The Bishop and the Singer

After seeing headlines all weekend saying “Bishop Apologizes for touching Ariana Grande,” I watched the video. 

I am angry.

I am frustrated.

There are a number of things this brought up for me…

1) The bishop’s behaviour was completely inappropriate. To watch a person treated that way by a someone claiming* to represent God…how does that not make you angry? How does that not make you grieve? (I am not calling into questions this person’s faith. I don’t know them. But in this incident, they did not act Christ-like…they did not demonstrate love for their neighbor.)

2) What struck me most in the video though was something I have seen and encountered in far too many…the attitude too many religious leaders project that says, “I am the most important person in the room.” I can do and say whatever I want because of who I am. People are constantly telling me how wonderful I am. I’ve even started to believe it! And, because the people around me do not hold me to account. They excuse my bad behavior and again tell me how wonderful I am! It is why you make fun of someone’s name in public. It is why when you issue a lame apology (see number 4) you continue to make assumptions about their ethnicity. It is the same type of thing that allowed Paige Patterson to behave the way he did for so long before finally being called to account. Humility is sadly lacking in a lot of what passes for Christian leadership.

3) One of my daughters said, “this is why people my age drop out of church.” It isn’t that we need better worship or messages, or some other type of new program to reach millennials. They see stuff like this and think “why would I ever go to church?”

4) If you use words like: If… or Maybe…or But, it is not an apology. If I did something to hurt you, I apologize.” That s not an apology. I once had someone tell me, “I’m sorry for whatever you think it is I did to you.” That wasn’t an apology either.  I guess I could write a how to apologize  post, but in meantime, if you don’t know how to apologize without using words like if, maybe or but, perhaps you could just google, “how to make a real apology.”

There are some other things I’m working through as I think about this. But those are my top of mind thoughts. And after getting them out…I’m still frustrated.


(the image above is one of the Celtic High Crosses at Monasterboice)

Posted by bob in stuff in my head


Since we are sharing a series of posts about our move to Ireland, I thought I’d repost some other posts from around that time as it’ll give some insight to what was going on. I may make small edits or update information, but generally they’ll be shared as originally published #FlashbackFriday

I’ve been thinking about being comfortable lately. One of that issues that we deal with when we are in the midst of a transition is discomfort. When we move from a place where we understand how things work, and what our role is, we’d consider ourselves comfortable with our surroundings. When our situation changes, we experience a level of discomfort. (Obviously, the bigger the transition, the bigger the discomfort).

Churches often talk about being comfortable too. Or at least decreasing the level of discomfort, especially for people who are new to the church. The best way I’ve ever heard it said is Bill Hybels’ statement that the church should be a “safe place to hear a dangerous message.”

In other words, our goal is not to provide a comfortable place for people. In fact, part of what we do is challenge people to change their lives. To take up their cross and follow Christ. Transformation is not a comfortable process.

At the same time, we don’t want to put hurdles in people’s way. If you go to a church a few times & no one has spoken to you, you have not been made to feel comfortable, and the likelihood is, you won’t be there to hear the gospel of the Kingdom.

Recently I heard a conversation where two people where talking about comfort when it comes to Sunday mornings. The one person stated that he was sensitive to the issue, but thought at times it goes to far. The second person pointed out that Jesus was always making people uncomfortable, and began expounding on some stories of His interactions with the Pharisees.

I interjected that while that was characteristic of His interacts with the Pharisees, when it came to the hurting and broken, He did not go out of his way to make them uncomfortable. However, over the next few hours, story after story came into my mind of how He made hurting people uncomfortable. (yelling “who touched me?” to the woman with the flow of blood and making her identify herself rather than letting her sneak into the background. Calling another woman and her child dogs. You get the idea.)

But as I thought about each of the examples that came to mind, what I realized was that when even Jesus made a hurting person uncomfortable, it was for a purpose. It was for their benefit. It was always redemptive.

Too often when we make broken and hurting people uncomfortable, it has nothing to do with the other person. It has to do with our preferences (“I want this kind of music on Sundays because this is how I best relate to God.”); with our laziness, (“I come on Sunday to receive.” “I have too many other things going on to get involved.”); or with a general lack of concern for those who are distant from Jesus.

Just something I’ve been thinking about.

Posted by bob in FlashbackFriday, 0 comments

More Questions than Answers

Cross at Malahide Castle

I’ve had this thought bouncing around in my head the past couple days…though I might as well write it down.

What does it say about a person who attempts to make themselves look good, by tearing others down?

What does it say about a person who does that only behind the other’s back? (And is encouraging face to face?)

What does it say about a person when the things they say are dishonest at best?

What does it say when a person like that leads in the church?

What does it say when we tolerate this?

A lot more questions than answers today.

Posted by bob in Something I've Been Thinking About, 0 comments



St. Kevin’s Cell in Glendalough

When our family moved here in 2012, Elizabeth and I felt at home almost immediately. In a way we never did even in Ithaca where we’d lived for 18 years, raised our kids and made many good friends.

When we’d share this with people we’d would often be asked why it was. And while there are a number of things that we could list, there was always something I couldn’t really put my finger on.

Yesterday Liz sent me an article from the Irish Times and I was only a couple paragraphs in before I said, “that’s it.”

Let me explain.

Last weekend the rugby coach for Munster, Anthony Foley, died at the age of 42. (Munster is one of four provinces in Ireland). While Elizabeth and I have followed six nations rugby since we got here, we haven’t followed the sport much beyond that. So we were not aware of this man (beyond seeing his book now and again in bookstores), and were caught off-guard at the outpouring of support for this man, who clearly impacted the lives of so many.

The article Elizabeth sent me talks about the type of leader Foley was. And as it fleshes that out, that is where I had my, “that’s it!” moment.
Here’s a couple examples from the article, which says it so much better than I could:

There is a particularly Irish type of heroism.

It’s not about being a sculpted, chiselled giant. It’s not about being a show pony, a loud, media-friendly guy who’s good at talking himself up.

It’s about being solid, maybe even low-key. It’s about leading quietly, often from behind. It’s about doing what you do really well. It’s about not talking too much but about saying the right thing at the right time. It’s about every word counting.

It’s about humble leadership. It’s about leadership that doesn’t strive to be the main man, but leadership that quietly compels others to follow because they respect you.

While I could go on and list examples of “over the top/self-promoting” leaders in politics, business and (sadly) the church, I’m sure you know what I mean. And while of course there are leaders like that here to…in every field, it is the exception.

That…that, is one of the things I love about being in Ireland, and why we feel so at home here.

(You can read the full article here.)

Posted by bob in ireland, 0 comments

Thus Sayeth the Lord…or maybe not

I spent too much of my life in churches where a person could use the phrase “Thus says the Lord,” and whatever followed would often carry the weight of scripture. When I was younger and less mature, I would go to conferences hoping that the person on stage would have a “thus says the Lord,” for me. As I got older and saw a lot of harmful and manipulative things follow those words, I hoped I wouldn’t be noticed.People would use the phrase “reading your mail” to indicate that the person on stage would know some intimate detail of your life, and even worse, share it publicly.

One of the things I value most about the time I spent in the Vineyard in the States was the care in which they encouraged people to share the things they thought God was saying or doing. Anytime you sensed God may have something to share with another person, it would be presented as, “I have a sense God may be saying this….does that mean anything to you?” Or something similar.

But it was always said to the person you were speaking with in a way that gave them the ability to say, “No, that does not resonate with me at all.” It was a way of honouring the other person, but also recognizing, “I could be wrong.”

Sadly many Christian leaders lack the humility to recognize that what they think, what they believe, what they think they see can be mistaken. They can care more about how they are perceived than about the person they are supposed to be ministering to. And when they follow up their lack of humility, with the willingness to throw words around carelessly, they have the potential to do great harm.

This past weekend we spent the day at Glendalough. And while the sun was shining, there had been a lot of rain that morning so the rivers were overflowing their banks in many areas. And I thought many people come here and think this is what it normally looks like, not recognizing that this is what it looks like after a lot of rain. And then I had two other thoughts.

First, how often do we come upon someone “post storm” in their life and make judgements about who they are?

Second, while it is easy to look at the surface and decide, this is who you are, and this is where I think you fall short. However, we can’t know what’s going on below the surface without further exploration.
So the expert who makes “thus says the Lord” proclamations or feels free to diagnose a situation without taking time to get to know that person…they can cause a lot of damage to a lot of people.

Sadly, too many look at the flooded waters, and miss that what they are seeing is their own reflection.

Words have so much power. Those of us who are leaders in the church have the responsibility to use them well, understand the ability they have to build up and tear down, and NEVER use them to manipulate or shame.

Posted by bob in Stuff I Believe, 0 comments

UNLeader…a book review

imageI’ve never been much of a book reviewer. If you want to know what the book says, you should read it. However, this morning as I began reading UNLeader by Lance Ford, I decided to try reviewing it on a chapter by chapter basis. Not so much for you, but because from the moment I began reading the forward by Alan Hirsch, I knew there were things I would be wrestling with as I went though it. And I’ll likely learn more if I do that wrestling here.

I guess I should start with why the introduction and forward to the book resonated so loudly with me in the first place.

The reason I’m reading the book is because it was assigned for the last of four Forge training sessions. (Read more about why I am participating in Forge Training.) And when I saw the pile of books on leadership that I was going to need to read over the final two months of this course…let’s just say I was not excited, I think my response was “ugh”.

The fact is, I’m a bit worn out on the whole Christian Leadership industry.

In the late 90’s as we were getting connected with the Vineyard and preparing to move from being a campus ministry to planting a church, I got my first immersion into this whole world. To be honest, since my background had been as a university chaplain, I was totally unaware of people like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and John Maxwell. The guy who was coaching me at that time was not and he fed me a steady diet of books and cassettes by these guys. Many of his sermons were simply rehashed versions of the leadership gurus. I began attending Christian leadership conferences on a regular basis, and since I love to read, I left every one with a handful of new books and a list of recommended reading.

In many ways, that was an important time in my life. I learned a lot. I grew a lot. I got back into reading in a way that I hadn’t for over a decade.

At one of the major annual Christian Leadership conferences, I began to hear interviews and talks given by secular business leaders. So much of it was really good stuff. And my learning curve continued.
But there was a disconnect. While I wanted to be a good leader, the type of church community that I felt we were called to be was not what I saw from many of the churches we were learning from. I felt called to lead, but I was growing more and more uncomfortable with what I can best describe as the “cult of personality” church leadership I was seeing happen more and more.

(Few things characterise this more for me than the move to multiple venues with the celebrity pastor’s face up on a screen in multiple locations. I am a huge believer in churches multiplying and planting and even having multiple venues…but when it is built on watching guy a screen, rather than interacting with real people, I have a hard time seeing how it is anything but a huge ego trip for the church leader.)

Around 2005 I discovered a new, rising star in the ranks of celebrity pastors. I learned so much from him about organising and structuring a church…and how to lead one. After a couple years of listening to seminars he’d put out, I began attending a couple. Then I signed up for and completed a 6 month coaching network in NYC…twice.

Over the next three to four years, we were in every outward sense successful. The things was, when we finally had to slow down…when we finally had to stop and take stock of where we were, the church, and I, had both emerged unrecognisable. I’d become CEO of our church. The church had grown substantially…but it wasn’t what we had set out to build.

The thesis for UNLeader comes from this passage in Matthew 20:

“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭20:25–26‭NIV‬‬

Much of my experience since 2008 has been a process of unlearning. Having layer by layer by layer peeled back…often it has been at the hands of “Christian leaders” who lord their position of leadership over others. Often it has been the Father pointing out another area in my life that needs to be changed. Not always fun to go through, but good…and necessary. While I’d prefer to just learn new ways, there are old patterns and ways of thinking that have had to be rooted out first…exposed as wrong ways of thinking.

Towards the end of the introduction, Ford points out how limited the resources are for servanthood compared to leadership. And that even when we talk about being a servant, we normally talk about servant-leaders.

When Liz and I first moved to Dublin, we answered the question “why are you here?” with the response “we are here to serve people who live in Ireland.” While we have always wanted to play a part in seeing new communities of faith started across the city, we knew that it would start, not from a place of leading, but from a place of serving. We are still discovering what that means. I think UNLeader will be a welcome companion on that journey.

Posted by bob in Leadership, 0 comments

Just Taking a Walk

The Burren in the West of Ireland

The Burren in the West of Ireland

Over the past several years I have read a lot on the topic of leadership and attended numerous leadership conferences. It seems more than in most fields, leadership gurus love trite, pithy slogans.

If it rhymes and fits on a bumper sticker it must be true, right?

This came up because I’ve been rereading Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, by Ruth Haley Barton. In the book, Barton examines the story of Moses. She focuses on his 40 years in the wilderness as crucial preparation for the journey he led the Israelites on, and then relates his journey to the leadership journey most Christian leaders find themselves on at some point in their lives.

As I was reading today, a leadership slogan I’ve read and heard a lot, popped up in my head:

He that thinketh he leadeth, and hath no one following, is only taking a walk.

That makes sense right? A person can’t be a leader if they don’t have followers. Which brings up the question, “During those 40 years in the wilderness was Moses a leader?”

Because if we go only by that saying, he wasn’t. He was just taking a walk….in the desert…for 40 years.

By this reasoning, Moses wasn’t a leader until Aaron showed up…and really that was just one follower. Much of his encounters with Pharaoh occurred without the support, or followership of the Israelites. So when did he become a leader?

Or was he already a leader in the desert before his confrontation with the leader of Egypt?

But that’s the problem when we try to sum up something profound in a way that is brief and memorable (trite?).

In the book The Road to Character, by David Brooks, he writes about resume virtues, and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are basically those things you’ve done that will benefit your employer. Eulogy virtues are the things people say about you at your funeral. (And then we wonder why so many of our leaders crash and burn in such dramatic fashion.)

When we make the height of leadership about what you do, we communicate that it is your resume virtues that really matter. Because those are the values that get built in the midst of a crowd. The eulogy ones seem to happen only when there is a big chunk of wilderness time.

If our identity is as a leader, then the wilderness has be resisted. Right?

Posted by bob in leading, 0 comments

Let Me Help Me By Helping You

statue near the Charles Bridge Prague

Dude, put down the knife…When all you’ve got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. When all you’ve got is a sharp blade…

A little over 15 years ago my colon ruptured. You don’t want any more details than that.

Along the way to figuring out what the problem was, which took over 6 months, I had to deal with a number of specialists, all who had a gauntlet of tests that they wanted me to go through. (One even made me go for two months without coffee, because of some medication.)

There are a couple doctors who stand out in my memory from that time. First is the surgeon, who while not the friendliest person I’ve ever met, did a great job…I’ve had zero problems since.

The other is a urologist. Now to be fair, he is the one who figured out what was wrong with me. However, there are a few other memories that stand out from my time with him:

1) On my first visit, upon learning that Liz and I had just had child number 3, he suggested that it was time for me to get a ’snip.’ This is before we even talked about why I was there. Although I said ‘no,’ he brought it up several time over the course of the next month.

2) When I was a kid, I heard that if novocaine was injected improperly it could cause some kind of damage…so for the next 5 or 6 years, I had all of my cavities taken care of sans novocaine. YET, the two most intense levels of pain I felt in my life, were a) unnecessary and b) at the hands of this doctor.  He basically discovered something that my gastroenterologist discovered 2 days later with a much less invasive procedure.

Thankfully, once the diagnosis was made, Liz called a friend from Syracuse, who convinced her brother to do my surgery. Dr. Urology was amazed that we were able to get this guy to take my case, as he was, ‘the best in the area.’ So Dr. Urology contacted the surgeon and suggested that they collaborate on my surgery. The guy actually wanted to remove part of my bladder…I already have enough difficulty on long car trips.

Thankfully, the surgeon decided that Dr. Urology would not be taking part in the surgery and that his plan to shrink my bladder was ridiculous.

Liz thinks all the procedures the guy did/suggested, were to pay for his vacation home. I’ve always thought he just liked trying new procedures. But, there is probably a mixture of both elements.

Regardless, while he did provide a service to me, the whole relationship was really about him. I just happened to get caught in his orbit for a period. Heck, if I’d followed his advice, he would have gotten a small check for an additional procedure, and we would never have gotten to know Méabh. And I would have had to make a lot more bathroom stops.

This came up in my head recently as I was thinking about some church leaders. Especially in this celebrity culture so much of the evangelical church finds itself mired in.  Where God’s will always seems to involve said leader taking a position of more and more prominence. Where serving others is great, as long as it serves my purposes at the same time. Where the number of people who walk away from the church for good continues to increase…but as long as new people are taking their place, and the numbers continue to get bigger, this isn’t our problem.

I met a lot of doctors during that period of my life. The ones I remember most fondly are the ones whose focus was what is the best path to get me from a place of sickness to a place of wholeness. Maybe that’s why Dr. Urology was so amazed that I could get the surgeon I did…because that is the type of person everybody wants.

Posted by bob in leading, 0 comments
Learning, Unlearning and Relearning

Learning, Unlearning and Relearning

The view from our hotel during our “are we really doing this?” tour of Dublin in 2011.

When I first began thinking that a move to Ireland could be in our future, I sat down to write a list of why Elizabeth and I were unlikely people to move to Dublin and start churches.

I didn’t get to far into that exercise before I began to realise that my basic assumption was wrong. Not that we are anything special, but because we certain had backgrounds and experiences, it seemed that perhaps this did make some sense.

For example:

  • Although we have not been part of the Catholic church since before we were teens, Liz and I were both raised in the Catholic church and would have a similar religious background to many people in Ireland.
  • Liz actually has Irish citizenship. Without it, getting into this country long-term is nearly impossible.
  • Liz grew up in a large extended Irish family. Her parents and most people of that generation had grown up in Ireland and so she had a grasp on those dynamics.
  • Unlike most European countries, I actually speak the language.
  • We have spent the vast majority of our adult lives in cross-cultural ministry settings…

So you get the idea.  And while not everything with God has to make perfect sense from our point of view, it does seem that he often builds upon our experiences and gifts rather than sending us to do something for which we have zero background.

From a “who we are” perspective, this was helpful and encouraging.

At the same time, our last few of years in Ithaca were challenging and I had seriously considering leaving full-time ministry. And while there was a lot of good stuff that was accomplished while we were there, in moving here, there was a lot I wanted to see happen differently.

So between coming through a difficult three-year period, and wanting to do something different from what we’d done before, I  imagined that I would need to become a very different leader than I had been. At times I imagined I’d need to stop doing all of the things I was good at, and learn to do a number of things I had never been good at.

But over the past year, a couple of conversations made a huge impact.

I was talking to a spiritual director and mentioned that one of the things God had been working on in me on over the past few years was being less reactive. I shared how in the past something would go wrong and I’d jump into ‘control-freak’ mode and take charge.

He gave me an odd look and then questioned my use of the phrase ‘control freak’.

He sketched a picture of what Liz and I went through during our first two years in Ireland. Then pointed out that to be able to plan, strategize and make new connections in the midst of that was a good thing.

He said that taking such a tight grip on a situation that we wrestle control from God isn’t healthy, but, using gifts and talents he has given us, should be celebrated, and not be spoken of in a derogatory way.

A short time later, I was in a coaching meeting looking at the topic of discipleship and leadership. We each were asked where we were most comfortable leading. For me, that was easy. I am an L4 leader…I love to find people who are passionate about something at set them free to do it. (In case you want a bit more on what an L4 leader is, this post is well done.)

After that we talked about the “shadow side” of each style of leadership. For the L4 leader, while  it’s great that you are willing to release people to minister, there can be a tendency to not spend time with them. Our coach summarised this problem with the phrase, “Jesus said he’ll always be with you…so I don’t have to.”

That is something that I struggle with for numerous reasons. Among them; 1) I think if I’m contacting people I’m bothering them. 2) I like to be left alone when doing a task and not have someone looking over my shoulder, so I figure everyone is like that. 3) Or sometimes it’s just too much effort and I don’t feel like doing it.

There are other reasons too, but none of them are good…they are just excuses.

Being able to release people to do what they are gifted to do is a good thing. I can keep doing that, but in a healthier way.

There was a part of me that moved to Dublin thinking “I need to  learn brand new ways of leading.”  That was overwhelming. To think of spending all of your time working in areas where you feel weak, doing things don’t come naturally…that can be a bit exhausting.

But in these conversation, what I hit me was I didn’t need to reinvent myself, and act as though everything God had done in me in the past was somehow ‘bad’ or wasted. What I needed was to find ways to use the gifts and talents he’s already given me in healthy ways.

Reinventing yourself sounds more exciting…but doing the hard work of wrestling with those areas that God wants to strengthen are where real fruit is found.

Where is an area in your life where you could learn a healthier way of working?

Posted by bob in church planting, 0 comments
The Most Harmful Thing I Believed About Church Planting

The Most Harmful Thing I Believed About Church Planting

Not all growth is healthy.

Not all growth is healthy.

Before planting a church in Ithaca, NY I spent about a decade starting and leading campus ministries. So I came to church planting with a lot to learn. I read, listened to tapes and cds, went to conferences. I did everything I could to learn as much as possible about this new adventure I was on.

Like anything, some of what I learned was helpful, and some, not so much. There was one idea that was a mantra in church planting circles. I heard it at conferences. I heard it over and over from my coach. And I believed it. I taught it to other church planters. I preached at our church on Sunday mornings.

The phrase is simply, “Healthy things grow.” Sounds good, right?

I’ve actually been working on this post for a few months. But it wasn’t taking shape like I’d hoped. Then last week Wayne Cordeiro reposted a blog written by Larry Osborne entitled The Myth of Endless Growth.

So rather than me explain why I think this idea caused more harm than good, I hope you’ll read their post. Go ahead…I’ll wait.

Osborne’s post ends asking if this myth has impacted how you lead or define success. And the reason I’d been working on this post is because it has.

Here’s my list of 3 ways that buying into this myth (lie?) impacted me:

1) It led me to focus on the wrong things.

When we started the church, I wanted to see a close community built where transformation happened, and people were  becoming disciples of Jesus. Those things are all difficult to quantify. And, well, transformation can take a while. Then there is recent research which shows, transformation is not  really happening in our churches anywhere near the degree to which we’d hope.

But the number of people who show up at your services. The number of small groups. The number of services. Those are all things you can point to and show that we are doing better this year than last. The problem is, growing those things takes a lot of energy and resources. They don’t ensure that you’ll see transformation or discipleship. And they don’t leave time or energy for the things that are important.

2) It led me to put unhealthy people in leadership

As our church grew, we constantly needed new leaders. New ministry leaders, new small group leaders, new children teachers, new staff. There are some who lead and work because they want to serve, and they care about people. There are others who do it for less healthy reasons.  They want to be recognised. They want positions of control. They want to be close to the pastor. The problem is, they often lack maturity, spiritual depth, character, compassion and people skills.

There were times when we put people in leadership because “they got things done.” There were obvious signs of a lack of emotional health, spiritual health, relational health. But we needed people and they got stuff done.

Except of course when they crashed. Then things were a mess. But we’d hold meeting after meeting, soothe things over, and eventually get back to work…until the next time.

The majority of people in leadership there were high quality people. They had character, depth, loved Jesus & loved people. It was a privilege to work with them. But having unhealthy people in leadership caused a lot of drama and stress for them that they shouldn’t have had to deal with.

[Reading Pete Scazzaro’s  stuff on Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and Leadership was so helpful in finally breaking this cycle.]

3) It killed contentment.

When we planted our church in 1999, I was not brimming with confidence. And if you told me that one day we would have 100 people regularly attend our church, I would have been ecstatic. However, once we were at 100, I focused on 150. When we hit 250, I was focused on 500.

And I guess it would be one thing to say I was focused on the next step. The bigger issue was that I never enjoyed where we were. It was never enough, because healthy things grow, and we need to be growing all the time.

When I was in university I took a course called labour history. There was a story,  about a labour leader ( I think it was about Samuel Gompers) who was asked what unions wanted and his response was, “More.” I know what that feels like.

With my focus being on the next growth barrier, the next milestone, and taking the next hill, I missed out on some really good stuff God was doing in our church.

I’m thankful that the people I mention above have begun to point out the damage caused by some of the commonly accepted philosophy around church leadership. I’m thankful that we were able to begin addressing some of this during my last two years in Ithaca.

How about you? Do you agree with Osborne’s premise? Has this myth impacted you and your leadership?

Posted by bob in church planting, health, 2 comments