The Test of Criticism

One of the realities of leadership is criticism. The nature of leadership makes this inevitable. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you aren’t receiving criticism, you probably aren’t leading, as leadership means you are taking people to a place they aren’t at yet, which involves change. Which no one likes.

I was reflecting this past week on what happened when we started Revolution was the criticism we received. Both from people who left Revolution and from people outside Revolution. When we started, we started by doing a 9 week series on the Song of Solomon called Pure Sex (you can listen to the series here, click on series). To launch, we sent out 15,000 mailers with this picture on the front

Needless to say, the reaction was split. We had some who were excited, positive about it. Finally, a church that was going to answer questions they had when it came to sex and marriage.

The other side was interesting as well. We got phone calls, people blogged about it, pastor’s preached about it. I know of 3 churches where the pastor stood up on a Sunday, held up this card and said “this was from the devil and was smut.” During this series, we had a few people show up from these churches to see what their pastor was so worked up about. A few ended up staying.

This past weekend, I told this story in my sermon and talked about handling criticism and forgiving those who hurt you and slander you. Unbeknownst to me, there were a few people who attended one of the churches I was talking about (to this day I don’t know the names of the churches, I never asked). They talked to me afterward and told me how they hadn’t been to church in a few years, but how Revolution wasn’t anything like what their pastor said. We preached the gospel.

I was thinking this past week as to the test of criticism. I wonder if God allows criticism to come to prepare us for later leadership and to see if we can handle it. The larger your leadership influence grows, the more criticism you will receive. If you as a leader can’t handle the criticism at the beginning, I wonder if God keeps our leadership from growing because he knows we can’t handle it as it grows and gets harsher and more public.

Date Night

The other day I wrote about doing daddy dates with my kids.

Even more important than that is Date Night with Katie. For the first few years of our marriage, we did not do this consistently. Date night was haphazard at best. It was poorly planned, rarely executed and consequently, our relationship suffered.

The longer we have been married and as our family has grown, it became even less of a priority. Last fall, I preached through the Song of Solomon at Revolution and for my research I read C.J. Mahaney’s book Sex, Romance and the Glory of God. This book and series hit me upside of the head and really challenged me. If you are a guy who wants to be a better man, husband, dad, then you need to right now buy C.J.’s book. It is by far the best book I have ever read of being a man.

I really want to emphasize something that does not always happen in marriage. This is the man’s responsibility. As men, we don’t have a huge need to be pursued, but your wife does. She wants to be romanced, she wants to be chased, she wants to know that she matters to you. Ironically, within a man is the need to chase. Neat how God worked that out.

Pursue your wife.

It is your job to plan and execute date night. No exceptions. You protect the night, you tell everyone “We are busy that night,” you plan where you are going, if you stay home, you cook; you find the babysitter. It is not her job, her job is to enjoy and participate in date night.

Date night does not have to be expensive. It can be a cup of coffee, it can be going out for ice cream. Date night needs to be uninterrupted time alone. One of the things we do on a regular basis is put the kids to bed and then grill up something good. Sit on the back porch, eat and just talk.

NO TV on date nights. This means, don’t take her to a sports bar. Avoid the temptation. But there is a game on you might say. Then don’t plan date night on that night.

Date night is not a time to run errands.

Now, sometimes on Date night, you do some work on your relationship. You talk through some tough things. This is a time though to talk about and work on your relationship. Don’t let other things cloud your conversation on Date night.

Do you have to do this? Nope. But if you don’t, you won’t be married very long, or at least, you won’t be happy. Your marriage is too important for this to not happen.

It doesn’t matter when it happens, as long as it happens EVERY WEEK.

Planning a Preaching Calendar

Ironically, how we plan our preaching calendar at Revolution is one of the most common questions I get from other pastors. In fact, in the last 2 weeks I’ve been asked about it almost a dozen times that I thought I would share how we decide what we preach on and how far out we plan and why we do it this way.

First off, plan ahead. I am stunned by how little planning goes into some churches. You would think that pastors don’t care what is happening in their churches. Naturally, I am a planner, so this is easier for me and actually more comforting when it is done. For example, the other day I talked to a pastor that said, “It’s Thursday and all I have is a title.” That’s like saying, “All I need is a chip and a chair.” We need better odds than that when it comes to preaching. Now, before you get on my case, God does speak at the end of the week, God does change what we are to see while we are walking up to the stage. It has happened to me and it is exciting and scary all at the same time, but this cannot be our normal practice.

At Revolution, we have decided that the best way for us to reach our mission and target is to preach through books of the Bible. This does not mean we are against topical (that’s a bad discussion in my opinion), we just like doing it this way.

We split series up into two categories:  attractional and missional. Attractional will feel more topical, felt needs, but are based on a book of the Bible. Some examples:  Song of Solomon, 30 Days to Live (which was topical, see we aren’t against it), The Sermon on the Mount. The other category is missional which tends to be more formation, doctrine, theology. Some examples:  Becoming, Jonah, and Hebrews.

We also try to alternate between Old and New Testament books of the Bible. What we are trying to do is to make sure we are giving our church a healthy balance not only of books of the Bible, but also styles and feel.

After the sermon on the mount, we are planning to kick 2010 off by preaching through Nehemiah which is a very mission/leadership focused book.

One thing that we preach on every year is marriage, dating and relationships. For our target and culture, this makes sense. You can check out the series we are starting in 2 weeks here:

What about length?

We haven’t bought into doing a 3 – 6 week series only. Hebrews took 18 weeks and Nehemiah will take 22 weeks. For the sermon on the mount, we decided to break it up into 4 smaller series to create more on ramps for our church and guests this fall. The length of the series is not that big of a deal as long as the speaker is up for it. Long series are draining. We try to stay away from doing long series back to back as that is draining on me, our team and our church. After the serious feel of Hebrews, we did a video teaching series with Dave Ramsey which felt completely different.

How far out do we plan?

We look about 12 months ahead when it comes to thinking through topics. This is where so many pastors do themseles a disservice. The other day I was reading a leadership book and the author was quoting and pointing to the book of Nehemiah all over the place. Without knowing that I wanted to preach through this book, I would have missed a ton of great information. Could I have remembered it and gone back to it? Sure, but that is risky.

My point is, plan ahead in some way. By planning ahead we are able to do a lot more creatively as opposed to go week to week.

Are we flexible?

Yes. Just because we are planning something does not mean it is written in stone and unchangable. Over the summer we were actually planning to preach through Habakkuk but decided about 4 weeks out to do the life of Elijah instead, which proved to be the right move. Before making the change though, our creative team let me know we had not gone far enough into the creative process for that series. It is important to not waste your team’s time.

For our creative process, we look 6 – 8 weeks out as we think through atmosphere, visuals, video clips, dramas, cover songs. As we get closer, Paul takes us through a process of honing in on what we will use and how it will flow.

How long would this take? Not very long. In fact, if you sat down right now and made a list of topics you would like to teach on in the next 6 – 12 months you would be well on your way.

When I started preaching through books of the Bible, I picked James to start out with because it was my favorite book of the Bible. Not very spiritual, I know, but it worked and I started to get used to it.

The point is, plan ahead. Way too much is at stake to go week to week.

Now I’ve told you how we do it, how do you plan your series? How do you decide what to preach on?

Preaching through Hebrews

Saturday, I finished our almost 5 month series Reveal through the book of Hebrews. What God has done over the last 5 months at Revolution has been amazing.

When we plan our series out, we think in two categories: attractional or missional.

Attractional are series that hit more felt needs. Examples are the series Pure Sex (Song of Solomon),  30 Days to Live and our next series, Life. Money. Hope. with Dave Ramsey.

The other type of series is missional. This series is designed to have more depth, spiritual formation, discipleship. Examples would be Becoming, The Journey of JonahReveal and our series in August, Elijah.

While both series overlap and hit both areas (if we do our job right) it helps us in keeping balance. Both types of series are for people who know Jesus and those who don’t. We always make sure that we present the gospel and how people can take their next step with God.

We want to make sure we are alternating and that we aren’t doing 4 attractional series in a row or 4 missional series in a row. Balance.

One of the things that I learned through this series is that whether or not you have a church background, you want spiritual depth. People come to church because they want to know what the Bible says. One of the things we do is act like a church, you drove by the sign on your way in, so you know you are there. I get so tired of pastors who seem to be embarassed of Jesus, preaching tough topics (sin, depression, pain, suffering, tragedy). One of the things that is good about preaching through books of the Bible is you can’t skip verses, you have to hit the hard stuff. But that is what people come back for, because you talk about what they are struggling with.

The other aspect that is great about preaching through books of the Bible is the story. The Bible is the story of God and how he works in and through normal people to bring about his purposes. When preaching through books of the Bible, people see themselves in that story and they want to come back next week to see what happens.

While going through Hebrews, we saw God almost double our church. It was crazy. Essentially, the first 12 chapters are about what faith is and isn’t and who Jesus and why he is greater than Moses, angels and the law. I joked with our creative team that I now know why people rarely preach through Hebrews. I found a lot of sermons online of people preaching Hebrews 1 – 4, 11 – 12. Chapters 5 – 10 is why no one preaches through Hebrews. Why? Chapters 5 – 10 are essentially one sermon, it is the same topic. It was fun (and difficult trying to make 7 messages sound different, as well as coming up with creative elements to go with them, but our creative team rocks).

There is also the difficulty of the fact that Hebrews was written to people who grew up Jewish, going to the temple, seeing the sacrifices, understanding the Day of Atonement, knowing who Moses is and why he is important. The leap from Hebrews to our world is a huge leap, an important one, but a huge leap.

Also, Hebrews was written to a church that was experiencing extreme persecution, going to jail, being killed for their faith. They wanted to go underground because of this. We want to go underground with our faith because it gets in our way. This is where Hebrews is so relevant to our world. I know that for many Hebrews is the book where the debate of whether or not you can lose your salvation often rests. As I preached through it, the verses where it talks about “falling away” it became pretty clear to me that the writer isn’t even discussing losing your salvation. He’s talking about a completely different thing.

A few more thoughts. If you are a preacher, don’t be afraid to do a series longer than 6 weeks. God can work through a longer series. Don’t shy away from preaching through hard texts or books of the Bible. While Hebrews is difficult, weighty, meaty and any other word that means hard, it is a beautiful book. There is so many needed messages in it that our churches need to hear. Chapter 11 and 12 were awesome to preach through because I had preached through chapters 1 – 10, it brought so much more life to those passages knowing what the author had already covered.

This was the longest series we have ever gone through at Revolution, but it was great. Next spring, we will spend almost 6 months going through Nehemiah, which is going to be just as great.

Top Posts of 2008

In case you missed them, here are the posts that generated the most traffic over the last year:

  1. Shane Claiborne at Cedarville
  2. How to Break Growth Barriers
  3. Planting Missional Churches
  4. One Church’s View on Prop 8
  5. Fusion:  Turning First Time Guests into Fully Engaged Members of your Church
  6. Sex in Marriage
  7. Next Series:  Pure Sex
  8. Thoughts on Young Life
  9. Prayers for Christmas Eve
  10. Heath Ledger’s Death – How Should Christians Respond?

Porn Again Christian

Since finishing our series on marriage, sex and dating I know there is a huge need for healing in this area of relationship. Mark Driscoll wrote a book that you can download for free called Porn Again Christian:  A Frank Discussion on Pornography & Masturbation. I highly recommend downloading it, reading it and sharing it with your friends. If this is a struggle for you or your spouse, please download this. Download it here.

By the way, it’s FREE!

Books for Song of Solmon series

We just finished our series Pure Sex on the Song of Solomon. I read so many good books on the topics of dating, marriage, sex, intimacy, romance, conflict, affection. There are so many good things to check out, below is a list of the books I read that I think are worth checking out:

  1. The Book of Romance:  What Solomon Says about Love, Sex, & Intimacy  (Tommy Nelson) 
  2. Sex God:  Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality & Spirituality  (Rob Bell) 
  3. Love & Respect:  The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs  (Emerson Eggerichs) 
  4. Real Sex:  The Nake Truth about Chastity  (Lauren Winner) 
  5. Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God:  What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know  (C.J. Mahaney) 
  6. Feminine Appeal:  Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife & Mother  (Carolyn Mahaney)
  7. Sex & the Supremacy of Christ  (John Piper) 
  8. Rocking the Roles:  Building a Win-Win Marriage  (Robert Lewis) 
  9. You Just Don’t Understand:  Women & Men in Conversation  (Deborah Tannen)

I hope that more pastors decide to preach through this book. It is a long forgotten but much needed message. Get past the blushing and having to deal with the difficult imagery, man up and teach your church how to have a healthy theology when it comes to sexuality.

This Weekend: “Til Death do us Part”

Saturday is the last week in our Pure Sex series. It has been an awesome series. The response has been amazing and hearing the stories of how this has impacted marriages in our community has made the series totally worth it.

We will end the series by talking about how do you make it to the end of marriage, how do you make it to “death do us part” and enjoy it? Lots of people stay married, but how do you enjoy it.

Also, as a special treat, for the Q & A, my wife Katie will be joining me to answer the questions. Should be a good time.

Revolution, this is a great week to bring someone to church. Don’t miss this opportunity to share with your friends how to have a happy, healthy, biblical marriage.

See you at 5pm!

Saturday Night Mind Dump…

  • Great night tonight
  • Alex Mar led worship for us tonight and did an awesome job
  • I am loving the Q & A that we do at the end of the service, great addition to what we do
  • Great topic tonight
  • I think too many married couples are disengaged in their marriages and that is what leads to unhappiness, loneliness and ultimately, affairs
  • I talked tonight about boundaries Katie and I have, you can read more about that here
  • Paul and Jennifer will be here the weekend of November 8th to look for a place to live, and Paul will be leading worship that night
  • I can’t wait for them to get here
  • If couples apply tonight and next week, it will make a huge difference in affair proofing their marriage
  • If you need some date night ideas, click here
  • After church tonight I went with Todd to the Arizona/USC football game, good times
  • Only 8 more days until Katie and I go on vacation, can’t wait
  • I’m so addicted to Twitter, you can follow me here
  • I am so addicted to the election coverage right now, I’m ready for the election to be over
  • SNL’s version is actually better than any other channel, too bad that isn’t on 24 hours a day
  • Excited that Penn State won, our national title hopes are still alive, but I’m sure the BCS will screw that up somehow
  • We have our next missional life project in the morning
  • We’re cleaning up Tanque Verde Park, see you at 9am
  • I have to put my fantasy teams together yet
  • Still rocking my leagues, I’m in first place in 2 of 3 (I’m 7-0, 6-1 & 5-2)
  • Looks like the world series title may come to Philadelphia this year, could happen, but Philly sports always figure out a way to break your heart
  • Huge football game tomorrow:  Giants vs. Steelers, I think the Steelers will prevail, but it will be close
  • Busy week this week, something happening every night of the week
  • It’s so hard to go on vacation, you almost have to kill yourself to get everything done so you can go on vacation
  • This week, I have a meeting with potential small group leaders, really excited about the people stepping up to lead in this important area
  • Click here to join the conversation on our discussion blog
  • I’m exhausted, I’m going to bed
  • Here is a fascinating video about “why men cheat”

This Weekend: “When Love Changes You”

Saturday is part 7 of our Pure Sex, we’re talking about the one thing that can make the difference in your marriage and how long it lasts. Getting this one topic wrong is what leads so many people down the path to an affair.

Affairs don’t often happen for the reasons we think. According to one study 1 in 2.7 men will cheat at some point in their marriage. In that same study they found that of those who cheat, only 12% say the person they cheated with is more attractive than their spouse.

What many people don’t realize is that when an affair takes place, it is actually weeks, months, sometimes years in the making. It is possible to not fall into it, it is possible to “affair-proof your marriage.”

This week and next we will break down how to affair proof your marriage. You do not want to miss Saturday night. See you @ 5pm!