Category Archives: General

My Story of Sifting

I am in Orlando this week for Exponential. The theme this year is Sifted and and they have been publishing some great stories leading up to the conference.


Here is mine:


I said yes to the invitation to plant a church in 1991; I was 26 years old. I was more enthusiastic than experience and was more passionate than prepared. I have had many years to reflect on my experience and I believe two things shaped my sifting.


The first issue was spiritual. I thought I was planting a church for God, instead of understanding that God was building his church through me. Without question I had a pride problem, but mostly I had an identity problem. My self esteem was tied to my performance as a planter and thus rose and fell with every win and every loss. If you’ve planted a church you know there are lots of losses, so I spent a lot of time trying drag myself out of the “woe is me” pit of despair.


The second issue was cultural. I thought if we built it they would come – by the hundreds! My pride probably contributed to that idea, but so did the stories I heard. You don’t read a lot about the church plant that grows to 100 people, but that is normal. You do read all the time about new churches that start with hundreds and grow to thousands. That’s exciting, but it is also exceptional – or maybe it would be better to say abnormal.


God did grow his church, but people came one by one, most with hurts and struggles, and many finding faith and following Jesus for the very first time. I smile every time I think of any one of them. However, at the time, my unrealistic expectations for growth combined with my misplaced identity led me to an unhealthy drive to constantly do more.


After 6 years I was burnt out mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I resigned my role as pastor and took a job managing a retail store. God used that short season to show me who I was and how I could best use my gifts on mission with Him.


Gratefully, he is a God of second chances (and third and fourth and …) It’s now been over 20 years since I took that leap of faith into church planting. I’ve never regretted it, or the sifting God led me through. It is a great privilege today to develop, encourage and train church planters around the world. If that’s where you find yourself, be faithful. He who began a good work in you (and through you) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Jaxton’s Story

Exponential is running a really helpful series of stories on sifting.
A recent post featured ELI Cultivate planters Josh and Lisa Husmann.  God
has used them to  plant a great church, Mercy Road, in the
Indianapolis area.

In the process God also gave them Jaxton, whose very
short life was used in very unexpected ways.  Josh and Lisa’s faithfulness is
a great testimony.  You can read the story here and watch the video


Spiritual Formation

What is a simple, repeatable, transferable and meaningful way to communicate the most important concepts for spiritual formation as a Christ follower? We have been using the term, “the way of Christ,” for spiritual formation at Gateway Church for a number of years.  Jesus invites people to not only ‘believe’ in Him but to follow in His ways. The early disciples were called followers of the Way (Acts 9:2).


Way of Christ

We define four aspects of the “way of Christ” to bring a simplicity to people’s experience of what a life of following Jesus looks like. The four aspects of the way of Christ are; Love God (GOD), Build Character (ME), Love People (YOU), and Be the Body (WE).


Jesus, himself, tried to simplify the Law in his teaching by boiling it down to two points – Love God and Love your Neighbor.  I don’t think Jesus meant to minimize his full teachings through his summary statement (Matt 22:36-39) but rather as a statement of clarity, simplicity and transferability of the big idea.


Power of an Image – Icon

I am learning about the power of icons and symbols as the means of portability of an idea or language. Icons provide a representative symbol for something. It provides easier memory recall. I am trying to add an icon to the spiritual formation language that is already present in our church culture, “the way of Christ.”   I want the language to be more memorable, repeatable, and transferable.


I am hoping the icon of an X allows these four aspects of the “way of Christ” to be quickly recalled for an individual, a Small Group or a Network about what God is up to and discern where they are going next.
An X gives a framework for the “way of Christ” that allows us to centrally remember that the work of the church is first and foremost about Jesus at the center and that only through Him do these four aspects connect with each other.



GOD – Love God

The greatest commandment given to us by Jesus himself. Loving God is about recognizing the priorities in our life that have squeezed God out of the center in the way we live. Living out the greatest commandment is the process of putting God as our first love and priority in life. Jesus says the greatest commandment quite simply is to:

“’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’” Matthew 22:36-38


ME – Build Character

Without a doubt, most of us look at ourselves and desire varying degrees of change. We see anxiety where we want peace. We see fear where we want courage. We see addiction where we want self-control. Transformation happens not by applying the latest self-help fad but by understanding and implementing the full richness of inner life change at a heart level. Jesus produces this change in each of us by his power and influence on our heart and ultimately resulting in changed behaviors.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23


YOU – Love People

Truth be told, relationships bring about the best and worst of life. Our greatest joys consistently involve people. Our greatest pains consistently involve people. How does love for God impact and influence our love for people? Christ gave two great commandments. First, we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And second, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Life is rich when we increasingly practice truly loving people—not put up with people, not walk over people, not use people or avoid people—but truly love people.

“’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied …. And the second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:36-39


WE – Be the Body

The world is a beautiful place, but it is also a broken place. How can we, with our limited time and resources, really make a difference together in a world overflowing with needs? As a community of Christ followers we are liberated by a love for God, set free from enslavement to living for instant gratification or the accumulation of things, and can passionately pour love and grace into the world around us. Astounding things happen when followers of Christ discover their spiritual gifts and mobilize into action by partnering with the body of Christ around them.

“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”  Romans 12:4-6


Way of Christ – Holistic Spiritual Formation

We know the current realities of church language.  We are about community.  Or we are about mission.  Or we are about the gospel. Or we are about the Bible. This is all useful language, especially when creating higher value priorities for a church to give intentional focus for its people.

The reality is we must holistically go and make disciples.  I like the “way of Christ” language because it has holistic aspects that are critical for spiritual formation in individuals, Small Groups and medium sized Networks.


Multiplying X

An X is one image, the simple crossing of your fingers, that can give a clear grid of thinking about:

  • GOD | Who is God (his attributes and my relationship with Him through Jesus)
  • ME | Who am I (as an identity and growing character)
  • YOU | What am I/We Doing on in Life and Mission Together (to love our neighbors)
  • WE | Who are We (as a community with gifts in the body)

An X is a symbol for multiplication.  I want these core aspects to be simple, repeatable and transferable so that multiplying generations of disciples can be intentional about growth in the “way of Christ.”

What are the most common icons and language in your church or ministry setting that are sticky?  Are you seeing them get passed down to multiplying generations simply and easily?  Why or why not?

Going the Distance

Guest Post: Ken Cochrum writes about practical leadership at

By just about any measure, the Apostle Paul’s commitment to go to whatever lengths were necessary to bring the gospel to those who had not heard was remarkable.

Roland Allen, Anglican missionary to North Africa and China, explains: “In little more than ten years St Paul established the Church in four provinces of the [Roman] Empire, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Before AD 47 there were no churches in these provinces; in AD 57 St Paul could speak as if his work there was done.”[1]

Paul’s primary calling and burden was to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to win as many Jews or Gentiles as possible (1 Cor. 9:19-22), and to press on to locations where Christ had not yet been named (Rom. 15:20-21). His ultimate goal was to plant churches by laying a foundation as a skilled master builder, thus leaving behind a healthy growing community of new believers in each location who were grounded in theology and the ethics of the law-free gospel (1 Cor. 3:6, 10; 9:10).

The vast distances and long periods of time required for Paul and his co-laborers to travel as the Spirit led them are impressive. Barry Beitzel beautifully captures the distance leadership challenge they surmounted:

The distances traveled by the apostle Paul are nothing short of staggering. In point of fact, the New Testament registers the equivalent of about 13,400 airline miles that the great apostle journeyed; and if one takes into account the circuitous roads he necessarily had to employ at times, the total distance traveled would exceed that figure by a sizable margin. Moreover it appears that the New Testament does not document all of Paul’s excursions. For example, there seems to have been an unchronicled visit to Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:14; 13:1); he refers to shipwrecks of which we have no record (2 Corinthians 11:25); and there was his desire to tour Spain (Romans 15:24, 28), though it is still debated whether or not he ever succeeded in that mission. Considering the means of transportation available in the Roman world, the average distance traveled in a day, the primitive paths, and rugged sometimes mountainous terrain over which he had to venture, the sheer expenditure of the apostle’s physical energy becomes unfathomable for us. Many of those miles carried Paul through unsafe and hostile environs largely controlled by bandits who eagerly awaited a prey (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:26). Accordingly, Paul’s commitment to the Lord entailed a spiritual vitality that was inextricably joined to a superlative level of physical stamina and fearless courage.[2]

The table below details the extent of Paul’s travels to many of the places he visited.

Table Source: Adapted from Eckhard J. Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 122.

Paul was able to cover extraordinary distances given the limitations in transportation at the time.  His willingness to endure the hardships of travel to influence as many as possible for the gospel allowed him to make an incredible impact for the kingdom in his time on earth. That is some serious self-leadership.

What motivates you to go the distance?


[1] Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1962), 3.

[2] Barry J. Beitzel, The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), 176-177. Quoted in Charles R. Swindoll, Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing Group, 2002), 142.

Culture Creation

Creating the right culture is the most important task leaders can undertake to reach a broken, post-Christian society, and yet often we give culture creation very little mental effort.  In fact, because culture is largely unseen, we are mostly unaware of the cultural soil we have created in our churches, small groups, or ministries.

This explains why several churches may be trying to reach the same group with the same methods, but one just “feels” completely different than the other.  That intangible “feel” is the culture.

I became aware of this through Gabriella, a spiritually curious young woman who wrote to me about her past attempts of going to church:  

“I feel so much guilt and always feel like I just don’t belong.  So it was a very big step to walk into your church this past Sunday.  I have to say I was very welcomed by everyone, and I loved the service and teaching.  I just wanted to thank you and the staff for creating such a warm and loving environment for people to open up to even hear the message, knowing that whatever level they’re coming in at is okay—they’ll be loved for who they are!  I know with any organization that attitude comes from the top and is duplicated by the whole organization, which can be good or bad, but yours is GREAT!”

She had only been once!  Curious visitors pick up on culture in a church immediately, though it may be imperceptible to members.  Culture makes all the difference in the world in a post-Christian society.  This is why effective leadership must be synonymous with creating the right culture.  This is the glue that holds any organization together.  Culture creation forms the texture of relational life and community in a local church.

The outcome of an effective culture is an engaging BODY–a community of faith that God uses to transform individuals, neighborhoods, cities, and societies – the invisible God made visible through us. But it’s messy. How do you create culture?

  1. Leadership Mindset – How leaders think about themselves and the church creates the core from which the culture grows.  What picture do the leaders have in their heads of what Christ’s body looks and feels like, when we meet – in the lobby, in community, in the world?  How you think about Christ’s church will reflect how you teach and talk.  Are you living out the Way of Christ—are your unchurched friends becoming the church and the leaders of the church? Do you live out the values of a Biblically functioning community, loving one another?  Culture starts with how we think about ourselves and the church, and who it’s really for.
  2. Training & Values – How are you equipping your leaders to live out your values? Your front line leaders are the ones who most shape the culture, even more than what is said or done up front.
  3. Visionary Story-telling – What gets communicated over and over? What stories get told to reinforce what the church is about?  How are people supposed to act? Often you have to tell them who you are through the stories you tell, before they start becoming the church.
  4. Organization – If the church is an organism, the Body of Christ, it must function in a coordinated way.  Lack of organization hinders the Body from expressing itself in a diversity of unified parts.  Organization that’s too rigid doesn’t allow the flexibility the Body needs to fully express itself. Organization helps us live out the cultural values we claim to hold dear.  If we can’t help everyone get involved as the Body, the culture suffers.