Amazon WarehouseYesterday I took our staff to tour the Amazon Fulfillment Center (it’s named “Phoenix 6″). “Fulfillment Center” sounds like a place where all your dreams would come true, but it’s really just a giant warehouse where Amazon orders are processed and shipped (maybe the same thing if you like shopping online).

It was amazing.

The first thing you notice is the size of the place. Ginormous.

We later learned that this center is 1.2 million square feet (just over 27 acres), stocks over 19 million items and has over 8 miles of conveyor belt zipping items around to be handled by the 1,500 “associates” who work there. This is one of 50 fulfillment centers Amazon has around the world and specializes in small to medium sized items (no big appliances or electronics here).

AmazonConveyerOur team loved it and would highly recommend you schedule a tour.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Communication and good signage are crucial. A warehouse that size is complicated and dangerous. To help people, there are signs everywhere. There’s even a whole section devoted to “team development,” which is largely focused on communication and creating signage. There are signs for everything: safety reminders, cultural values, right and wrong ways to do things, and wild statistics about the company.

Keeping people on the same page requires having good communication and visual cues that remind people about what’s important.

2. Sometimes efficiency requires disorganization. Besides the scope of the building, the most jaw-dropping part of the tour was seeing how items are stored in the warehouse. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/WIREDThere is literally zero organization to it. Items are not arranged by kind, name, or category. One compartment I looked at had a chocolate fountain, a cat toy, a Minecraft board game, and a few of the same book about American history — all next to each other.

Why? Well, Amazon has realized that the time it would take to organize all their incoming products would not be worth it and would actually slow them down. So the “stockers” just put stuff wherever it fits on the shelf and their computer system tracks where it is.

I’m still processing what the implications are for leadership in the church, but I think it means that sometimes we can get paralyzed by being organized and it actually slows down our effectiveness.

3. Well-designed systems are essential for growing organizations. Our tour demonstrated a profound achievement of computer programming. These systems track items, tell “pickers” where to find them, move items to the “packers,” and ensure that items get to the right place. Without these systems, Amazon could not process a fraction of the orders they do.

Similarly, growing churches need to be able to develop intentional processes to help ministry get done more effectively by more people.

AmazonPicker4. People are always essential. The computer systems are impressive and allow many things to get done well. But the Amazon warehouse demonstrated that you can’t replace people. Even in some of the other warehouses that have robots do some of the “picking,” they need humans to make intelligent decisions about what is needed.

In the same way, churches can never rely on systems and processes entirely. People are the glue that truly make things happen.

5. Good leadership invites everyone in the organization to take ownership. Many of the company culture signs I saw related to taking ownership. From day one, every full-time Amazon employee is given stock. Through Amazon’s Kaizen program, employees at all levels are invited to make suggestions on how to improve things.

If every good idea has to come from the top, an organization will be limited. But good leadership invites input and shaping from everyone.

Which of these lessons stands out to you the most? Why?

Gran TorinoAs the year ends, I’m marking the end of my first semester of seminary through the Missional Training Center. One of my assignments has been to pick a movie, and reflect on its strengths and weaknesses as a metaphor of the role and character of Jesus in the story of the Gospels. I picked Gran Torino.

I enjoyed Gran Torino the first time I saw it and now I enjoy it even more. Walt Kowalski is a kind of (surprising) Christ-figure and I got a kick out of analyzing him.

Here’s my 9-page paper, in case you want to read my analysis. The thesis is that Gran Torino thoughtfully explores a number of themes that also emerge in the Gospels like:

  1. true righteousness
  2. standing up for justice
  3. disciple-making
  4. sacrificial death
  5. resurrection
  6. the meaning of life and death.

Click here to read more.

I’m excited to participate as a panelist this Thursday for The Gospel Coalition Arizona’s one-day event focused on expository preaching. If you’re available, you should consider joining me.expp-tgcaz-slide2

I have valued expository preaching for many years. As a college student I grew immensely under faithful expository preaching. It was not only authoritative but also a helpful model for how to engage with the Scriptures on my own. So, when I became a preacher, I eagerly practiced expository preaching.

Over the years, I’ve read numerous books and heard many conference messages on the value of expository preaching. While these resources have been valuable, they often seem to be preaching to the choir. People who attend conferences put on by Desiring God, Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, Ligonier or 9 Marks tend to be people who already agree with these ministries’ approach to preaching.

So, when I read a book written by leaders from Willow Creek — the church that pioneered and popularized seeker-sensitive ministry — and heard them advocate for expository preaching, I was amazed.

The book was Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth. In it, Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson share their most significant insights about how people grow, based on research across five years, 1,000 churches and over 200,000 church attendees across all kinds of denominations and traditions. Move was filled with insightful lessons and is a must-read for anybody in pastoral ministry.

Hawkins and Parkinson identify five best-practices that were evident in all the churches that demonstrated the highest degree of spiritual growth. One of these best practices is “Embed the Bible in Everything.” The authors argue that while many churches believe the Bible is important, not all of them really make the Bible part of everything they do.

This diagnosis didn’t surprise me, but the prescription shocked me. According to Hawkins and Parkinson, what is a key strategy for churches to help people love the Scriptures?

“Make the Bible the main course of the message. While there is great debate over the most effective way to teach God’s Word, a number of best-practice churches lean toward the expository-teaching style… The most important takeaway about teaching from best-practice pastors is that they all start the preparation of their messages with Scripture… Their starting point is the Word, followed by application to the world.”

There it is. Leaders from Willow Creek advocating for expository preaching. How could this be? I kept reading and it made more sense.

After hundreds of thousands of surveys, do you know what was the #1 factor in spiritual growth was for people across the spectrum of spiritual experience?

Engaging personally with the Bible.

Furthermore, do you know what was the #1 thing people said they wanted from their church?

“Help me understand the Bible in depth.”

Of course, expository preaching isn’t the only way to help people engage personally with the Bible or understand it in depth. But it is a proven way that, perhaps, you should consider.

Like many people, I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love all that it allows me to do. I hate how much control I let it have over my life. So when a friend told me about the possibility of creating a distraction free iPhone, I was intrigued.

distraction-free iphone

Image Credit: Lifehacker

So I looked up the article about it and decided to try it for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, I liked it enough to try it for another week.
Now, almost two weeks later, I don’t see myself going back any time soon.

I still have quite a few apps on my phone, but the big distractors are gone: email, web browser, Facebook, Twitter, news apps, and Feedly (an RSS reader).

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. I have much less self-control than I think (i.e. systems trump intentions).

When it comes to technology, I can be the self-delusional addict who says, “I can quit at anytime.” Not true. If email is accessible, I will check it. If Twitter is on my phone, I will open it.

2. My default became to reach for the phone in any downtime.

It’s been amazing how many times I’ve reached for my phone in the last week — not because I really needed something, but because it had become habit. This often happens when I’m waiting for something or when, at a restaurant, the person I’m with goes to the restroom. Having a distraction free iPhone has slowly begun to change this habit.

3. My life isn’t any worse without constant social media and news updates.

Despite it’s many dangers, social media has a valuable place. I appreciate how it connects me with people. But I don’t need it all the time. This past week has shown me that my life isn’t any worse without constant updates. I don’t miss anything really important. I can still check these things and stay connected when I’m on my computer, but I don’t need it 24/7.

4. I feel more present.

This really is the main reason why I wanted to try a distraction free iPhone. I want to be more truly present around people I love, especially my family. I want my kids to know that they are more important than your Facebook update. I don’t want to be a slave to looking up whatever crosses my mind. I want to more fully engage in in-the-room relationships, and this is helping.

Will this last?

Good question. I don’t have any plans to go back. Interestingly, Jake Knapp (the author of the original post) just wrote an update, “My Year With the Distraction-Free iPhone,” and he’s sticking with it.

What do you think? Have you tried anything like this? If so, let me know.


This past Monday was a special day for our family. Next week our second daughter begins Kindergarten, so it was the perfect time for her to experience her first rite of passage.

Simply defined, a rite of passage is “a ceremony or event marking an important stage in someone’s life.”

rite of passage

Chef David Traina talks with Caitlin about creativity

For our family, I’m thinking to create special experiences at 4 key stages in our kids’ lives:

1. Beginning school — preparing for a life of learning.
2. Turning 10 — preparing for a life of purity.
3. Turning 13 — preparing for a life of decisions.
4. Turning 18 — preparing for a life on your own.

So far, we’ve taken our two oldest daughters through #1 (more details below). It’s been wonderful so far, and I’m looking forward to how God will use the experiences to come.

Why Rites of Passage?

1. Special moments deserve special attention. These key transition moments should be celebrated and enjoyed in intentional ways.

2. Big moments create meaningful memories. We tend to remember more when something is a big deal. Thus, rites of passage are wonderful opportunities to shape our kids with important lessons through special memories. These memories also create markers that can be referred to in the future.

3. Rites of passage force parental intentionality. Thinking through a special experience devoted to celebrating and forming our children requires intentional thinking about who are kids are and what lessons we hope to impart. This kind of intentionality is tough in day-to-day life.

4. They are fun! That’s a pretty good reason.

How to do Rites of Passage

1. Decide when is appropriate. My moments are above, but yours may be different. Think about your family and decide what’s best.

2. Determine what you hope to communicate. Each rite of passage experience should be fun, but it should also be formative. For our kids pre-kindergarten experiences, we decided we wanted to share with them four important lessons they would need for their entire life of learning. While there was some overlap, we customized these lessons to the needs of our specific kids.

We wanted our oldest to learn:

(1) Endurance — being able to keep going when something is difficult.

(2) Fun — enjoying what you are experiencing.

(3) Courage — doing something you are afraid of.

(4) Trust God — believing God loves you and will take care of you.

For our second daughter, we kept lessons #1 and #4 but changed the others to better fit her needs:

(2) Teamwork — depending on other people who can help you.

(3) Creativity — using your imagination to create new things.

3. Design the experience. Figure out what kind of experiences (a) are reasonable to do, (b) would communicate creatively, and (c) sound fun. The experience need not be expensive, though it might be worth it if you’re only doing a few in a kids’ lifetime.

For our kids’ pre-kindergarten experiences, we created an experience that would correspond to each lesson we were hoping to teach. As you can see, some were more involved than others:

(1) Endurance — a morning hike up “A” mountain in Tempe. Quite a feat, especially with no complaining.

(2a) Fun — swimming at Mesquite Groves Aquatic Center, a local pool with a small water park.

(2b) Teamwork — a blindfolded obstacle course through a local playground/park, directed by the voice of sister, mom and dad. Also, a 300 piece puzzle that required help.

(3a) Courage — a horseback riding experience with an acquaintance who was so gracious and kind.

(3b) Creativity — a backstage kitchen tour with our friend, Chef David Traina, at Liberty Market followed by a chance to create her own pizza.

(4) Trust God — a “real” Bible, with name engraved.

As you design the experience, think about the people you know, resources you have, and places you could go. Also, for both #3 lessons, I found that people were eager to help us create these experiences with limited cost once they heard what it was about.

4. Deepen the lessons with reminders. Because these moments are so memorable, they provide many opportunities to remind and reinforce the lessons. Even today we can say to our oldest, “Remember when you rode that horse and needed courage? Here’s another chance to be courageous.”

It’s quite likely that not everyone would enjoy something like this. It fits my entrepreneurial, learning-driven personality really well. We have a blast doing it. That said, rites of passage are not a moral imperative. They also are not a golden bullet that are guaranteed to produce some particular result. But so far, they’ve been a lot of fun!

What are some ideas you have for rites of passages?


matt walshI cringe when I see friends post and share links to Matt Walsh’s blog. Not because I’ve never posted cringe-worthy stuff — I’ve done plenty, even recently. But I cringe because I think Matt Walsh’s writing is usually bad for the soul.

And I’m concerned that he may not be having a good effect on people I love and respect.

If you’re not familiar with Matt Walsh, he’s a young, conservative, religious blogger whose specialty is 1,200+ word diatribes about social issues. He’s kind of a young, male, religious version of Ann Coulter.

While Walsh is articulate and makes a number of points I agree with, here are three reasons why I believe the overall effect of his work is soul-shrinking.

1. Walsh’s writing lacks the fruit of the Spirit, especially love.

With the possible exception of faithfulness, the majority of Walsh’s writing lacks the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

In particular, Walsh’s tone rarely reflects the supreme Christian virtue of love. Now, he would likely disagree and say that it’s loving to point out error, and I agree that it is (which is why I’m writing this). But it’s unloving to point out error in a way that is unloving.

It’s a bit like the street-preacher I witnessed in college who–when challenged by a gay activist about love–shouted, “I do love you, you miserable wretch!”

Consider these Biblical passages and ask whether love matters:

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2 ESV)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5 ESV)

For a Christian to imbibe and celebrate arguments that reflect truth but almost completely lack grace runs contrary to the goal of spiritual growth (love) and the model of Jesus (John 1:14).

[Note: I’m not saying that Walsh lacks the fruit of the Spirit in his personal life–I don’t know him. I’m only discussing the tone of his writing.]

UPDATE: One reader wondered if I could cite any specific examples. Here’s one: In a recent post titled, “Police officers aren’t the ones destroying the black community,” Walsh criticized somebody as “a ridiculous fool,” “a liar,” and “a lunatic” with “an enormous dose of idiocy.” This name-calling is mean-spirited and harsh.

2. Walsh’s specialty is making a point rather than a difference.

Andy Stanley was the first person I heard say, “It’s always easier to make a point than it is to make a difference.”

Christians are invited to make a difference in this world. We are adopted by the Father, justified by the Son and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. We are loved with excessive, scandalous, prodigal grace. This propels us to offer our lives as living sacrifices to God, living in ways that are transformed by him rather than conformed to the world. Through love, service and relationship we have an opportunity to make a difference.

Or we can just make a point.

Matt Walsh is all about making a point. And, often, his point is a good one.

My concern is that in an increasingly divided ideological world — where we can always find somebody to listen to who we agree with — Christians will follow Matt Walsh’s lead, thinking that as long as they said the right thing they were faithful, even though little difference is made.

Rather than Walsh’s model, we should follow the Apostle Paul’s instruction:

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:23-26 ESV)

Note that this doesn’t mean criticism (“correcting opponents”) is bad itself. It means that correcting opponents in a quarrelsome, unkind way is a problem.

3. Walsh’s blog confirms all the suspicions skeptics have toward Christians.

In his book, unChristian, David Kinnaman lists the assumptions that many non-Christian people have about Christians that–according to them–make Christianity less desirable:

  • Christians are hypocritical
  • Christians don’t have meaningful relationships with non-Christians
  • Christians are antihomosexual
  • Christians are sheltered from the world
  • Christians are too political
  • Christians are too judgmental

Whether Christians agree about these perceptions, they exist. And Matt Walsh’s tone plays right into every one.

As one thoughtful reviewer suggested, image-management isn’t really the primary goal Christians should have. No matter how faithfully we follow Jesus, we will always be misunderstood and misrepresented.

Nonetheless, Christians should know that publicly sharing Walsh’s posts will likely decrease, rather than increase, the effectiveness of their witness. If you have skeptical friends who follow you online (like I do), sharing articles that lack love and make a point instead of a difference will not help influence friends the way you might think.


Adults will read and share what they want. I have no interest in policing the media that people consume, like and promote. But as a pastor who wants to see Christians grow in their love and make a greater difference in a skeptical world, I’m concerned that reading Matt Walsh will be counter-productive.

Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Read the lessons from Day 1 here.

Day 2 of the Global Leadership Summit was great. Because of some other commitments, I was only able to attend the afternoon — but it was still worthwhile. In fact, my 8 year old daughter joined me for the afternoon and asked if she could come to the whole thing next year because it was so interesting. Below are the lessons from Day 2.

leadership summit


#1 – The western church has something to learn from the rest of the world — after all, it’s bigger.

“Thank you for being humble enough to listen to the voices from the majority world.”

#2 – Leadership inevitably involves power. What matters is whether you use the power to serve others.

“There is no leadership without power. Great leaders hold a scepter in one hand an a towel in the other.”



#1 – Attitude matters more than talent.

Better to pass over the most qualified person with a bad attitude and take the less qualified person with the best attitude.

#2 – Forgiveness is harder than people make it sound.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy to experience abuse and betrayal and the same amount of energy to forgive the abuser—you can’t just flip a switch.

#3 – Laughter is a huge leadership asset.

You can use laughter as anesthesia to prepare for the real message.

#4 – God is with you even when there is criticism.

“The Bible says that God prepares blessing in the presence of our enemies. So when I’m criticized, I just think, ‘OK, watch me eat.'”

*Note: This session was the surprise highlight of the event for me. I was really impressed by Tyler Perry and it made me want to watch more of his work.



#1 – God works despite our uncertainty and incompetence.

“Just because I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have something amazing planned.”

#2 – It’s often more helpful to focus on the next step than the whole journey.

“You don’t have to know everything about how to get up the mountain, you just need to take a next step.”

I’m thankful to the folks at Central Christian Church for hosting a terrific event and for their generosity in allowing me to attend. If you ever get a chance to attend the Global Leadership Summit, you should.

Had a great day yesterday at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. It’s a fantastic event and I’m thankful for the hosts of our closest Summit location extending me an invitation and paying my way. Below are the lessons from my three favorite sessions on Day 1.

leadership summit


Lesson #1 — The spirit of the team is more important than the power of the vision.

“Your culture will only ever be as healthy as the senior leader wants it to be.”

Lesson #2 — Great leadership is, by definition, relentlessly developmental.

When is the last time you’ve assigned a young leader to an important task to test and invest in them?

Lesson #3 — You must learn to discern between hirelings and owners.

Owners will care about the culture, endure the rough patches, think about long-term financial viability, develop leaders—because they care about the long-term vision.

Lesson #4 — Endure

We get one shot at this thing called life. Our lives are the dash between the two dates on our headstone. You can live and lead small, safe, selfishly. Or you can choose to pursue a bigger vision for the good of others that leaves something beautiful behind.


#1 — Ministry isn’t the only meaningful way to impact the world.

“Your vocation can become a viable vehicle to advance the meaningful truths of live.”

#2 — I can’t claim to have God’s heart and do nothing for the least of these.

“The blessing of God is not meant to be hoarded but shared.”



Mistake #1 — Becoming a leader for the wrong reasons.

We should want to lead because we want to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, even if we don’t know there will be a return on investment.

Mistake #2 — Failing to embrace vulnerability.

People don’t expect us to be perfect, but they do expect us to be human. You have to be more vulnerable as a pastor because the cost of people not trusting you is so high.

Mistake #3 — Making leadership too important.

Our identity can get wrapped up in being a leader and overshadow who we really are.

At the center of these dangerous mistakes is PRIDE.

Which of these lessons is the most intriguing for you?


how do people really growEvery pastor wonders how much difference he is making. I’m no different. I want to know to what degree my personal ministry, as well as our church’s ministry, is really helping people grow in their faith. I ask questions like:

  • Are we truly making disciples or are we just keeping people active?
  • Does activity/participation = growth?
  • Which of our ministries is most effective/ineffective at helping people grow?
  • How do we help all these people that are in such different places?

This summer I read Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth by Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, and I realized I’m not the only one who asks those kinds of questions. Move is about the lessons from a research project that studied over 1,000 churches by surveying over 200,000 congregants about their spiritual life and development.

As a pastor committed to helping people grow spiritually, I loved the book. It confirmed some of my convictions, surprised me about some of my false assumptions, and challenged me in a few crucial areas.

Confirmation of Convictions

Move affirmed a few of my convictions about ministry. I’ll list these confirmations and provide a quote for each one. PLEASE read the quotes. They’re excellent.

1. People want to be challenged. I’ve seen people respond to challenge time and again.

“Nothing is more indicative of high-impact, discipling churches than a ‘go-for-broke’ challenge factor.” 

2. The Bible is hugely important for spiritual growth. Duh. But, I guess, it’s amazing how many churches don’t really engage people with the Bible. The authors write:

“The most effective strategy for moving people forward in their journey of faith is biblical engagement.”

3. People need different things at different stages of their spiritual life. As nice as one-size-fits-all approaches are for church leadership, they aren’t good for people.

What people need in order to grow closer to Christ depends on where they are now in their relationship with him.” 

4. Christians must have personal time with God in order to grow. Great church programs make little difference if a person isn’t spending time with Jesus.

“Nothing has a greater impact on spiritual growth than reflection on Scripture. If churches could do only one thing to help people at all levels of spiritual maturity grow in their relationship with Christ, their choice is clear. They would inspire, encourage, and equip their people to read the Bible—specifically, to reflect on Scripture for meaning in their lives.”

Surprises (Refuting My Assumptions)

Move also surprised me in a few key areas and refuted my assumptions. Again, please read the quotes.

1. Participation in church activities does not necessarily lead to increased spiritual maturity. Most church leaders assume that if we just get people active, they’ll grow. But, in reality, they’ll only grow to the degree that these activities help them develop a personal relationship with Jesus.

All of our findings are derived from one essential fact: that spiritual growth—defined as an increase in love of God and for others—is not a product of growing participation in church activities or changes in lifestyle or the result of our natural aging process. Rather, spiritual growth advances in lockstep with a growing personal relationship with Christ.” 

2. Organized small groups are more catalytic for people early on and less so later on. This shocked me philosophically, but not experientially. The longer you walk with Jesus, the less you need the organized small group because you have meaningful Christian relationships in real life.

“When we apply our context of human relationships to these findings, it makes perfect sense that organized activities become less important. The closer you are to someone—the more likely you are to depend on them to process your life issues—the less important organized settings tend to be. While you may have formed the relationship in a structured experience—in the workplace, perhaps, or at a neighborhood gathering—that setting is typically a springboard for the relationship, not something required to sustain it.”

3. Serving is the only organized church activity that moves people across all stages of their development. I wasn’t surprised that serving grows people. I was surprised that it was the only organized thing that helped everybody.

Interestingly, serving experiences appear to be even more significant to spiritual development than organized small groups…The implication for church leaders is that we must encourage people to serve—in any capacity, in whatever valid opportunity their gifts and interests lead them to.”

4. Churches need to promote and provide a high-expectation, non-negotiable, senior-pastor-owned pathway of first-steps designed to jumpstart people’s spiritual growth. Rather than just throwing people in the game, churches need to have some basic introductory experience that gets people moving in the right direction.

The military uses boot camp to turn civilians into soldiers. Baseball uses spring training to test new players and try them out in different positions. Many colleges require freshmen to attend orientation week so they can become familiar with their new environment and a new set of expectations. These short-term launching pads into life experiences are analogous to the first best practice found among the most spiritually effective churches in the REVEAL database. They get people moving by providing a high-challenge, nonnegotiable path of first steps to engage people in a process of spiritual growth—a process that will ultimately lead them to become followers of Jesus Christ.”

Challenges I Needed

Finally, Move challenged me in a few key areas. These were things that I knew were important but, for various reasons, had forgotten how crucial they were.

1. The #1 priority of the senior leader(s) must be to make disciples. More than attendance, numerical growth, personal platform, cultural influence, or anything else. This seems obvious, but it’s not. After leading a church for 5+ years, many other things compete for #1 priority. Move challenged me to refocus on what church is all about — making disciples.

Five years of research findings point us to one singular conclusion—that the most essential decision a church leader makes is not what kind of worship service to offer or what kind of small-group system to build. It’s the decision to lead his or her church with an unyielding and unequivocal commitment to a very easy-to-say, very hard-to-accomplish goal—which is, to do whatever is humanly possible to move people’s hearts toward Christ.”

2. The senior leader(s) must have a white-hot relationship with Jesus. Duh, again. But it was a challenge I needed to hear. Nothing would serve our church more than me having a vibrant relationship with Christ.

You cannot reproduce in others what you are not producing in yourself. The main thing you need to do—the one thing you must do—is fully within your reach. You must surrender all.”

You can try other paths, find a new strategy, perhaps, or hire some really talented staff members. But in the end, if your church is not led by people completely devoted to Jesus—people who prioritize their relationship with him above everything else—it will not work. It will not produce life. It will not change the world.”


I thank God for Move. It came just at the right time with a number of fresh insights and important reminders. It will bear fruit in my life and the church. While it’s probably not the kind of book that most Christians will find too interesting, it’s a must-read for senior leaders in a local church.


I’ve been teaching a Preaching Lab this summer, where a bunch of men and women are learning the basics of preaching and then preaching a practice sermon. This week one of the participants asked me a good question about the sermon prep process and sermon notes, and I thought I’d share my answer.

Q: When you prepare your sermon, do you rehearse it, if so, how many times, and what does that look like? Is it a “full dress rehearsal”? Do you record or time yourself to make sure you hit all points in allotted time? Or is it more like a rough rehearsal and run through of your outline with guesstimations and or experienced gauging of each point? I think I struggle with this most, because if I just use outline as a backbone, I tend to go over time, but if I stick to notes, I feel stifled and like I’m reading cue cards. Just wondering what your prep looks like.

A: What I do now is very different from where I started and I don’t think I could do what I do now without starting how I started.

When I first got into preaching, I was expected by those who trained me to write out a full manuscript of the message. I didn’t necessarily have to preach from the manuscript, but I had to write it out. This was helpful because it forced me to organize my thoughts, see if they were clear, and think through smooth transitions. It was also helpful because I could read it out loud and gauge how long the sermon would be.

The challenge, however, was that I would often read big chunks from the manuscript during the sermon itself, which is disengaging.

I’ve always admired guys who can preach without notes (Robert Gelinas is one of my favorites). I think it’s more engaging and feels more authoritative, like you really know what you’re talking about.

So one time, about 7-8 years ago, I decided I wanted to try giving a message with zero notes. I figured I would either bomb or it would go well. The fear of bombing and freezing on stage with nothing to say drove me to really get to know the message. So I read the manuscript out loud multiple times, with an almost preaching voice. I created a simple, memorable outline and spent a lot of time learning it. Not memorizing words (I didn’t want to just recite it), but getting so familiar with the content that I could just talk about it.

Thankfully, I didn’t bomb and a number of close friends said it was the best sermon I had given to that point. The lessons were (a) the fewer notes the better and (b) I needed to get to know the content better if I was going to be effective.

When I started preaching weekly in 2009, I tried to do this same basic approach. However, I found that with the other time demands of church planting, getting to zero notes was really hard. So I would write out a manuscript and then turn it into a short, 1 page preaching outline. Over time, I stopped writing out the manuscript and just develop a preaching outline, typically anywhere between 1-3 pages (see an example here). I still work to know the big points and illustrations well so that I don’t have to be too tied to notes. Some messages are better than others.

As far as time and rehearsal, this also has adapted over time. I’ve had times when I’ve “preached to the empty seats” as a way to run things through ahead of time. Nelson Searcy says this “doubles the effectiveness of your preaching.” I still do this sometimes, but usually only if it’s a message that I don’t feel as comfortable with either because I think it’s going to be too long and I need to gauge what to cut or if it’s a particularly tricky message that I want to be sure to get right. For instance, when I preached on homosexuality last year I did a full run-through on stage with the staff in the room to practice and get feedback.

Time is one of those things that I have a feel for from lots of repetition. I can usually gauge about how long it will be from my notes. For somebody without as much experience, the best way to gauge time is to either read the manuscript or practice the sermon.

Nonetheless, it should be noted that I do still struggle to stay within the time (our worship leader could tell you, since we sometimes have to cut a song). Also, I tend to go longer on the second sermon than the first, partly because I think of more things to say and also because there’s a little more flexibility without another service coming. That said, I think around 35-40 minutes is a sweeter spot for me. My favorite preachers usually go about 35 minutes and I’m not as good as them. As Justin Anderson has said, “Sermons are not measured in minutes. They are measured in minutes beyond interest.” I’d rather go shorter and really pack a punch than ramble on. But sometimes I like to hear myself talk.

Hope this helps.

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