Previous month:
January 2014
Next month:
March 2014

Posts from February 2014

Wisdom from Coach Wooden

There are many celebrities in this world. Our culture loves creating them. Often, we like to create them just so we can enjoy picking them apart to watch them crumble. It is a sad state of being that we have created, or at least enabled.

Sometimes you come across a celebrity who does not put on airs. What you see on television, on the stage or in the magazines is actually an accurate depiction of the real person. Unfortunately, this is often true about those celebrities that are anything but role models and quality people. In other words, they are just as bad as their image portrays them.

Then, there are those who seem to be pretty nice people. People with integrity who are honest. These are the ones of whom you could say, "I'd like to spend some time with them." 

Coach John Wooden (1910 - 2010) was one such man. 

John Wooden largeI had the great privilege of meeting Coach in 1987 at a basketball coaches clinic in Arlington, Texas. My team, the Texas Wesleyan Rams, had been chosen to be the "conference team" for Coach as he talked to area coaches about life principles and then showed how he ran a practice back in the days of Walton, Alcinder and Wilkes at UCLA. So, I now get to tell people that I played basketball for Coach John Wooden (and I do tell them this!) even if just for a few hours long after his days at UCLA.

As I have read biographies and leadership books on Coach Wooden, it becomes clear that here was a man of integrity who was very successful as a player and a coach (Hall of Famer as both,) but moreso as a husband, father, and man of God. His "pyramid of success" hangs in my office as a reminder of much that he had learned and taught (and continues to teach even four years after his death) to many.

Here are some quotes and words of wisdom from Coach that sometimes make me smile and often make me go "Oh. . .yeah. Hmmm."

  • I wanted my players to know I truly cared about them. I loved them all. I didn't like them all. And some of them didn't like me all the time. But today I'm closer to many of my players than I was when they played for me.
  • You can lose when you outscore somebody in a game, and you can win when you are outscored.
  • Make your effort to do the very best you can. That's what I wanted from my teams more than anything else.
  • Leadership from a base of hypocrisy undermines respect, and if people don't respect you, they won't willingly follow you.
  • Be slow to correct and quick to commend.
  • I never yelled at my players much. That would have been artificial stimulation, which doesn't last very long. I think it's like love and passion. Passion won't last as long as love.
  • As a coach, there were a few rules I pretty much stuck to: Never be late. Be neat and clean. I was a stickler for that. At practice, we started on time and we closed on time. And not one word of profanity. If I see it in a game, you're coming out.
  • One time, Bill Walton showed up for practice, looking unkempt. "It's my right," he told me. "That's good, Bill," I replied. "I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them. We're going to miss you."
  • Once, one of my players was asked if I ever used profanity. "Absolutely, he replied, "Goodness, gracious, sakes alive" is profanity for Coach."
  • Ability may get you to the top, but you need character to keep you there.
  • What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player.
  • I don't want to be like the guy in church who coughs loudly just before putting money into the offering plate.
  • Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful. Conceit is self-given; be careful.
  • Truth will always stand the test of scrutiny.
  • There is no substitute for hard work. If you are looking for the easy way, the shortcut. . . you'll not be developing your talents.
  • Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all.
  • Discipline yourself and others won't need to.
  • Kindness makes for much better teamwork.
  • A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player.
  • Players today are better than ever; I don't think the teams are.
  • You have to be a friend to have a friendship. It isn't one-way.
  • The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.
  • Concentrate on what you do have, not on what you don't.
  • Time spent getting even would be better spent getting ahead.
  • My father gave me a two-dollar bill for my grade school graduation. He said, "Hold on to this, and you'll never go broke." I still have it. A lot of times, that's all I've had. But I've never been broke.
  • Don't let making a living prevent you from making a life.
  • If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict.
  • The most I made coaching was $32,500. Maybe I didn't have a multi-million-dollar contract like Shaquille O'Neal, but he'll never know what it was like to get a good meal for twenty-five cents.
  • Ability is a poor man's wealth.
  • There is nothing stronger than gentleness.
  • To achieve significance, it's a good idea to select an activity for which God has given us at least a measure of skill.
  • Don't call me Wizard [of Westwood]. I'm no wizard!
  • Be quick, but don't hurry.
  • Young people need role models, not critics.
  • Pick up your own orange peels.
  • Never mistake activity for achievement.
  • I don't believe in praying to win a game.
  • It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.
  • If you don't have time to do it right, when will you do it over?
  • Consider the rights of others before your own feelings and the feelings of others before your own rights.
  • We can give without loving, but we can't love without giving. In fact, love is nothing unless we give it to someone.
  • God can be trusted, even when life seems at its darkest. From the cross, God declares, "I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pains you feel, but I love you."

Thanks Coach!


Coach John Wooden Winning With Principle. N.p.: B & H, 2013. Print.

Sometimes We Need a Pep Talk (Thanks Kid President.)

Sometimes you just need a pep talk.

Times are hard. The Enemy is having a hey-day with the culture and sometimes, if we're not careful, we may think that he's winning the battle.

Life, apart from Christ, is hopeless and empty.

Kid PresidentHowever, many of you reading this are not apart from Christ. You have surrendered to Him. You received His free gift of salvation. You were changed in a moment. Transformed from the inside out. You were made victorious. . .not of your own power, but because of what He has done.

You have hope.

You have life. 


Not because you "prayed a prayer" or were baptized, but because of what Christ did on the cross and through His subsequent resurrection. As I stated Sunday morning. . . "He did all the heavy lifting. He did all the work."

What did you do?

What must you do?

Repent, believe and surrender. (Luke 13:5 & Romans 10:9-13)

If you have done this, then you are a child of God. 

So, maybe your week has been difficult. You've been challenged. Maybe you would rather have stayed in bed.

You need a pep talk.

While Kid President isn't necessarily speaking the Gospel here, there is truth in what he says.

Those of us who are children of God. . .are "gooder than that." We're on the same team, right? 

It's time to do something.

The "road less traveled" (i.e. the narrow road) may not be the easy way. . .but it's right.

So, be encouraged. 

Do the hard things. 

We have work yet to do, but the hard stuff has already been done (by Christ.) Don't give up.


The Medal Tally and God's Scorecard

Somehow, every four years, I begin to care about sports that I never watch at any other time because of the Winter Olympics (except figure skating and ice dancing - I'm still not a fan of those sports.) These athletes do some pretty incredible things, especially in the extreme sports that we somehow convinced the IOC to make Olympic sports so we could win some medals.

One of the things that I check daily is the medal count. Even though the cold war is over, there's still something about winning the "medal war" against Russia.

However, depending upon where you look to check the medal count, the leaders are different.

In an article in USA Today, there's a breakdown of why. As of today, the IOC lists Germany as the leader in the medal count, while NBC Sports and other American news agencies list The Netherlands as the leader.

Here's the official medal count from the IOC (via


Here's the official medal count from NBC Sports (via


Click here to read the full article on USA Today.

The bottom line is that the IOC only counts gold medals when tallying this list, while media outlets (especially those in nations that benefit from this type of tallying) count total medals - gold, silver and bronze.

We all love scorecards. . .especially when developed to our advantage.

Churches have scorecards as well. Whether total number of baptisms, church members, worship attendees, offerings, etc. we have always sought to find tangible things to count to determine how successful we are. While all these items are legitimate and if there is no growth in any of these, the reality is that the church (especially if an American church) is most likely plateaued or dying.

Yet, it must be remembered that in God's economy, the success of ministry is "graded" (if that's even the right word) by one thing primarily - made disciples.

The church was commissioned by Christ to . . .

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. - Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

Disciples are those who carry their cross daily, die to self and live centered upon the gospel with their "head, hands, and heart."

So, as we move forward as His church, intent on making disciples and seeing lives transformed by the power of the Spirit of God, let's keep our noses to the grindstone, stay on task, remain focused and "make disciples."

We'll leave the scorecard up to God.

May He find us faithful.

What The Church Must Learn From Saturn (The Car, Not the Planet)

I was asked to lead a conference for a local church and for a group in our state convention recently. The topic assigned was biblical leadership with a focus on leading with love. There are many leadership books available, and most of them are very good. One of the books I recently read focused on this topic is Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders by Joel Manby. Manby was featured in the television show "Undercover Boss" as he visited theme parks owned and managed by his business, Herschend Family Entertainment.

Saturn3One of his jobs prior to be CEO of Hershend, was at Saturn Car Company. As I read about his tenure at Saturn and some of the successes experienced there, my interest was piqued regarding this automobile division and why it no longer exists.

The more I read about Saturn, the more I recognized parallels to its demise and that of many churches and denominations in America. Perhaps, there are lessons to be learned from Saturn.

A Different Kind of Car Company

I remember when I first heard of Saturn. This new car division was developed by General Motors to be different. This was the first new car division in GM since Chevrolet was introduced in 1911. 

GM was facing a looming crisis, as were other American car companies. The Japanese cars were outselling American cars and with the recent history of the "energy crisis" more consumers were looking for higher quality, lower gas mileage vehicles.

So, as an experiment, GM management and UAW leaders locked arms (in a partnership many said could never occur) to create a "different kind of car company." The idea for Saturn was birthed in the mid-1980s and began to grow over the years. 

The factory where these vehicles were built would be managed differently. The sales process and the relationship with dealerships would be different.

Skip LeFauve, CEO of Saturn, gave these instructions to the new employees, "We want to change the poor reputation of the car-buying process. No more cheating the customer, no more dishonest tactics, no more wheeling and dealing. I want you all to treat the customer as if it was your own mother buying the car!"

Since most people really like their mother, this was definitely a "different kind of car company."

It seemed to work at first. Saturn cars sold well. Saturn owners loved their cars.

Saturn-homecoming-4In 1994, over 25,000 Saturn owners traveled to Spring Hill, Tennessee for the Saturn Homecoming. This is amazing! People drove from all over the nation to Tennessee to celebrate with each other the greatness of their new cars. There were concerts and games and gatherings and food. Sounds like "dinner on the grounds" at an exponential level. Apparently, these gathering took place over the years and the final tally by the end of 1999 was that over 100,000 people attended.

Within four years of the launch of this new division, Saturn. . .

  • Was number two in overall retail sales in America
  • Was number one in dealer satisfaction according to J.D. Power
  • Had the highest resale value of any car in any class
  • Had the highest customer-retention rate in the automobile industry
  • Had the highest sales per retailer of any brand in the industry

It's now 2014, and for the past five years there have been no new Saturns. General Motors closed down the division in 2009. 

So, what happened?

How could one of the brightest stars in the American automobile industries die and end up with closed down dealerships and support and repairs offered only through remaining GM brand dealerships?

Shut-down-saturn-dealer-1024x682Not So Different After All

There are many reasons, and they are layered, as you can probably guess. After reading blogs, forums, automotive industry updates and insight from others who know much more than I do about this subject, it seems there are two primary reasons why Saturn was doomed to fail. David Hanna writes about this for Forbes. (Click here to read more.) Here's what he surmised:

  1. General Motors began to insist that all automobile divisions be managed identically with a tight, central fist.
  2. General Motors and the United Auto Workers leadership insisted that Saturn get in line with traditonal ways of doing things.

Eventually the quality decreased and Saturn was "just another kind of car company." So much for "different."

No Church Plans to Fail

As I work with church planters, pastors and even leaders within the church where I serve, I see parallels to the Saturn model. 

I have yet to meet a church planter who desires to plant a church that will fail within five years. However, statistics remind us that church planting is difficult and, unfortunately, do not move beyond the five year mark. This is true especially if these new plants are "lone rangers" with no sending church support.

There are also many "established" churches that exist on the tithes from Social Security checks of members (did I just say that outloud?) but are anything but vibrant, missionally-engaged, Kingdom-growing fellowships. 

In these cases, it is still rare to find a pastor who is satisfied with those results.

We seek to see the Kingdom expand and life transformation take place in the lives of members and those in the community, but . . . too many churches are little more than a "Saturn." 

That's not a compliment.

Always the Same

When I was growing up, moving around the nation numerous times as the child of a career military man, I discovered quickly that just about every Southern Baptist Church (the denomination I am a part of) was the same. We used the same hymnal. We sang the same songs. We had the same schedule (9:45am on Sunday mornings was for Sunday School. 11am was for Morning Worship.) We used the same bulletins (produced by what was then called the Baptist Sunday School Board) with stories on the back and the weekly missionary photo provided so that we could draw beards and mustaches. The "order of worship" was pretty much the same as well. In our case, the churches we joined even had the same floorplan. Apparently, these were secured by the architectural department of the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay.)

Whether we were in Alaska, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennesse or Ohio, Baptist church life was pretty much the same. We were a homogenous bunch.

Different for a Difference

Over the past couple of decades, much change has taken place in the American church. This is true even in the Baptist tribe. Not to even get into the doctrinal idiosyncracies, but just by looking at the practical aspects of worship time, worship style, dress, music, instrumentation, Sunday school, small groups, missional engagement, community ministry, programming shifts, etc. there has been much change. Some for the better. Some. . .well, maybe not.

Nevertheless, the reality has set in for most. In order to reach a culture that is constantly in flux, the church must adjust how things are done. This raises red flags for many, but rest assured, I am not speaking of anything regarding the sanctity of doctrine, the Word of God, or those things that are timeless, never to change. (That had to be said, because many people hear what they like and run around angry and loud in protest.) 

While there are many churches that are different just for the sake of being different (which is pretty much a waste of time) there are many who have adjusted in areas that don't really matter to better engage a lost culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In these cases, being "different for a difference" should be celebrated.

"Different" Is Threatening

However, many who are secured in tradition (not biblical traditon, but cultural tradition) fear change. In truth, change is always scary. Why? Because no one knows if it will work or what the outcome will be. Sometimes we like sameness, even if it's ineffectual, just because of the comfort of knowing the result.

So, while church planters and those pastors who seek to risk doing things a little differently for the sake of the Gospel are often frowned upon by the establishment (and that may be denominational leadership, other pastors, or even some within his own fellowship) perhaps we should look to the Saturn case study and seek to avoid that which caused their downfall.

What was it again?

Oh yeah. . .it was fear and loss of power.

The management couldn't handle the risk of allowing a new way of doing things to become the norm. They were being pressured by those who were steeped in the old ways. Then, there was the insistence that the traditional way of doing things was the only way. 

Since GM and the UAW held the power, they implemented the changes that drew Saturn back into the fold as "just another car company" and . . . well, we see what happened.

What We Must Learn

There are churches and plants who do things differently and have terrible an flawed doctrine. In these casees, we shouldn't celebrate them. . .AT ALL. 

However, there are also those who do things dramatically different than my church, your church, or any other church does. In the midst of their "difference" they stand firmly on the Word of God, affirm the reality of His Truth, and never, ever shirk the teaching and preaching of the Bible. They teach and affirm that sin is real and that apart from Christ there is no hope.

In these cases. . .who cares if they're doing things differently. We should pray for them, support them and who knows. . . maybe even emulate them at times (BTW - emulate does not mean "copy." Know your culture and live contextually.)

Oh, and just so you know. . . I have never owned a Saturn. So, I'm not a car evangelist. Just saw some glaring comparisons in this story and others I'm living today.

It's Really More Than "Just a Game"

Last night I was taken back in time. I might as well have hopped into Doc Brown's DeLorean, engaged the flux capacitor and sped up to 88 mph. However, this journey didn't take place in the movies. It took place in a gymnasium.

424_2014_SENIORS2_copyI was sitting in the stands watching my son and his teammates (Fleming Island High School Golden Eagles) play their last basketball game of the season. For the seniors, like my son, it would be the last time they would be wearing the high school uniform and suiting up as a team. I could evaluate the game, but there's no need. Our team is good, but they weren't on last night and subsequently, when the final buzzer sounded, not only had the game ended, but so had their season.

This "time machine" took me back to a gymnasium in South Grand Prairie, Texas. It was February 1986 and I remember it like it was yesterday. Our high school team had made it to the state playoffs and all we had to do was win this game to get to the next step, which would require renting a charter bus and traveling from Fort Worth to Midland. This was a BIG DEAL! No team from our high school had ever made it that far.

We had already rented the bus.

We were mentally playing that next game in Midland.

There was only one problem. We hadn't yet beat South Grand Prairie.

And. . .we didn't.

The final buzzer sounded. It was surreal. I remember sitting on the bench at the end of the game, looking across that court with this unbelievable sadness engulfing me.

This was it.

I mentally knew that eventually this would end, but it just always seemed so far out there. It seemed unreal.

I know, it's part of growing up, but as I look back today, I can see why this was so difficult. 

For years I had been a basketball player. It comes with being taller than my peers. I was always asked "Hey, do you play basketball?"

I would proudly answer "Yes" and tell them my team name.

I played a couple of more years in college and eventually that ended as well, and once again, the flood of emotions came.

When the final buzzer sounded I was confused, sad and maybe a little depressed? Why? Part of it was due to the fact that when one is on a team (whether it be sports related or otherwise) there is a comaradarie that develops. While teammates may not be best friends, they have shared much together. This common sharing of games, wins, losses, practices, preparation, pep rallies, etc. creates a sense of brotherhood (or sisterhood if it's a ladies' team) that is unmatched in other venues. It's hard to explain, but if you have ever been on such a team, you understand.

For me, every season had an end, but this was different. No more would I don the uniform of this team. No more would I work with these guys for this common goal. This chapter was over.

Worst of all, I had so embraced the title "basketball player" that it had become my identity. Hey, I was only a teenager and labels come flying at you from all directions. This was mine and I was proud of it. However, that part of who I was was over. 

As a follower of Christ, I know (and continue to learn) that my identity is not based on what I do, where I live or a title given to me by others. My identity is "in Christ" alone. It's just that maturing to a place of understanding and embracing this reality takes time. I really didn't get that at seventeen.

So, as I watched my son's team finish off their season, I was proud of all they had accomplished. I am proud of our coach, Ivan Gunder, whom I call friend, for the mentoring and work he has done for these boys. At the same time, I was hurt. I was hurt for the coaches and the players. I saw tears well up in many of the boys' eyes (especially the seniors) and I knew what they were feeling. I was back at South Grand Prairie High School all over again.

Yes, for those who play the game, it's often more than "just a game." It's the end of an important chapter. Sure, it really is just a game in a sense, but not for these players. 

That's why it's so hard for many athletes to retire.

May these young men discover their identity in Christ and I pray they will one day be able to look back on this chapter in their life with no regrets.

You Already Have the Curriculum for a Small Group

Over the past few weeks a number of church members have contacted me regarding the small group strategy being implemented here at First. It's interesting in that the strategy we are birthing really isn't new. In fact, churches throughout the world have been hosting small group gatherings for centuries. Our own denomination has built thousands of churches on the Sunday School growth strategy ("A small group by any other name. . ." ) and we have seen great impact for the Kingdom over the years.

I grew up in an era of "Sunday School Revivals" and the teachings of Arthur Flake ("Flake's Formula"), Leon Kilbreth ("Mr. Sunday School.") and other giants of the church education movement in Southern Baptist life. Ministers of Education were experts on room size, training strategies and curriculum processes. While in seminary, I was in my element studying of educational strategies for churches. . .and loved with the folks from LifeWay would come to share.

You know what? I still believe in the principles of small group ministry. I believe in the value of gathering together as the church for the study of God's Word and the blessing of fellowship.  I am a beneficiary of  Sunday School and know personally how God has used it throughout the years.

EsplanadaHowever, I am also a realist and I recognize that Sunday School as defined by many as being the meetings at the church on Sunday mornings at 9:45am (Baptist Standard Time) before the morning worship service was common in most churches for years, is inefficient now for reaching our local and extended communities. Our communities have changed. Our mission field has changed. Therefore, our strategies must change.

In the era of the "church growth movement" many abandoned the concept of small group ministry. Greater emphasis was placed on the worship experience (and I'm okay with that) and the large gatherings to the detriment of the small group. We condemned the concept of consumer Christianity while at the same time building a machine that perpetuated it.

Even some of the mega-churches who were built on the seeker model now admit their mistake in avoiding the small group strategy. Attenders and members of churches were created, but perhaps not as many disciples as hoped. Don't get me wrong. Just because someone is in a small group does not mean they're a disciple, either. It's much deeper than attendance at any-sized event.

Nevertheless, in a changing world, the need for smaller gatherings remain. The fact of the matter is that unchurched people still will feel that most of our gatherings are awkward and will stay away intentionally. That is, until the Holy Spirit draws them and believers live out their faith in real and welcoming ways. Oh, and by the way, often the Holy Spirit will use believers as the tools of invitation and attraction to Himself. So. . .invite your friends to the appropriate gathering when you can.

As you know, we started a couple of small groups this year. This small group model is a little different than in the past. These new groups are not meeting on the church campus. They meet in area homes. The attendees are young adults and college students. They have a natural desire to gather together and have fun, and are truly seeking to know more about God and His plans for their lives.  In an environment outside the church building, they are discovering friends who wish to join them in this journey. Don't get me wrong, the majority of our groups are still "church people," but that is changing. They are gathering their unchurched friends.

Since there seems to be a buzz around these new home groups, the inevitable question about curriculum is surfacing.

"What curriculum are you using and where can I get a copy?"

Well, it's simple. The curriculum is the Bible alone. We're "storying" the Gospel. The answer to the next part of the question is "It's the Bible, so there's no additional booklet available to purchase."

It's becoming clear, in our groups and with those wishing to jump in and start new ones, that training people in this way of teaching is needed. We will soon be setting up a training session, but I fear people will view the way we teach as "oversimplified" or not deep enough. While that may be the case for some, what we're discovering is the simple teaching of the profound stories of the Gospel are powerful. A five minute lesson from the Bible leads to an hour of questions and discussion.

Somehow, I don't think God is threatened by these questions. 

As for leadership development - it's happening every week. Those in our groups, unknowingly, are being trained to be leaders of new groups. . .or just to talk with their friends at school or work about Christ. 

It's as if we're providing tools for these believers to use to engage our culture for Christ and impact the culture for the Kingdom.

It's easy. . . but very hard.

Sounds contradictory, right?

It's not. It's like most faith issues. It sounds so simple, but the step of faith required to enter into this story requires surrender and courage (another seemingly contradictory statement, I know.)

While missional communities are not the natural outgrowth of all small groups, our strategic purpose is ensure our groups develop into such. This is perhaps the most difficult challenge we face.

In the meantime, we will continue to meet together, invite friends, multiply new groups and grow through this journey. Our groups will stop meeting in May and take the summer off. The intent is to see dozens of groups birthed this fall as we story through the book of Acts.

Oh, and here's the thing that really confuses most people: If you're active in a small group in a home during the week, why are you still attending another small group on Sunday morning (or vice versa?) Really, does anyone really believe that they can invest in more than one small group community at a high level? Pick one to attend and grow through. When other groups are meeting on Sunday. . .go serve in another area of ministry. 

Radical, huh?


BTW - So far this year we have baptized six believers. Of those six, three are involved regularly in one of our new home groups and a few more are pending.