus staff is a job that requires brutal focus, significant discipline, and persistence in discerning prayer.


There are an almost unlimited number of opportunities to ‘spend’ time and energy in something that is related to an element of your job description. Sometimes the thing that seems like the most inefficient use of time will be thing that God is inviting you to do–like, leaving a couple of hours free to prayerfully wander the campus and engage in conversation with staff, students, visitors, anyone who comes into your path. At other times, doing that may not be a wise and faithful use of your time.

One of the persistent realities that I have encountered, as have other staff, is that it seems almost impossible to plan a realistic amount of time to tackle an important project. Stress ensues as well as a sense of guilt at the thought of the missing the deadline. Not a fun way to live.

It turns out that this is an almost universal problem–it even has a name, Hofstadter’s law. The law simply states: “any task that you are planning to complete will take longer than you plan, even when factoring in Hofstadter’s law.” Read a piece in the Guardian on Hofstadter’s law.

So what’s the solution? It seems that there’s something about our brains that almost necessitate that we miscalculate the amount of time it will take to complete a task. There seems to be no way around it. The best way to account for this is to avoid trying to plan using estimates of time. Instead, try to keep a casual record of how long it took you to do a project like in the past. When you come around to a similar project, don’t plan it out step-by-step as a way to budget time. Simply appeal to past projects that you have actually successfully completed.

An example from my own ministry…

Ministry newsletter.

Initially I insisted that I could write, edit, and send a ministry newsletter in one day. After all, there’s not too much copy in a newsletter. In reality, the limitations of space and the desire to communicate effectively in a small number of words means that I need to budget two days. I figured that out after several years of always being annoyed at how long it took to get my newsletters out. If the letter is one of the two hard copy versions I send out then I add an extra day. Note: on newsletter days I am still accessible phone and may have meetings scheduled–the main project I’m working on, however, is the newsletter.

In your work, how do you get around Hofstadter’s law?

How to handle public criticism

If you’re a leader you will receive criticism. The only people who are immune from criticism are people who fail to take action, express an opinion, make an argument, or create something. In many ways, receiving criticism is a sign that you’re making a contribution to your organization, your church, or to society. Criticism is not necessarily the mark of a dysfunction organizational culture, although it can be. In many ways, the absence of criticism (disagreement) can be more symptomatic of organizational dysfunction.

The ability to effectively deal with criticism is a critical competency for leaders, especially for leaders of public organizations (like churches) that include people from a variety of backgrounds and fundamental beliefs. Not handling criticism well often leads to very public flameouts.


I’ve had my fair share of criticism over the years from more than one source and in more than one context. Dealing with criticism can be very difficult, especially it is about something that matters deeply to you. It can be tempting to throw in the towel. However, the places where we are most vulnerable to criticism, the places we care about most deeply, are also the places where we are most needed to invest ourselves.

In light of that I offer five ways to handle public criticism:

1. Do your due diligence. Think about what criticism may arise around your decision. Are they merited? Is the cost of the criticism greater than the value of the decision? Think about this before you place yourself out there so it will be settled in your mind.

2. Get the advice of trusted counselors. There is wisdom in a multitude of counsellors so make sure that you run your idea by several friends who can help you think through your decision.

3. Filter the voices. You need to think, in advance, about who are the voices you will listen to. If you have settled 1 and 2 it will be easier to deal with number 3. Don’t listen to any old Tom, Dick, and Harry as the English say. There will be online chatter. Some of it will be criticism that is helpful and constructive and offered in a generous spirit. Some will simply be snarky. You cannot defend your decision against all voices–choose well the voices you will engage.

4. Take action or make changes when appropriate. Sometimes you will have to change your decision based on the reality in the organization in which you lead. Don’t rush to do this and do not make your default a willingness to change as soon as there is push back. Do, however, have an idea of what or who will influence you to rethink a decision. When necessary, be willing to make a course alteration.

5. Own your decision. Nothing is more counterproductive than failing to own a decision. Often this comes in the form of blaming others for a change of course (#4) that you feel coerced into. If you change your mind, backtrack, or otherwise alter your course, admit that. If you’re not wrong, don’t back down. If you do back down, don’t play the victim. Simply state that given reality on the ground, you’ve decided to pursue a different direction.

Dealing with the low-grade noise in your life

I was up early this morning, like most days. Unlike most days, one of the first things I did was open a window. It was drizzling with rain–a sound I welcome. On opening the window I was confronted by what I can only describe as a dull hum. It took me a second to place, but I quickly realized I was hearing the sound of traffic. A dull hum is a persistent low-grade noise that is always there, but that often fades out of consciousness. You don’t realize how loud it is until it goes away. Traffic isn’t the only hum in our lives, is it? What low-grade noise affects your life? How can you deal with it?

Low-grade noises come in all shapes and sizes. Some are important things that need to be dealt with immediately (financial planning, investing in your marriage), others are relatively minor issues that need to be managed and put into perspective (managing email). What is common to all is that they produce stress, which is often counter-productive, especially since it most often comes into our conscious mind late at night.

Pay attention to the dull hum, the soundtrack of stress in your life. If you ignore, it will go away for a season but over time it will deplete you and make you less effective.

Here are five ways to respond healthily to the underlying stressors in your life.

  1. Acknowledge underlying stresses, don’t ignore them. You might want to write it down or tell a friend. It’s important to get the stressors out of your mind and onto paper or into a conversation–it makes them more real and positions you to begin considering how to resolve the issue.
  2. Take some time in an unfamiliar location to reflect on them. It’s important to get out of your normal working environment in order to really deal with these underlying stressors. Sitting at your desk you have limitless distractions nanoseconds away. It’s human nature to resist dealing with the unpleasantness of stress by substituting some action that we justify as important. Those other tasks can wait–give yourself a couple of hours to really think through your stresses.
  3. Honestly evaluate what you can do differently. In most situations there are a lot of things we can do differently in order to better handle elements of work and life. Solutions could be as simple as blocking out time weekly to balance your checkbook and review financial statements. It may be as challenging as changing the internal narrative about your life.
  4. Honestly evaluate what cannot be altered. It’s important to realize that some things are not going to change, at least not in the short-term. Acknowledge this reality and try to think of ways to minimize the impact of those things.
  5. Invite a mentor to review or participate in discussing these things. It always helps to have another pair of eyes take a look at a challenge. Invite a friend or mentor to lunch and share your process of reflection and analysis and invite his input.

The truth is that we rarely grow through comfort. Growth involves stretching and pushing through old limit. Embrace the underlying stresses of your life as ways in which you have the opportunity to grow.

[Repost] How to follow well

I am on vacation this week so I am offering some older posts that remain relevant. I’ll be back online Monday.

Brad Lomenick of Catalyst posted this excellent list of characteristics of good followers. Every leader is a follower so take some time to scan the list and ask yourself: how good am I at following?

So here are a few thoughts on following:

1. Good followers are great finishers. They get the job done. Take projects across the finish line.

2. Good followers anticipate. They understand what needs to be done next before others, and are always looking for ways to make the process better.

3. Good followers criticize in private, and praise in public. Enough said on that.

4. Good followers are trustworthy. When given an assignment, a leader can be assured that it will get done. This is incredibly important.

5. Good followers are vision copycats. They take on, embody and live out the vision and mission of their leader, and of the organization.

6. Good followers make their leader better. They push their leader, and know how to lead up appropriately and intentionally.

How to slay your dragon before sunrise

Many of you know that I enjoy reading Mike Hyatt’s blog. I read it because he provides consistently excellent material around the topics of leadership, productivity, and writing. I’m not a naturally-strong leader or a naturally-productive person. I’m a stronger communicator and teacher than I am a leader. To the extent that I lead, it is often by my words (spoken or in print).

For that reason, Mike is a mentor or a coach–for free–on topics like leading well and working effectively. Over the last couple of years Mike has helped me to live and lead more intentionally–I’m a work in process and always will be prone to be more professor than CEO, but I’m moving toward growing in my strengths (writing and speaking) and managing my weaknesses (leading and managing).

Here’s a recent post I found helpful on the importance of slaying your dragons before sunrise. I found this post especially helpful because there are, at least for me, two critical points in the week.

  1. Sunday night. An hour spent in thinking through the week returns at least four times that much during the next five days. It’s so much easier to think and plan when there’s no pressure–no calls, no emails, no deadlines. Yet I often choose to let Sunday night go past without getting my head around the week–and it costs me.
  2. Every day just before quitting time. It’s wise to give yourself thirty minutes before leaving the office to wrap your mind about what the morning will hold (and the rest of the week too). A lot of times I crank out work until quitting time and then mentally say, “OK! Time to go.” It helps me a great deal to slay the 8 o’clock dragon (i.e., the stress and pressure of planning the day) before I leave the office the night before.

Here’s Mike’s post, what are your thoughts? How do you get a jump on the week/day?