Does Your Work Matter to Your Church?

10 Ways to Know

“I don’t think my pastor understands what I do or believes my work and ministry matter.” This oft-repeated, sad comment reveals bad theology and, more sadly, the neglect of church leaders. How can we ignore the ministry and work of so many people, often leaving them to believe their lives, work and ministry are less important than the paid staff?

I just returned from a weekend retreat to discuss “vocation” with Steven Garber of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture. We discussed this issue at length and why the church still has so far to go in valuing people’s work and calling in the ordinary everyday world.

Garber’s work addresses the whole range of what it means to be alive and engaged in the world with our whole being. Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good.  He says “vocation” includes our occupation, but is so much more. It includes “also families, and neighbors, and citizenship locally and globally” and that “faith shapes vocation, and vocation shapes culture.”

Speaking specifically about our occupations, Garber mentions friend and pastor Tom Nelson, author of “Your Work Matters,” as one who gets it right, a leader who needed to repent before his large congregation of his ignoring their work and not supporting their ministry.

Here’s a few minutes of his story and why he wrote the book.

Does your work matter to your church leaders?

Here are 10 red flags suggesting there is a problem and that maybe Ephesians 4 has been turned upside down.

1 – The staff consistently pleads for more volunteers to help them do their work.

2 – You are asked to give more money so “we (the staff) can get more ministry done.”

3 – Announcements are filled primarily with “what is happening here” and “how you can get involved and serve here” with the ministries “on campus.”

4 – “Success” is measured primarily by attendance at services, dollars donated, buildings completed, and how staff members have met their ministry goals.

5 – When there’s more ‘ministry’ to be done, plan A is hire more staff who recruit people to their team.

6 – You hear more about the staff members’ lives and work (often the pastor’s family, ideas, vision, writing, travels, etc.) that vision, ministry, lives and callings of people in the church. (We hear, ‘pray for pastor as he travels…’ yet there are so many members who travel the world each week for their work. Who prays for them? I wonder what they think when they hear such a plea.)

7 – The “pastoral prayer” almost never includes a blessing or intercession for people who labor in the name of Jesus each week in their daily work, except maybe on Labor Day weekend.

8 – “Ministry” is defined primarily as that which is done in programs officially sponsored by the church.

9 – Reports about “how we are doing as a church” are limited to updates about finances, building programs, or peak attendance at holiday services.

10 – High capacity people and influential community leaders (particularly the wealthy who “have the gift of giving”) are only viewed as potential board members or donors, not as people to partner with as they use their vast influence, skills and experience to impact to shape our world for the gospel. (One executive said, “Basically, the message I get is, ‘leave your work at the door, but be sure to bring your wallet.’” – Yikes!

Turn This Around

To turn this around leaders and members alike must recover a biblical understanding of vocation, work and “ministry.” And we must pray with and for those who labor in their ministry – their calling—every day, everywhere.

God of heaven and earth, we pray for your kingdom to come, for your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Teach us to see our vocations and occupations as woven into your work in the world this week. For mothers at home who care for children, for those whose labor forms our common life in the city, the nation and the world, for those who serve the marketplace of ideas and commerce, for those whose creative gifts nourish us all, for those whose callings take them into the academy, for those who long for employment that satisfies their souls and serves you, for each one we pray, asking for your great mercy. Give us eyes to see that our work is holy to you, O Lord, even as our worship this day is holy to you. In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. (by Steve Garber, Visions of Vocation, p. 239)

LEADERS: For one pastor’s journey into this transformation that helped him reframe how he viewed his calling and the work of the congregation, please read this short article in Christianity Today.

Communication – Clear and Simple

I am in the teaching business. When I’m doing strategic consulting, developing leaders, working with a management team, leading a class at the college or training some grad students how to build an effective team, I am teaching. In some ways, we are always teaching.

Because I communicate for a living, I tend to watch others when they teach, looking for ideas, gaining insights, observing teaching styles, evaluating delivery methods and learning more about my craft. While there are many things to teach young communicators (a group I work with on a consistent basis), I like to start with some basics that anyone can use to deliver an effective teaching session. I still use them.

Here they are – easy to remember and easy to you as a basic framework.

First: What do you want them to KNOW, to FEEL and to DO as a result of spending time listening to you? Get this real clear before you even structure your talk.

Second: Consider this simple 4-part structure that you can alter and vary later.


Ok, maybe a bit corny for some of you, but like I said, easy to remember.


HOOK: get their attention!

In a world of information saturation and social media A.D.D. it is essential to get and KEEP someone’s attention.  Why should they listen to you and what will you help them learn? Of course you want to remove barriers and distractions as much as possible (avoid awkward gestures, make sure sounds systems are working before you speak, look in the mirror at EVERYTHING before you stand and deliver).

But get my attention. A story, anecdote, visual piece, challenging quote, or event a controversial opener. “You have heard it said, ‘Experience is the best teacher!’ but I am here to tell you that is a lie.” Link your opener to your key idea, theme or desired outcome. My big idea is that evaluated experience, not just “experience” is the best teacher. You can do something poorly for 30 years.


BOOK: get people into the text.

For many of you this is the Bible or some spiritual truth. For others it is some skill set you want to train people to do or some core material they must know for their job or role.

If it is not a lecture, get them involved in the content. Read in groups of 2-3 and generate questions, ask people to give their first reaction to the content, choose members of the audience to take turns reading, read slowly several times, and so on.


LOOK: get the big teaching point(s) across.

This is NOT personal application—that comes next. This is the information or key ideas that apply broadly or come from the text, so we all know what we should be learning or thinking about.

A big idea might be, “Communication that is clear and simple is more memorable than a barrage of facts ideas that overwhelm the student.”


TOOK: get the text into the people.

What is the “takeaway?” Work together to determine next steps, ideas for action, and suggestions for how to put the material into practice. The last thing you want is, “That was interesting!” or “Wow, she is smart!” as the only takeaway. You want action. You want people to DO something, to be able to make the teaching actionable. In sermons, forget the “Let’s trust that God will use this in our lives this week” kind of statement. That is just code for “I did not prepare well and have no idea how this might work in my live or yours.” Spend time with your people and you will have no problem with making it actionable.

You can provide some ideas for them to consider, but make sure you know the audience. The more homogenous the more likely you can suggest next steps they can all try. But if diverse in growth stages, ethnicity, experience and age, you must have lots of different ways to use the material or it may be better for them to group up and discuss ideas, then share with the whole class/group.  This is the problem with most Sunday morning preachers who tell us “what we all should do this week” when, in reality, there must be a broad range of applications.

I am working to become a better communicator. If you have any ideas, let me know! Let’s all get better at this – for EVERYONE’s sake!

Extraordinary Groups – achieving personal transformation and great results

Extraordinary Groups

I am working with a group of young leaders in the area of high-performance teams and groups. One of the best resources I have come across for this is Extraordinary Groups by Bellman and Ryan.

Extraordinary Groups by Geoffrey M. Bellman, Kathleen D. Ryan

Extraordinary Groups by Geoffrey M. Bellman, Kathleen D. Ryan


In my opinion this is one of the most comprehensive resources in this arena because:

  • it combines author experience with very practical ideas and approaches
  • has a sound working model easily adapted to your situation
  • has transferable concepts and processes for any team, for-and-non-profit
  • walks you through the model in very practical ways
  • focuses on outcomes and how to engage robust discussions for your team
  • is well written with a language and style that is engaging, accessible and not too complex


Geoff Bellman’s approach is based on research and experience – you can watch a 40-minute presentation here that your team would get a lot out of! Very solid work.

Kathy Ryan and Geoff are a competent people who have built teams, led high-capacity groups, worked in complex organizations, understand the non-profit sector, and are advocates for relational transformation while honoring the need for great results

I like Kathy’s bio where you find this

Through The Orion Partnership, a consulting firm based near Seattle, Washington, she has been known for her work in turning fear-based organizations into ones where collaboration and trust are the keys to high performance.

There are many organizations that could really use her help!

Here are a few of my big takeaways from their work and this book.

First, get the book. It really is solid. And work the model with your team – the exercise is worth the effort.

Second, the 8 Characteristics of a an Extraordinary Group make for a solid framework and assessment (the work and book have been so well received that they just developed a team assessment and resources for the process.

Here are the 8 Characteristics
Outstanding Results Transformation
  • Compelling Purpose
  • Shared Leadership
  • Just-enough Structure
  • Full Engagement
  • Embracing Differences
  • Unexpected Learning
  • Strengthened Relationships
  • Great Results



Take your team through a discussion and reality check on this list alone, and you will be glad you did.

And third, the Group Needs Model they use is fresh, coherent and very applicable for creating a high-performance culture with a strong emphasis on personal growth not simply team results. The model addresses 3 major aspects of a team with 2 components in each, with an overall focus on personal and organizational change:

SELF = Self Acceptance and Potential

GROUP = Team Purpose and Relational Bonds

WORLD = Current Reality and Desired Impact

How is your team doing with respect to building people who connect deeply and together achieve great results? Where are the gaps? What is your process and model for evaluating and guiding a team?


I plan to utilize more of this work in my work with church and leadership groups – outstanding tool!

The Ending of an Era – The Beginning of Something New

My Daughter Kinsley

Last night I watched my daughter Kinsley play her last home basketball game on the Westminster Christian School court. These seniors have been together since 4th grade and probably have a 9-year cumulative record of 140-20 or something like that – this year they finished 20-4 as they head to the playoffs.

So this is the end.

I’ve got mixed emotions about it. I love watching her play… she is joy in motion. And I love the way she does that crossover dribble that leaves the competition in the dust wondering what just flew past them as they stumble back to their feet. Brings a smile to my face. They came up 3 points short last night, but what a run!

Regardless of how far they go in the playoffs, the ending of an era has come. Soon she will move on, joining my son who headed off to college in 2008, and leaving us with an empty nest.

It is hard for some people to move on. But not these kids. While they realize some friendships may never be the same, they look forward with hope and back with joy. They are young, restless, talented, adventurous and free. The world is now their basketball court and they are calling the plays

Not so for too many adults – business people, educators, parents, athletes and church leaders. They cannot – or will not – step aside or move on. They have not learned to trade position for passion, power for influence, playing the game for coaching the players. They cling to worn out strategies, crusty habits, tired theologies, and weary game plans. It is time to enter a new season.

It is time for a new season in life for Kinsley…and for me and for Gail. I have stepped into a coaching role, shaping leaders, teaching, mentoring, creating new expressions of influence, research and exploration. And it is wonderful.

Gail has launched SACRED, and place where the soul can rest. You can see what she does at Son Ryan is heading off to graduate school. It is a time for us to create, embrace and thrive into the new.

Maybe this is the time for you as well. Whether you are 25, 55, or 75,  before you lies something that God has been preparing, and it is time for you to walk into it. It is the end of one era…and the start of something new.

You’ll see more of what I am doing, new areas of teaching and training for community life, and development strategies for leaders. It will all be part of a new website in a month or so.

Pain Partners: Becoming a Community out of Desperation

Breath Taken

Early this morning I received a very sad email. I sat wondering, “Where is God in all this mess. Why? Why now? Why this man? Hasn’t he suffered enough with his cancer and his many trials?”

It has been said, “All true community begins at the edge of suffering”

Before me sits a Bible, filled with stories of pain and suffering and redemption. These stories unnerve us, encourage us, and then remind us of things eternal. We become sober to the realities of life in a broken world.  Still I ask, “Where is God when it hurts?” The answer should not surprise us. It is embedded in this email.

Here it is, edited and with names changed, but you will get the idea.  This man is suffering with cancer that is rare and hard to treat. And then this email from his wife…

Good morning-

Yesterday, at about 4:45 p.m., Mike was rear ended, spun into oncoming traffic and then T-boned. He was in a small rental car that was totaled. He was taken to the hospital and into surgery just after 7. He remained conscious and calm. He was very cold – not in much pain, not scared. He kept telling me he wasn’t scared, that he was ready, that he knew he was forgiven, saved by grace, and loved by his Father. We prayed a lot. He was mostly calm, always conscious, very well aware of what had happened.

The nurses were crying and rushing and more and more doctors and machines and nurses came. He had some deep lacerations to his head; he was bleeding. He was on a backboard, coughing, having difficulty breathing, frustrated with being strapped down and held in place. His spleen needed to come out and he had many breaks and fractures. His heart rate was too fast and his blood pressure too low. They gave him several units of blood.

They took him into surgery. He was brave! Our family and close friends joined us.

Tony, Sarah, Matt, Rachael, Mike’s family, Ashton, Tammy, and Susan came and joined the wait. (His Pain Partners.) We were all able to go in, briefly, and see him last night. He was somewhat conscious and on a respirator to help with his breathing and had some staples on the back of his head. His color was good; he rested.

It is likely that his cancer treatment will be suspended while they address these issues. It’s a lot to take in. He needs a whole lot of prayer and love and hope. His long road seems mighty long right now. Blessings and love, Karen.

Here is my edited reply to my friend who forwarded “Karen’s” email to me.

Ug …this is very hard to hear at this point, Dave, but his life is being a witness to so many who are serving him right now in the hospitals – they are seeing Jesus in him and that is remarkable…Mike’s broken life, and the community that surround him, is being used in powerful ways … I know that does not feel good to you and me right now, or especially to him or Karen, but it is true. A hard but real truth.

I lost my best friend at age 15 after he suffered for 3 years and died of spinal cancer. He was a Philadelphia Phillies fan so players would come visit him, as did others who, at the time, would never go to a church or read a Bible. But he had a strong faith for just a young teen. He talked to them about Christ, his future, salvation, etc. When he died, many remembered his short life but also his great faith. We were devastated, but I know it started me on a journey toward God, and helped others to strengthen their faith. 

A young man in a class I teach has Cystic Fibrosis. He is being hospitalized (again) this weekend to treat lung infections with IV antibiotics. He is the same age as my son, and is aware of the degenerative nature of his disease. I could not imagine my son in that condition knowing his life will be a short one filled with suffering. It punches me in the gut every time I walk into the room.

But it has also driven me to prayer. And I have wept over this student, remembering that sin has broken this world and it took the death of Jesus himself to defeat its misery. So I have hope, and I am humbled, and I sit at God’s feet and find strength. But I do not do it alone. In community we share the pain.

I am at a loss for answers as to why these things happen. I can only cling to what I know to be true. And that is what Mike and my student are doing. And I think I can guarantee that their many sufferings (which I would never wish on anyone) are being transformed into something beautiful for God’s glory. So I pray and I weep. But I also hope… for a new world one day when all the “Mikes” of this world are dancing and singing. It is what I cling to in the brokenness.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  – Revelation 21: 1-5 

Yes, make it new! For all of us. So that our partnership in pain will be transformed into a reunion of joy and gladness with the One who brings us home.

I recommend Phil Yancey’s book, Where is God When it Hurts?

Where is God When It Hurts?


Faith-Work-Culture: The Human Trinity

Today my focus is the integration of Faith-Work-Culture as a central part of life.

faith-work-cultureI am privileged to participate in a panel discussion on Capitol Hill Wednesday with seminary scholars, policy makers and leaders who care deeply about the integration of our work, our faith and our culture.  Here is the focus of the discussion:

  • Centuries ago St. Augustine wrote City of God to explore what is the rightful and moral duty of Christians engaging in the public square.  Today, the questions and tensions that plague public life in our capital city are no less fraught and frustrating than they were in his, ages ago.
  • Drawing from the insight and experience of practitioners across the scope of public policy’s reach and application this panel will explore the role Christians have to act justly and walk humbly across partisan lines, in neighborhood communities, and global conflicts, in the committee rooms of capitol hill, and the board rooms of K street.
  • While acknowledging the reality of politics and policy native to Capitol Hill, this panel will instead focus on the responsibility Christians have to support and engage the development of flourishing communities in every corner of the earth.

I come as a representative from three spheres.

First, as thinker and change agent in an institution, as a representative from TIU where we are seeking to bring a more robust engagement with “vocational theology” so that faculty, staff and students see the faith-work-culture tension as a central, not tertiary, part of life.

Second, I come as a common worker. Like you, I engage in meaningful labor and have done so since I was 15. I have had a dozen roles in my work history: as a camp counselor, lifeguard, groundskeeper, financial analyst, sales rep, painter, pastor, professor and a leadership consultant.

Third, I sit here as a human being. I know that’s stating the obvious. But it is the one thing we all have in common.  We all want to flourish as people living in this 21st century world – economically, spiritually, vocationally, physically, and emotionally.


So I am eager to learn and contribute during these 30 hours.


But I need your help – really.


What questions or thoughts do you have about human flourishing as it relates to the integration and interaction of Faith-Work-Culture?

We need to keep breaking down the clergy-laity division. And we need to see the worlds of work and culture as much more than mission fields on the one hand, or places to avoid “lest we be corrupted” on the other.


What are your thoughts and questions?

I would love to hear them before we engage on the hill tomorrow. Everyone wants to change the world- but not everyone wants to change. I want to change personally as I participate. I hope you can help.




 Image credit:

10 Risky Questions for Leaders

I am always intrigued by what is said in commencement speeches. Steve Jobs’ famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford is one of the most Googled.  His “stay hungry, stay foolish” theme really resonated with listeners. If you never heard it, it is a real gem. You can watch it here.



This June, at my alma mater’s graduation ceremonies, Princeton’s departing President, Shirley Tilghman, referred to Jeff Bezos’ commencement address to graduates in 2010. Though not as memorable or as well-known as Jobs’ talk, Bezos offered a series of questions for leaders or at least what every leader should be asking.


Bezos is Founder and CEO of and is a Princeton Class of 1986 graduate.  His remarks challenged graduating seniors to consider 10 key questions.  Here they are for your consumption.


1)     Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?

2)     Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?

3)     Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?

4)     Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?

5)     Will you bluff it out when you are wrong, or will you apologize?

6)     Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?

7)     Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?

8)     When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?

9)     Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?

10)   Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?


I certainly was challenge by almost all of these. I did not feel a sense of guilt or failure so much as new resolve to grow and risk in these areas. Numbers 1, 6, and 9 have particular meaning for me at this moment in life and leadership.


How about you? I suggest you reflect honestly on the list, and choose your top 2-3 questions for further investigation and focus. Leaders – especially those who share leadership or have collaborative styles – will have to take some risks that will cause discomfort and leave you vulnerable to failure or criticism.


But what other options are there? A life filled with woulda-coulda-shoulda regrets and a leadership legacy what-if’s and what-might-have-beens?


Not for me. And I hope not for you.

Never Alone, Never Again – You Decide

You do not have to do life alone. But some of you choose to. I cannot imagine why. Oh, I know…you have many relationships; you know lots of people. You have Facebook friends and Twitter peeps. You know some guys at the softball league or some gals at the monthly business leaders luncheon. You trade contacts and share ideas. You talk about the weather, the kids, the job and the economy.

But are you known? To be known is to place the heart-level truth about yourself into the hands of another person. And to trust they will receive it and guard it. And then to do the same for them. Can you really say that you are known deeply and have others whom you know at the heart level?

It starts small. It means doing some life together – a meal, a coffee, a play time with other moms and kids, reading a book, going to a museum, volunteering together to serve the poor. It is not hard, but it takes some effort.

And it means a conversation – about life and love and hope and fear and truth and the world. Pick a topic and tell a story – your story. How did you get here from there? What makes you smile? What stirs your passions? What gets you really mad? What kind of injustice is so intolerable that you cannot stand it anymore? What about your work gives you a rush; what part of it gives you a headache?

Just talk and listen – really well and real carefully.

But whatever you do make a commitment to never stand alone. Never.

I met a good friend today, someone who has championed the cause of community with me for years, and has helped build it with others around the world. We have been partners, co-workers, and fellow employees. I love him. I think the world of him.

But more important than that, we are good friends. We know the pain and the darkness of one another’s lives; the scary parts and beautiful parts; we laugh until we cry; we spur one another on; we provide counsel and feedback for decisions; we solve problems; and much of the time we simply share a slice or two of life – the good, bad and ugly. We know the gore and the glory. And we still do life together.

We made a commitment a long time ago to never do life alone – never again.

How about you? When will you move beyond the glossy surface of superficial relationships and break through into the depth of relational integrity.

Life matters. And it is VERY short.  What are you waiting for?