Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Doing Ministry As A Team...

In the current issue of Leadership Journal, Nancy Ortberg describes the five most common dysfunctions of a ministry team. Here are the five dysfunctions she identifies:
  • Absence of trust
  • Fear of conflict
  • Inability to make a commitment
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to results
I'd appreciate feedback as to whether or not you agree these five describe the most common dysfunctions of a team, ministry or otherwise. It would also be helpful to hear how you and your team mates have worked to overcome these or other limiters of your team's effectiveness.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gas Prices Are Crazy!

For the last month or so it's seemed as if the price of a gallon of gasoline increases about twenty-five cents every other day. My bicycle is looking like it may become my preferred mode of travel by the time summer rolls around.

What Does Church Look Like?

True story... a young woman minister was leading a Bible study at her church for people right off the streets-- people who didn't fit into any church in town. They met after hours when the regular church folks weren't around… that apparently made it safer for somebody. One day as this young woman sat and talked and prayed with these gang bangers, one of them became so caught up in emotion over his need to change his life that he picked up the metal folding chair he was sitting on and threw it against a wall… right where there was a window.

The window shattered as the chair connected with the metal grate that covered the outside of the window. (Why would a church have metal grates over its windows? To keep church people in, or folks who need Jesus out?!) Being the dutiful person she was, this young minister reported the incident to her church’s board—and they promptly fired her.

I believe in God, and I believe in the possibilities of His church. I’m thinking that church has got to become more of the place it was created to be… aware of its own inconsistencies and shortcoming… willing to laugh at itself and cry over the lives of broken people. Church is at its best when it binds up the wounded as it has had its wounds bound up. We have all got blemishes, one leg shorter than the other, bad hair and heartbreak, and tears that at times don’t seem to ever stop.

How about if we stop being "okay"... and start really being church.

Monday, April 28, 2008

WATS Day Was Cool...

WATS Day was cool... literally. It was a sweatshirt day for most of the afternoon--until the sun came out about 3:30 pm and warmed things up.

WATS was also very cool in that my church family at SoHills once again turned out in a great way to be the sermon in our Abilene community. I love it when church has left the building!

My WATS team mates were a hard-working, Jesus-like collection of teenagers, university students and assorted other adults. Andrew Loveland, who I served alongside of as co-leader of our team, did a great job of scoping out our work site in advance of WATS Day, and making sure we had all of the supplies we needed to scrape and paint the house we'd been assigned.

One of the highlights of WATS Day for me is getting to know the people we serve. Our team got to spend time with Angelita (that's her standing with me) throughout the day. We concluded WATS Day by praying over Angelita and her family.

God did just what we prayed He'd do... He reminded us at the end of a wonderful day that He took us beyond what we could have thought or imagined. All the glory belongs to Him.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Several years ago I got to know a lady at our church named Hazel. (Not her real name... which I've changed, as they say, in order to protect her privacy.) Hazel was from New Jersey and she had a raspy "Jersey" accent. People thought Hazel was a bit odd, but I thought she was cool… in an eccentric sort of way.

When I first met Hazel she had one of her eyelids sown shut as a result of a recent surgery. She had to wear big, wrap-around sunglasses… they looked like welders goggles... to protect her eyes when she went out. Her husband, Earl, did the driving.

In another church, when she was younger, Hazel did cleaning around the church building. Hazel always had a healthy interest in what was going on with the church folks… and part of her cleaning ritual was to do an after-hours survey of the minister’s desk to see what juicy tidbits she might pick-up. The preacher would show up the next day and everything would still be on his desk, but in a different place.

One time Hazel showed up to clean and learned there would be a meeting later in the evening. The meeting was to take place in the minister’s study and it was to discuss important church business. So what did Hazel do… but hide in the closet of the study to see what she might hear. Apparently her claustrophobia got the best if her, because Hazel came stumbling out of the closet in the middle of the meeting. Hazel nodded at the startled minister and the others who’d gathered… and then headed out of the room to resume her cleaning.

People at our church liked Hazel… they just thought she was odd. Most folks hadn't heard the story of Hazel falling out of the closet in the minister’s study. It was probably best they hadn’t, as that would most likely have caused someone to back away from this little woman who needed people so much. (How would you react to having your eye lid sewn shut? People gawking at you… it would make you feel weirder than you probably already did about yourself.)

My wife Susan and I will lie in bed at night and talk about church. I think I'm one of the oddest people I know... but I’d like to believe I’d fit in at a church somewhere, and could just be myself.

Maybe I should get me a pair of dark wrap-around glasses like Hazel used to wear. That way I can protect my secret identify.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

What's a Conexus?

I'm guessing some of you who've visited my blog may have scratched your heads and wondered, “What’s a Conexus?” Perhaps a few of you think it to be a mythical creature, sprung from my fertile imagination in Napoleon Dynamite-ish fashion, that wears black Converse All-Stars. Some of the more industriously OCD of you may have searched the dictionary for “Conexus,” only to find that no such word exists.

Conexus is a made-up word. It's created from two real words: Connections and Nexus. “Connection” meaning the linking or joining of two or more things, or people. “Nexus” meaning a link associating two or more people, or things.

There you have it, mystery solved... Conexus.

Friday, April 25, 2008

SoHills and WATS...

is this Sunday!

WATS Day is shorthand for We Are The Sermon Day.

What would change in the life of SoHills church (and the city of Abilene) if every one of us who make up the body of believers we call SoHills lived every day as if we were the sermon?

It's All How You Look At Things...

Kem Meyer had a recent post on her blog that I wanted to share with you. Kem referred to an ad by an oil company that pointed to the staggering increase in population and resource use. The words in this picture are at the end of the ad, and they reflect the company's response to the question: "So where do we go from here?"

I think this is pretty cool. Focus on the opportunity... not the problem. It's unfortunate that people and churches don't do that more.

What would change for you and your church if your response to challenges became: "That's not a problem for us, it's an opportunity."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I Have A Talented Daughter...

My oldest daughter, Katie Lea, graduates from ACU in a couple of weeks with a degree in graphic design. Katie Lea is incredibly talented. She continues to amaze me with her creativity, and her ability to express her ideas graphically.

Like any proud mom and dad, Susan and I have displayed Katie Lea's work on our refrigerator door... but it's apparent that her work is about to move to a much larger arena. You're looking at a concept design that Katie Lea developed for Abilene's legendary Harold's BBQ.

Follow this link to Katie Lea's web site and view more of her portfolio. Yep, I'm a proud dad!

Important Words...

In Luke 17, Jesus tells a story about ten men who were healed of leprosy. Only one of the men returned to say “thank you.” Every time I read that passage I ask myself, "Which of those men would I have been?"

I encourage you to make a list of ten people who have influenced you, and write each of them a note of thanks.
Your list might include:
  • Your mom or dad.
  • Your grandparents.
  • Your fifth grade teacher, your counselor at camp, or your youth minister.
  • Your friend who prays for you daily.
  • The author of some book that touched your life in a deep way.
  • Some person who said one thing that encouraged you when you needed it.
Who are a few of the people for whom you're thankful?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

SoHills, BalloonFest, & Homer Hiccolm...

The Big Country BalloonFest is a fun, family oriented event that takes place right in our backyard at SoHills. Over 25,000 people typically pass through Red Bud Park over a BalloonFest weekend.

In 2007, we met with the BalloonFest organizers and offered SoHills help... and we were assigned responsibility for the "inflatables" and "climbables" (think Moon Bounces and climbing walls). In typical fashion, SoHills stepped up in a great way to a clear expression of our Vision to be a "God's community front porch" people.

BalloonFest 2008 will be taking place the weekend of September 26-28-- so mark those dates on your calendar. SoHills is once again committed to staff the "inflata-climbables"... and we'll also be sponsoring the Saturday evening concert at the BalloonFest's music venue.

This year's SoHills sponsored BalloonFest music will be supplied by Abilene's very own Homer Hiccolm and the Rocketboys. I'm pretty excited!

No Greater Love..

Jack Kelley, foreign affairs editor for USA Today and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, tells this story:

We were in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, in East Africa, during a famine. It was so bad we walked into one village and everybody was dead. There is a stench of death that gets into your hair, gets onto your skin, gets onto your clothes, and you can't wash it off.

We saw this little boy. You could tell he had worms and was malnourished; his stomach was protruding. When a child is extremely malnourished, their hair turns a reddish color, and their skin becomes crinkled as though they're 100 years-old.

Our photographer had a grapefruit, which he gave to the boy. The boy was so weak he didn't have the strength to hold the grapefruit, so we cut it in half and gave it to him. He picked it up, looked at us as if to say thanks, and began to walk back towards his village.

We walked behind him in a way that he couldn't see us. When he entered the village, there on the ground was a little boy who I thought was dead. His eyes were completely glazed over. It turned out that this was his younger brother. The older brother kneeled down next to his younger brother, bit off a piece of the grapefruit, and chewed it. Then he opened up his younger brother's mouth, put the grapefruit in, and worked his brother's jaw up and down. We learned that the older brother had been doing that for the younger brother for two weeks.

A couple days later the older brother died of malnutrition, and the younger brother lived. I remember driving home that night thinking, I wonder if this is what Jesus meant when he said, "There is no greater love than to lay down our life for somebody else."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Call From God...

The plumber had just arrived to replace the hot water heater. That had started off the day… water all over the basement due to the bottom falling out of that household wonder that keeps our showers warm and our clothes clean. Not that we needed to spend the money for a plumber, and supposedly our homeowners warranty made this a cheaper repair. But as the plumber recited the code requirements and the add-ons these would require to the repair ticket… this inexpensive repair was becoming increasingly more expensive.

I’m a minister. Hot water heaters go bad for ministers just like they do for everyone else. And all the laying on of hands I might want to do will not repair one. So I’m calling the plumber.

As the plumber arrives the secretary is calling me from the church building. I’m off today… which is fortunate since the hot water heater failed. A minister is a lot like a doctor—you never feel like you’re completely off the job. But doctors get paid more, and have answering services that screen their calls.

I take the call from the office. The electrician I had called earlier in the week to repair the EXIT sign that was screeching (my guess is we’re looking at a bad battery) had shown up and couldn’t find the sign that needing replacing. I asked the secretary how he could miss the sign since it was making such an annoying racket… but she tells me the electrician left and will return tomorrow when I will be in and can show him the singing sign.

You may be thinking… "I didn’t know you minister-types worried about such things. In fact, I didn’t know ministers did much more than sit around their office, read the Bible, pray… and wait for some spiritual crisis to arise."

Okay, how’s this then: last night a couple approached me and asked to talk. I know their youngest son; in fact, I'd watched all three of their kids grow up. As we sat in the small cubical of an audio control room, they poured out their hearts… and their anguish. Their son’s fiancĂ© was unwilling to accept their desire that liquor not be served at the rehearsal dinner. A series of acrimonious phone calls had been exchanged, and now this mother pulled a letter from her purse. A two-paged single spaced document from her future daughter-in-law scolded this couple for their bigotry and narrow-mindedness. The letter concluded with the barbed suggestion that if they couldn't accept who she was, this couple might want to skip their son's wedding.

This sweet woman’s hands shook as she struggled to contain her emotions while reading excerpts from the letter to me. She refolded the letter ,and returned it to her purse. She then asked me… no, she was pleading from that place only moms can touch: “I have to be a part of their wedding. I cannot not be there.”

And I agreed, and encouraged these good people that they should attend their son’s wedding and make every effort to be gracious and invite their son and his bride to visit their home.

They had prepared a letter… it had come to that, a letter writing campaign… in which they indicated that they agreed to honor the couple’s wishes and therefore would not host, nor would there even be, a rehearsal dinner.

As they rose to leave, they showed me pictures of their recent trip to the Grand Canyon. And then they left, he holding an umbrella, she holding her purse containing the letter.

My sweet daughters had been waiting patiently. They had learned that dad often ended up in these impromptu gatherings, and they had perfected the art of hanging out in the church building.

I kissed them both… thankful for the sweet blessing they brought to my life.

Why would anyone serve as church as a minister? I have often asked myself that question. Why would someone place themselves in a position that exposes them to so many human foibles and frailties… and so much pain.

It's got to be in response to a call from God. That answer may sound "churchy"... but it's all I've got.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Can You Hear Me?

One of the characteristics of current culture is its passion for interactivity. Regardless of what specific application you're using, web-based media, in general, provide more user-to-user interactivity than any other form of communication in history. The "one-to-many" model of traditional mass communication is being replaced with a "many-to-many" web of interactive communication.

Since the new media alters traditional models of mass communication, we are all challenged to revisit the ways we interact and communicate with others. The church, as the primary instrument for communicating the Good News, stands to amplify it's voice by using the interactive possibilities found in the new media.

So... whether you blog or podcast, whether you Facebook or MySpace, whether you Twitter or Jott-- the significance of our communication is greatly diminished if we are not providing ways for people to easily hear and interact with us.

Let's keep on reminding ourselves: The people in our churches are not just listening... they're also talking.

On Snakes & Burritos...

I just had a great conversation with the guy who prepared my burrito. In between his asking me if I wanted lettuce, cheese and tomatoes... I found out that he is interested in reptiles, and has his very own anaconda. (Just a baby one, he told me... only five feet long.) Now, I'm not a big fan of snakes... and if I were ever to suggest that I'd like one as a pet, Susan would strongly oppose the idea (that's like saying a mongoose would strongly oppose a cobra). But here's the God-possibility in all of this discourse about snakes: the guy behind the burrito counter thanked me for taking the time to talk to me about his anaconda. In fact, we had a longer conversation than I've really ever seen him have with anybody-- and I'm thinking a big part of his opening up to me was that I took a little step into his world.

I'm continually challenged by how Jesus was all about meeting people, and engaging them in conversation. And I love to see how Jesus used those conversations to point people to God.

So... I'm trying to keep eyes and ears open to opportunities that God puts in my path for using my everyday conversations to point people to him. And look at it this way, if nothing else comes out of the conversation, I increase my knowledge base on such topics as the care and feeding of large snakes.

Vann's Technology Corner...

I've had fun getting acquainted with Jott. Jott is a free, on-line resource that allows you to use your cell phone to send text and email messages/reminders to yourself and others... and to update other on-line resources such as Twitter and Google Calendar.

utilizes technology that converts voice to text... so be prepared for interesting renditions of words. (A Jott to Susan today changed my intended word "bite" to "fight.")

Check out
Jott and its many uses at:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Back In My Own Bed

I'm looking forward to being back in my own bed tonight after a quick trip to Houston. Last night's hotel room was nice and clean, but the mattress gave me an ache in my back.

Some hotel chains have upgraded the comfort quality of their mattresses. (I'm a fan of Hampton Inn.) I'm thinking their investment in new mattresses has attracted them new customers, along with developing a loyal clientele. (Did I mention I like to stay at Hampton Inn?)

All that got me pondering what shapes how people feel about a church. It's most likely not a church's logo or its advertising. I believe people form their most significant impressions of a church based on how the church invests itself in what its community feels is important.

What is your church investing in?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Fajitas & Prayer

I've traveled to Houston for a day in order to meet with some local church leaders, and that allowed me to hook up with Jonathan Ross for dinner. Jonathan is the worship minister for the Bammel church, and he lives a life that reflects Jesus.

We're at a Mexican restaurant... and our server, Jessica, had placed our meals before us. She was starting to turn away, when Jonathan stopped her and said, "Jessica, we're about to pray... is there anything we can pray for you about?"

It took Jessica a moment to process the question, she clearly wasn't expecting it, and then she said, "Yes... please pray for my mother. She lives in West Virginia, and she's dealing with a lot of health problems." And that's all Jessica could get out... as her eyes filled with tears and her voice failed her. She mouthed the words, "Thank you" -- and then headed back to the kitchen.

And we prayed for Jessica's mom.

I'm thankful that God has put people like JRoss in my life.

A Question of Vision...

Auto graveyards have always intrigued me. Row after row of what were once shiny, state-of-the-art vehicles that are now slowly rusting in a field.

Old church buildings also intrigue me.... especially when they've been converted into a restaurant, or some fancy boutique. What happened in the life of the people that were that church? Did they get old, or tired... or old and tired? Or did they lose their sense of God possibilities, their vision for what God was calling them to do and be?

What does vision look like for a church, and how do you know your church's vision came from God? The following responses to the vision question come from Perry Noble:

  • If you feel confident that you can accomplish what is in front of you with no problem at all…then you didn't hear from God.
  • If no one is angry at you…then you didn't hear from God.
  • If you don't have to ask anyone to sacrifice to make the vision come true…then you didn't hear from God.
  • If religious people are not steaming at you, blogging about you and/or leaving your church…then you didn't hear from God.
  • If you have enough money in the bank to do what God has asked you church to do…then you didn't hear from God.
  • If every step is perfectly designed and nothing happens to totally throw you off along the way…then you didn't hear from God.
  • If someone doesn't try to talk you out of what you are about to attempt…then you didn't hear from God.
  • If you don't stay up at night thinking about the vision…then you didn't hear from God.
  • If you know all of the answers…then you didn't hear from God.
The more I think about it, it makes me sad to see old church buildings that became studio apartments. And that's not that because I don't like studio apartments. I'm saddened at the possibility that the folks who made up that church lost their vision of what God could do through a people that trust him.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Being The Sermon

"We Are The Sermon" (WATS) Day is Sunday, April 27. SoHills heads out into the city of Abilene to live out our worship in some tangible ways. We hope WATS Day allows us to look like Jesus to our community.

Let me go on record as saying... I really like WATS Day. I really like the "church has left the building" aspect of WATS Day.

Community outreach can never be "one size fits all." What will you do to reach out to the people you'll come in contact with this week?

What's Your Picture of God?

I just finished William Young's novel The Shack. An interesting read, it's the story of a man who's invited to spend a weekend with God. What's challenged (even angered) some readers of the book, based on several of the reviews I've read, is how Young depicts the way God chooses to present himself for much of the story--that being, a black woman.

Here's some of what Young has God saying about his physical appearance to Mack, the main character of The Shack: "I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it's because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily into your religious conditioning."

Let's remind ourselves that this is a novel, not the Bible. However, The Shack does raise some intriguing ideas.

So... what's your picture of God?

Prayer for the people of Uganda...

One of God's sweetest gifts to me and my family was bringing Serge Gasore into our lives. Serge, a native of Rwanda and a student/athlete at ACU, has allowed us to unofficially adopt him into our family. Susan and I call him "Son" and Serge calls us "Mom" and "Dad." KL and Care are his "Sisters."

Serge reminded us that April 7-14 marked a time for the world to remember the Rwandans who lost their lives during the 1994 genocide in his country. He asked us to pray for the people of Rwanda, as many still struggle with problems in the aftermath of that dark and terrible time.

Serge was a young boy during the genocide, and only by the grace of God was he able to escape death. He speaks of two occasions on which it appeared as if his death was imminent, only to have his life spared in what was nothing short of a miracle.

The region of Rwanda that Serge is from is called Ntarama. Pictured above is a church building in Ntarama... a killing field where more than 5,000 men, women and children lost their lives during the 1994 genocide. The cross inside the building was erected years ago, and it stands as a silent sentinel and reminder of a time that we must not forget.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Trust and Distrust...

I don't like to be taken advantage of... conned, snookered, deceived... whatever you want to call it. It makes me mad, and it hardens my heart... as in, you may have fooled me this time-but it won't happen again.

The problem with a heart that gets hard is that you can start distrusting everyone. And that causes us to miss God opportunities.

This morning, Andrew Loveland and I traveled to the home of our "We Are The Sermon" (WATS) Day client. Andrew and I are team leaders, and we needed to survey our site in order to estimate what supplies we'd need.

I'd heard some less-than-positive things about a few of the occupants of our WATS house. I felt my heart starting to harden up. Were we being scammed into doing some work on the home of "unworthy" people?

The middle-aged lady who came to the door began to thank us even before she had the storm door opened. What I took to be two of her grandchildren smiled shyly from behind her. With tears in her eyes, this lady told us of her struggle to maintain her house since her husband had been incapacitated by a stroke. Most of her day was spent alongside her husband, caring for him.

Thanks, God, for once again rubbing some of your sweet-smelling oil on my heart so that it doesn't get hard. Yeah, there are most likely some unsavory family members living under this lady's roof. But handing out a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus is not something I ever want to stop doing because someone might not deserve the water. I'll leave working that out up to the One whose grace, mercy and wisdom far exceeds mine.

I Have A Talented Wife

Susan, my lovely and talented wife, is embarking on a new endeavor as a partner in a bed & breakfast called Journey's Inn. Located in a quaint, garage apartment in the historic district of Abilene, Journey's Inn will be a place to relax, renew and rejuvenate.

Susan and her partner, Cheryl, are busy putting the finishing touches on Journey's Inn. The decor can best be described as "quirky, fun, and very cool." I'm confident you'll be hearing a lot more about Journey's Inn soon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I think this is very cool...

My ministry partner, Stephen Corbett, is a very talented guy. He came up with this image to help us get the word out about a series we'll be offering this summer at SoHills. Look carefully at this picture and see how many messages you can find that point to the story in Mark's gospel.

This Was Me...

I'm a visual guy... I love pictures. I think in pictures. I talk in stories. People sit in my office and stare at the slideshow on my screensaver, and if I position myself just so--I can pretend that they are bug-eyed over the clever things I've just said.

This picture reminds me of me. I'm thinking I was a junior in high school before I got up the courage to smile at a girl. I was painfully shy. And painfully skinny.

I have a strong empathy for the underdog, the outcast, the last person picked in gym class. I cheer when the normal guy gets the girl. I smile when the shy kid gets up his nerve to ask out the pretty girl.

Every life is full of stories... and like I said, I'm a big fan of stories. I try to keep my eyes open for the stories that unfold around me every day. Those little dramas that play out before our very eyes, yet which we all too often fail to see.

I've always been taken at how Jesus used stories. Matthew 13:34 (CEV) tells us that"Jesus used stories when he spoke to the people. In fact, he did not tell them anything without using stories." I'm all about that. People relate to stories. They find their own story in other people's stories. I want to be a storyteller for God.

Blogosphere, Here I Come!

I've substantially resisted blogging as I've felt I'd have little to contribute to an already overcrowded blogosphere... but I have finally come to terms with my opportunity to find my own little space on the World Wide Web. I'm pretty sure I'm okay with the fact that outside of my dear family members my readership will be small, but who knows... someday I may have readership in the tens or twenties!

Here's the deal- I'll try to have something I think is worth reading or I won't bother writing it. Too many books, blogs, magazines, and YouTube clips already tax our information soaked brains... so I'll be quiet if I don't have anything to say.

So here we go... thanks for coming along for the ride! We'll see where this takes us.