Is what your doing working?- Pt. 2 of a 7-part series

In a previous article, I had outlined seven questions to ask be for transitioning to an MSP. In the next series of articles, I am going to break down those questions and bring some clarity to how they help in transitioning to an MSP business and mindset. The first question I had asked, “is what you’re currently doing working? Think in terms of customer satisfaction, getting your time back, owning a business versus being owned by the business, and is this what you dreamed about when you started the business?

So back to “Bob Breakfix”

It’s Monday morning and it has been exhausting weekend due to customer calls ranging from “I upgraded to Windows 10, now I cannot get into my system” to “The power went out and we don’t have any backups, can you get us up and running for Monday morning?” or “I cannot get into my email, do you have my password?” When you are a break-fix shop, with 2-5 employees, this is your life because you have not transitioned to reoccurring revenue streams (other than affiliate and partner programs perhaps) and because you want to be a lone ranger. You think customer satisfaction is how many problems you solve and believe the customer is always right and allow haggling for your services. What ‘Bob’ and many others don’t realize is that you are actually holding your customers in bondage to your availability, they are never satisfied and support tends to be more reactive, versus proactive. You know this innately when the phone starts to ring on Monday morning and all the things you fixed on Friday are now broken and there is no automation in place to auto-fix things, and you must either send your other burned out techs or do it yourself. Another indicator that it is not working is you are starting to feel like the Nick Burns.

Some may get offended with my description of Bob Breakfix and the over-the-top examples, however, after 20+ years in the IT industry ranging from non-profits, volunteering, to full consultancy, I have seen and heard the day-to-day fun times of the break-fix business model, and there is a larger element of truth than most of the ‘break fix’ advocates want to admit. A company I worked for in the past was a break-fix advocate, and they fought me regularly when I wanted to setup SLA (service-level-agreements that were longer than one page), charge more for after-hours calls, educate users on how to use their technology and install remote control agents on customer devices. They saw these things as part of the cultural noise of our generation (it must be 140 characters or less). Regarding charging more for after-hours calls, they were in fear of losing business, and an invasion of people’s privacy for the remote control tools. Educating the customer was taboo in that, if you told them things, then they would never call you. However, when presented as services, customers are already doing this in other areas of their lives with the contracts for internet, cable, smartphones, plumbing, security etc., just to name a few and are natural conversations and extensions to great customer service. Image result for hamster wheel

When I was forced to work break-fix mentality business models, customers were always angry and could never be satisfied. I was always second-guessed and challenged with my solutions, and they readily got on the internet or talked with Uncle Ferd (who had built his own computer and was a genius). I was called at all times of the day (to include holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and even I remember one guy threatening to ‘kill me’ because his AOL service was not working and my repair on Friday – unrelated – was related in his mind), always had to go on site with impatient users constantly asking me how it was going, when did I think I would be finished, how come it was taking so long etc. I remember dreading service calls to certain clients, dealing with outdated technology, and the liability versus asset mindset (people think that they should be able to take a computer out of a box and it just work for 5+ years without regular maintenance, antivirus, or upgrading hardware/software). You start to hate the industry and the people after a while forgetting that this used to be fun.

So I ask you again, is what you’re doing working? I am convinced it comes down to reputation, communication, and being a technology strategist (some call this vCIO or Virtual Chief Information Officer) and partner with your clients versus the traditional consultant or repairman. I like the way CompTIA recently stated in a new way of thinking about IT: “At the most basic level, companies need to consider two separate modes of IT. First is operational IT, which is the kind of IT that has been around since the mainframe days. This mode is more routine, revolving around the setup and maintenance of IT components. The second mode is strategic IT, which creatively considers the many different technology tools available and drives innovative solutions to business problems.” We have all heard it said, if you keep doing what you have always done, you will continue to get the same results. Some call this the definition of insanity. I am saying all the folks out there who ‘love’ their break-fix business are actually making it worse for the rest of us. What do I mean? Ever been in a grocery store and watch a temper-tantrum child run amok and the parent is attempting to help little johnnie’s self-esteem by talking with him about the right and wrong ways of handling anger and disappointment and then acquiesces by giving little johnnie what he wants? Does it really teach Johnnie things like, healthy discontentment, submission to authority, humility, professionalism or that there is a better way of doing things? No, it creates the exact opposite. While the rest of the world operates on as-a-service economy, you are reading your Dr. Spock, working 70+ hrs. a week, looking down your nose at those companies MSP’s and refuse to work with stubborn home users who want their commodore 64 to run Office 2016, and wondering your business is not growing. I mean you did get into this to retire someday right? Some of us work to live but it seems the break-fix advocates like living to work.

Finally, proof of what you’re currently doing is not working, is the overall attitude of your business model. If you believe keeping information from your customers (holding onto passwords, configuring/setting up a solution without documentation or How-to’s, coaching on basic computer skills, etc.), don’t regularly communicate with your customers (newsletters, executive summaries, quarterly meetings, etc.), then you live in fear. A great MSP gives what Patrick Lencioni calls ‘Naked Service’, “Naked service providers and consultants confront, clients (kindly) with difficult information and perspectives, even if the client might not like hearing it. Naked consultants ask potentially dumb questions, and make potentially dumb suggestions, because if those questions or suggestions ultimately help their client, it is worth the potential embarrassment. They also admit their weaknesses and celebrate their mistakes. Even before landing a client, a naked consultant will demonstrate vulnerability and take risks. They will give away their best ideas and start consulting to the prospective client during a sales call. In fact, they’ll do no real selling at all, foregoing that activity in order to find a way to help a client even if they never actually become one.” I call this investing in the industry. If more IT Professionals provided this type of service, it could be a different place. Imagine customers who listen to you and consult with you regarding technology during their business planning and budgeting. What if more of your customers focused on their business because you took care of their technology and it was a true partnership versus negative touches all the time? Some of you reading this are saying BWA (but what about…) or “I have tried that and it did not work in my area, it is different…” The short answer to that is, I have done it. I took home and small business users to service based MSP models successfully in a demographic that all the “Henny Penny’s” said it could not be done in. What it really takes is faithfulness, accountability, and teachability, I would suggest that without those elements you are absolutely right… you will not be able to do it.

Tune in next month for “What is the current opportunity in your area?”  {alternative version posted at Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy (– Matthew Rodela & Paco Lebron}

What is the current opportunity in your area? Part 3 of a 7-part series

In a previous article, I had outlined seven questions to ask before transitioning to an MSP. In the next series of articles, I am going to break down those questions and bring some clarity to how they help in transitioning to a MSP business and mindset. The first question in article two I asked, “is what you’re currently doing working? This article addresses the question: What is the current opportunity in your area? We will be considering questions like the number of businesses in your area that are Legal, Medical, Manufacturing, or Professional Services (heating and air, real estate, human resources, non-profits etc).  Which are you currently servicing and which would you like to service?

Bob Breakfix gets new clients by putting up flyers in grocery stores and blanketing parking lots. You have possibly even seen a few of his ads on craigslist. He also has those wire signs that stick in the grass that say “Computer Optimization and Cleanup – $65” or “Virus Cleanup – $50”. Bob also does it all and because he does, he does not specialize in anything. He fixes smartphones, old printers, tablets, and other esoteric equipment. His store window has every computer manufacturer logo and buzz word and is usually located in a strip mall. Bob frequently is working on or spending enormous amounts of time on outdated and non-warranty equipment. Bob cold calls government agencies and spends hours putting together proposals only to be beaten out by other small businesses who have these processes automated. When he does win a contract, he has enormous overhead with hiring staff, equipment, and travel and end ups only making 1-2% profit all the while, his other customers suffer. Bob attends the Chamber and BNI meetings and his main goal is to undercut his competitors with lower pricing and promises. He and his sales guys spend lots of time in meetings with non-decision makers which later result in accounts receivable problems down the road. Bob is proud of his ‘bubba network’ and contacts. Recently, he has had to invest in a collection agency to recoup from his ‘bubba network’ of penny-pinching friends. When Bob on boards clients he does not charge clients for this and has resolved himself in knowing that he will not recoup the invested time until 3-6 months down the road as he is afraid that his friends will have sticker shock because he is desperate for the opportunity to prove himself. Bob is often experimenting on his customers with offerings they don’t need so he can stay up to date on the industry or new widget.

Marty Managed on the other hand is a little more intentional with his business. He has done his research on what his competitors are offering. He keeps up on industry trends and knows what his demographic is looking for. Marty creates targeted messages to the verticals he wants, specializes in them, invests in his team for these areas and promotes these strategic offerings to smaller focused networks. Marty taps into all the local business groups and has a huge network of SMB contacts. He asks them on the front end if he can keep them updated with industry trends, offerings, and strategic research, of which they all agree because they see this as invaluable. He sends out monthly newsletters (automated) to these contacts with the information promised but also for free network assessments which has turned many readers into clients. When the network assessment is done, he provides a proposal to baseline the environment giving the client the option for a 1x fix and then offers a proactive care second proposal for onboarding to managed services. Marty taps into government contracting and has filled out a profile on government contracting sites and has offers based upon pre-defined qualifications emailed to him every day. He quickly scans the emails and only acts on those items that do not require excessive manpower, equipment, or deployment. He selects the bids that he can forward to his big vendors, who then build out the quote and he marks it up and forwards back to the government agency. He is on net terms with the vendors therefore if there is an expenditure, he recoups when the contract is completed because he has put timelines/suspense’s and penalties on his proposals. Marty’s profit from these scenarios are typically 10-15%. Marty requires his sales team to go to top channel events and take the sales tracks. Marty does not sell things to his clients they do not need because he is involved in their business for budgeting, planning and goals at a minimum quarterly. He partners with his clients because he is in it for the long-haul. Marty also gives seminars on latest technology trends and in his area, he is seen as the local authority on these topics.

If you did not already know, I am a ‘good questions’ guy. Good questions start the creativity juicesImage result for good questions flowing and when not done in isolation (meaning without a mentor or industry partners), can be a fruitful endeavor. Many ‘breakfix’ advocates tend to ask personal questions of themselves and how they would answer them and then project these answers on to the market. Outward focused questions and presuppositions can be invaluable, especially if you are considering moving to a service based business model. Recently an article in Inc. magazine posted this topic: “Do You Really Know Who Your Target Customer Is? Answer These Questions to Find Out: Your assumptions might be costing you business.” What I liked especially about the questions the author proposed, was that they were customer focused. If you have spent any time with customers in all verticals like I have, these questions are hot buttons with all of them. During our quarterly meetings, these topics are discussed and reviewed and I ask my warm clients (customers you are already doing business with) and cold clients these same questions. A particular timeless tool I use comes from 2007, when I was exposed to Robin Robbins and her “Technology Marketing Toolkit” and became one of her #1 fans. That tool is called, “10 Questions to Ask Before Committing to any IT Project.” If you know what I am talking about, you know that this questionnaire is not just about IT Projects, it is an onboarding questionnaire as well. I review this regularly with my MSP clients because it also provides feedback on our service areas for improvement. (Disclaimer – No Robin is not paying me to endorse her and my subscription has long since expired – I do hope she reads this though – wink!)

Why? Her thoughts on these topics were/are revolutionary and contextual. By contextual, I mean her presuppositions were from the perspective of someone who was actually a part of the ground-war with these topics and she had/has studied the industry trends. An instrumental part of a ‘system’ (like a franchise – think McDonalds, Subway, etc.) is providing actual tools and templates to get you ‘subscribers’ started and maintain the momentum of that ‘system’. If you succeed, then they succeed. I remember spending hours and hours, listening to audios, downloading templates and subscribing to her feeds. There are other ‘consultants’ out there, but Robin has really set herself apart. Without a system, it is just a lot of theory and can get expensive. She also introduced and exposed her subscribers to other ‘system’ based companies and vendors. On that note, I get upset with ‘methods’ pushed on computer business owners these days regarding obtaining new clients, marketing, and the like, because they remind me of multi-level marketing sales pitch. With many multi-level marketing programs, money is made through the sale of seminars and materials with no investment long-term into the success of the actual business. Robin actually is committed to those who subscribe to her system and rewards them when they succeed with recognition, cash and also with a 100% money back guarantee. In a recent post by Robin she mentions why most breakfix business owners fail when it comes to obtaining new clients;

Take my consulting business as an example. Most people buy my program looking for a “fix” to their marketing problem. What they don’t realize is that, in order for my clients to be truly successful, they have to change their well-entrenched negative habits and beliefs that got them to where they are in the first place. A better sales letter or web site won’t fix that. Unless I can get them to embrace true change in their daily habits, what they believe, and how they use their time, the results won’t follow, or they will be slow and miniscule. That is why my selling starts after I make the sale—I have to sell them on the fact that success will come. I have to use client success stories to constantly reinforce that the methods and strategies work. Otherwise, the average person will do exactly what Deutschman outlines in his book:

“We take the facts and fit them into the frames we already have. If the facts don’t fit, we’re likely to challenge whether they’re really facts or to dismiss the information and persist somehow in believing what we want to believe.”

If someone doesn’t believe direct mail can possibly work—they will find a way to prove it doesn’t. Or, if they completely lack the discipline to control their time, their ability to focus on a project, lean something new, or to develop the habit of steadfastness that is required to build a marketing system in their business, they will fail. It doesn’t matter what marketing “guru” they subscribe to.

Another ‘system’ based entity I am a major supporter of, is CompTIA. Why? They have a vested interest in the industry. They do not make certification hard by putting in trick questions or forcing you to take a new cert every year or out-of-reach subscriptions. For instance, the Security+ certification is a minimum requirement standard for most government agencies! That says something all by itself. They constantly pool the industry, provide free resources and access. They give back to make the industry better. One of the BEST tools they have for their members is a “10-Week Plan to Launch Your MSP Business”, it literally takes you step-by-step from breakfix to MSP! You may be thinking that what I am saying is, if you buy a Robin Robbins Toolkit and membership with CompTIA you’re going to be able to retire in 2 years. No, what I am saying is, start with entities that have done what you want to do and are tapped into the industry and put the foundations in place they recommend and then get creative with your deviations without damaging the industry, without damaging clients, without damaging tech talent and make some cash doing it! We attempted to do this also with our work called, “MSP or Fail”. The take away here is, tap into proven systems and commit to them for a period of time, then as you start to build your business and momentum starts, then consider your ‘other ideas’ to incorporate into your business model. Right now the top IT Industry Trends are health care and security. Take the questions from the Inc. article above and start working through your demographic. So I think we have answered what is the current opportunity in your area. The answer is you, your business and your negative habits and beliefs. When you change those, you will begin to create momentum of success that will set you apart from Bob Breakfix and the other MSP’s who do it their way. You have some work to do. Tune in next month for What tools are you currently using for PSA (professional services automation) and RMM (remote monitoring and management)?


In between reading, writing (MSP or Fail), working at local MSP as a vCIO/Project Manager and dating his wife, Derek tries to find time to get on the elliptical, listen to trance/dance/techno/80’s/90’s music, fish and play with his Siamese cat Niko.

(*also published at blah blah blah)

The computer shop that could…

Bob Breakfix: “It’s Monday, sometimes it feels like that 80’s ad, ‘Time to make the doughnuts…’ but wait I love IT, I mean we can do some cool stuff, then why do I feel this way. Oh no, that call is from XYZ Customer and the message they left is that their QuickBooks server is showing a red alert on one of the drives and as usual, the owner is freaking out. Deep breath… breathe…”

Marty Managed: “Dang, received an alert that a hard drive on XYZ Customer’s server has failed. Click. Clickety-click, click, click, click-click-click. Bam! Looks like one of the drives on their RAID has failed. Good thing their backups are current (received an informational alert). I will grab a drive from inventory and dispatch a technician later this afternoon.”

Our story starts, maybe like your day. Maybe, your name is Bob Breakfix or Marty Managed? Is it time to make the doughnuts, or are your automation and processes being tuned to create re-occurring revenue? Are you reacting to your customers calls for help or being proactive to take care of their technology? Does your customer call you ‘freaking out’ or are you handling things before the customer knows about them? Before we get started let’s define a few terms:

  • Break-Fix (BF): The term break-fix refers to the fee-for-service method of providing IT support or services to businesses. Using this method, an IT solution provider performs services as needed and bills the customer only for the work done. This may include such services as repairs, upgrades or installation of systems, components, peripheral equipment, networking or software. This type of solution is usually reactive versus proactive.
  • Managed Service Provider (MSP): Managed service providers monitor, supervise and secure outsourced network or application procedures on behalf of the organizations that are using those services. Typically, the reason most businesses do not provide managed services is either they are not sure exactly what managed services encompass or they are not sure how to go about providing them. MSP’s typically also do break-fix work but educate their customers about the difference, and tend to be more proactive versus reactive.

In an article like this it is hard to reflect all the ‘variables’ so there will be some generalizations, but I hope to relay the differences in a customer service mind-set when it comes to providing IT services to a client base. It really comes down to whether or not you react or mitigate problems before they happen. Without fail, most of the SMB owners I talk and coach tell me they want to be proactive. The problem is, how do I get there from here.

A few years ago, I co-wrote a book on the topic, “MSP or Fail” in which, we take a mind map through the steps of transitioning from a break-fix company to a managed services provider. Not much has changed since we wrote it, other than some details, terminology and the available vendors to assist you. In the next battery of articles, I will attempt to facilitate your road map as if you were attempting to do this from today with updated content, vendors, and workflows. If you were considering managed services today, I must confess, the market is a lot more ‘friendly’ to this term and the assets available for Bob Breakfix could possibly be overwhelming. So this first few articles are going to be about why become a managed services provider and because I am big on asking good questions, we are going to ask a few questions to assist you to start thinking about managed services which may confront the way you have been doing business up to this point as Bob Breakfix.



  1. Is what you’re currently doing working? (customer satisfaction, getting your time back, owning a business versus being owned by the business, is this what you dreamed about when you started the business)?
  1. What is the current opportunity for this business model in your environment? What are the number of business in your area that are Legal, Medical, Manufacturing, or Professional Services (heating and air, real estate, human resources, non-profits etc)? Which one are you currently servicing and which ones would you like to service?
  2. What tools are you currently using for PSA (professional services automation) and RMM (remote monitoring and management)? If you are anything like the shops I have seen, including some past employer’s, IT shops only utilize 1/3 of their PSA capabilities, and think there is something in addition to that that turns the ‘faucet’ on for managed services business. The two big contenders out there are Autotask and ConnectWise. I have heard all the objections why you are not using them, but what I don’t understand is why business owners are not thinking past tomorrow and their 1-3 employees? I am also an advocate of “there is no extra credit for climbing a mountain when there is an elevator next door.” (Taken from Robin Robbins in 2007). I mention both of these biggies because compared to when I first wrote about them, their pricing has come down for the small shops and you can get started with them right away without breaking your wallet. Further, these PSA’s are ITIL (Wikipedia defines this as, “a set of practices for IT service management (ITSM) that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of business.”) oriented and mention these because both of these PSA platforms are built on a managed services provider and contain aspects that assist in facilitating your thinking from break fix to managed services.
  3. How are you going to market your offerings? Are you still going to service breakfix along with MSP (I recommend both – long term thinking in this realm is customer loyalty).
  4. How are you going to transition your current customers and prospect to valued clients? Is there value for your customers to go to the subscription model or not?

  5. How are you going to sustain your offerings? (training, process, technology, investing in the industry, learning from others, etc).

I am convinced that unless you are willing to wrestle with these questions, then as the adage goes, if you continue to do what you have always done, you will continue to get the results you are getting. So the take away in this first article is; Are you happy with your breakfix business or would you like a dynamic business? And, finally, are you willing to ask some serious questions and do the work to transition from where you are? If you are, stay tuned.

Also published at:  Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy:  Resources for starting and growing a successful computer business.

Derek Iannelli-Smith, In between reading, writing, working at Cantey Tech as a vCIO/Project Manager and dating his wife, he tries to find time to get on the elliptical, listen to trance/dance/techno/80’s/90’s music, fish and play with his Siamese cat Niko.

Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City by Tim Keller; book (and audio) review

*Disclaimer:  This is a longer review than I have normally written in the past, but one that I believe is longer with good reason.  This material has reinforced and transformed my Christian walk and is one over the years that I seen is very deficit in the ‘church’ at large.  I also want to show that this is ‘not new’ information, but how over time, pieces of these ‘turning points’ made up who I am as a believer and disciple-evangelist today.  Many of these items I respond to, were convictions long before the publishing date of this book.  I am piggy-backing on a review and the reputation of others, but I think you will find it brings clarity to what has been the source of my counsel and implications.  May this ‘review’ be a good discussion tool but also ‘implication’ tool to challenge the ‘church’ in remembering that God is great, glorious, good, and gracious with all of us and our messy relationships.

I have been studying this material now for 4 months.  I told my wife, that I now have a discipleship book for the big boys!  Previously I have discussed The Gospel Primer and my bromance for all things Jeff Vanderstelt (this is my discipleship evangelism go-to), so it was a providential surprise to find out where most of the concepts came from…  Center Church and a PCA Pastor.  If many of you did not already know I am a member of PCA church and have considered myself to be for quite some time even though the local manifestations have not always made that apparent.  My review of Center Church is through the lens being a owner, participant and observer of many of these manifestations.  That being said, what Connie and I have seen is that all manifestations seem to have settlers vs. pioneers and form vs. function power struggles.  Many of the sentiments that Tim Keller brings, are a fresh observation of the ‘movements’ that are biblical and what we can learn from doing balanced, gospel-centered ministry in our city that Connie and I have been convinced of for quite some time.

What I would like to do for the rest of the review is bring forth a few of the items I highlighted in my study, and provide a brief commentary on why they struck me as important as I continue to the travel the path of sanctification.

As I read, reflected, and taught, I came to the conclusion that a more biblical theme for ministerial evaluation than either success or faithfulness is fruitfulness.

This quote struck me and reminded me of 2007, when I was on staff at a PCA church and it always appeared that I was diametrically apposed to the ‘settlers’ as they were looking more for success and faithfulness rather than fruitfulness.  With over 300 members and 150 of them coming through the biblical counseling ministry at one time or another, it was much more evident to me that fruitfulness was the goal rather than the standard the settlers pushed so hard for.  Of those that came through the Biblical Counseling Ministry (or what should be called “The Discipleship River” first referenced by Steve Viars, The Journal of Biblical Counseling · Spring 2002), many are still fruitful in their endeavors and callings.  Recently Connie and I checked on this gathering and were considering going back, however the settlers were still there and had recruited the masses, but the fruitful were there too.  We were not that saddened to be asked not to come back.  These fruitful saints will continue to influence the herd.  We need churches that get behind fruitfulness.  Fruitfulness is the product of implication and movements.

A church that truly understands the implications of the biblical gospel, letting the ‘’word of Christ dwell in [it] richly (Col 3:16), will look like an unusual hybrid of various church forms and stereotypes.  Because of the inside-out, substitutionary atonement aspect, the church will place great emphasis on personal conversion, experiential grace renewal, evangelism, outreach and church planting. 

What we have today in our churches is the polarizing on one of two ways to relay biblical truth; conviction or application rather than implication.  Conviction can be a swinging pendulum of liberty and license or legalism whereas application is an interpretation in many cases of what the ‘conviction’ should look like in our daily lives.  Gospel-centered Implication however is the combination of what the gospel brings to bear on our thinking and conduct and is the centrality or functionality of our individualism as Christians or how it is manifested in the outpouring of the local church and the surrounding city.  That all said, this quote, essentially translates that ministry movements, gifts, or out-workings are not going to look the same nor should be ‘structured’ to the point of micro-managing (been there done that fun-time in ministry) so that nothing gets done and functions more like an institution rather than a movement.  The gospel does change everything.  When you are focused on success and faithfulness, we tend to settle for what works in the church, what we have always done, what we are comfortable with, who is in control or not offending the settlers.   I have found that how the leadership educates and communicates leadership-laity, secular-sacred, or form-function tend to be whether or not the people are gospel-fluent or not.  For instance if I do not believe that God has gifted some for leadership (that does not mean they are pastors, or went to seminary by the way – remember many in the NT did not even know how to read!), then I am going to separate and divide what God is doing, so it can be controlled for fear of losing power.  If I believe there is a separation between sacred and secular, then I will communicate ‘full-time ministry’ and those who ‘work’ as two separate entities versus one full life.  If I am more ‘form’ than ‘function’ oriented, then how I perform baptism for instance, is more important than being baptized or if a woman can serve communion.  If the goal is transformed hearts, then you welcome how God is doing that, with the people, with the gifts, with the resources He provides.

Most of our problems in life come from a lack of proper orientation to the gospel…The leaders of the church must always be bringing the gospel to bear on people’s minds and hearts so that they see it not just as a set of beliefs but as a power that changes us profoundly and continually.”

We live in a world in which we like to play with our sin rather than hate our sin.  What if the ‘church’ really believed in the power of the gospel to change everything?  I was just reading last night for instance about ‘the challenge of counseling licensure’ for Biblical Counselors.  Although there was some good points about secular licensing, I was struck that the author thought that by hiding in Christian Ministry that it was ethical to ‘be licensed’.  I thought about writing to the author and got tired thinking about it, as I have had many of these ‘talks’ in the past and now realize that this is a liberty issue.  I get why folks want to be licensed (showing grace) so that 1) they can evangelize and 2) participate in insurance billing so that they can make a living.  The ‘bad news’ however is that they are being disobedient to Romans 13 by ‘lying’ that they subscribe to the presuppositions of licensure, and when later cornered, state that they can ‘redeem’ it by becoming a Christian Counselor who is licensed.  To clarify, I used to write to the licensure board every year here in SC and ask this question:  “Please advise if this is within the confines of being licensed and does not jeopardize my licensure.  Can I share my worldview with counselees?  Said another way, If I come from a world view different from my counselee, can I share that world view and can it be the lenses in which I perform my counsel?  Further clarification, can I share my worldview, for instance as a Christian, Muslim, Mormon, or Jehovah’s Witness as the basis of my counsel?”  Without fail, each year, I was adamantly informed that I could not share my worldview, and it could jeopardize my license.  I bring this foundation on this quote, because it comes to another soap box of mine.  From where does this ‘counsel’ come and is it based upon the gospel?  Every local manifestation of the church I have been a part of, has swallowed the pill of integration, which leads to my next point.  How can we bring the gospel to bear on people’s minds if we cannot discern the truth or know the truth ourselves?  Three of my favorite resources calling this lack of discernment into the light, should be read, studied, and part of the ‘elder’ training of every biblical church.  I discovered these goldmines while in seminary and my ACBC (formerly called NANC) Certification process;

  1. “How John Calvin Led Me to Repent of Christian Psychology” by Steven Cole.
  2. Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology” by Ed Bulkley.
  3. A Call To Discernment:  Distinguishing Truth from Error In Today’s Church” by Jay Adams

These bring to light how much of the ‘gospel’ brought to bear on people’s minds and hearts is psychobabble which is why it never renews or transforms.  A few years ago I wrote to one of the ‘new’ advocates of this when he asked me to review is work in the early years of his ministry.  He was proposing new addition to standard Systematic Theologies that have a historical precedence and authority and was suggesting it was not sufficient and proposed to include “sufferology”.  Did you catch that “not sufficient” and “I have some new ideas and ways” when the reality is “…there is nothing new under the sun.” {Eccl. 1:9 ESV).  However, when one has a Christocentric view of scripture or Gospel-Centered view, deviations and syncretism don’t push against the classic or beg for a new category for historical systematic theology topics.  Of course when this is pointed out, you make a lot of friends and tend to be the ‘harsh’, ‘no grace’, ‘legalistic’, ‘not understanding the value of common grace’, ‘oh, you are one of those’ and put in ‘that camp’ of biblical counselors.  I like what Keller said here, “Our truth allergic, experience-addicted populace wants transformation but doesn’t want the loss of freedom and control associated with submitting to authority within a committed community.”  Good talk, on to the next quote.

So if the root of every sin is idolatry, and idolatry is a failure to look to Jesus for our salvation and justification, the the root of every sin is a failure to believe the gospel message that Jesus and Jesus alone is our justification, righteousness, and redemption…Those who preach and counsel for gospel renewal should constantly speak CenterChurchBookCoverabout underlying idols, which show us our hearts’ particular, characteristic ways of failing to believe the gospel.”

     As many of my readers know, I have been a fan of Tim Chester and Jeff Vanderstelt, who consistently beat the drum of these implications of the gospel and have made a profound affect on my personal sanctification but also in the ‘counsel’ to others for many years.  When I read these items above, I was immediately reminded of a couple of tools that are the grids for remembering these implications.  With Tim Chester, it is the “4 G’s” and with Jeff Vanderstelt, it is “Gospel Fluency.”  They have summarized these concepts in easy to understand statements that immediately bring to bear on any situation, the implications of the gospel with our idols.  Here are my summaries that I have found helpful for me:

Is God is great?  (Then why do I have to be in control?);  Is God is glorious? (Then why am I fearing others?); Is God is good? (Then why am I looking elsewhere?); Is God gracious? (Then why am I trying to prove myself?)” {Tim Chester}

How does the Gospel address this?” and, “What about the Gospel are you not believing?” {Jeff Vanderstelt}

These are very sobering questions that cause me to pause and think through my heart motivation (idol) in a current situation.  Every time I have shared these either in a discipleship, counseling or over a coffee, the standard response is, “Wow, I never thought of it that way.”  As a disclaimer, I am not saying that ‘all you have to do is ask these questions and your fixed’ but what I am saying is, Do you have something that reminds you of the implications of the gospel consistently and regularly whether in community, privately, or through the influences in your life?  I think Tim Keller would agree, to be the center church, these are the types of tools that we are using to remind each other of the implications of the gospel.  Again, the ‘church’ should be no stranger to these types of statements or teachings as an older (2006) CCEF article points in One Church’s’ Story.

There are, in the end, only two questions to ask as we read the Bible:  Is it about me?  Or is it about Jesus?  In other words, is the Bible basically about what I must do or about what He has done?”…Sound contextualization is not – as often argued – ‘giving people what they want to hear.  Rather it is giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in a language and forms that they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them.”

     Many folks don’t realize that I went to seminary and graduated in the top of my class.  I don’t draw attention to it (and there will be some evidential apologist who is going to say I am doing that now…because they are not reading in context  or finished reading the thought) and try not to.  I have found that when someone finds out, for some strange reason, the conversations change.  People ‘clean up’ language, attempt to put on a ‘better’ mask, or believe they must say something ‘more spiritual.’  I went to seminary because I was struck by the conviction that “sanctification has not happened yet because you have not applied it…” and “don’t believe what I am saying about the text but learn to read the text for yourself as inevitably you are going to stand before God and be responsible for it.”  These statements spoken in love to me at critical times in my Christian walk were part of the turning points that have built the foundations for my ‘walking theology’.   I took hermeneutics courses (loved them), I took original language courses (Greek and Hebrew… there was no Aramaic at the time), and I took contextualization courses.  A few of the seminary courses I took involved ‘debates’ and I always enjoyed taking a topic that I particularly would not subscribe too, and learn all I could about it and argue it convincingly.  I remember one such debate in a systematic theology course.  I chose to be an ‘Arminian’ against a ‘reformed’ guy.  I won the debate because I chose to challenge my ‘reformed’ brother with covenantal apologetics (reformed tool) regarding the sufficiency of scripture and hermeneutics.  I asked him to explain how someone was to see the authority of scripture and interpret it from a reformed perspective?  He went down the TULIP road which immediately baited him for my summary.  When I was asked by the mediator how an Arminian would argue for sufficiency/authority of scripture and how we must interpret it, I responded.  “If the Bible is true? If God is the final authority?  Then scripture is read from who gets the glory.  If it is about my self-esteem and who should seek reconciliation, then it is about me.  If it about seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and these things will be added to you, then it is about God.”  I don’t believe sufficiency, authority, or hermeneutics are reformed or Arminian or dispensational BUT they can be when one listens or reads who gets the glory in the ‘push’ of the discussion.  I won the debate not because I was an Arminian (had a few reformed folks come to me afterwards and say… “Hey I thought you were reformed…?”  I replied, “I am…a truly reformed guy understands his depravity, that he has come to God kicking and screaming, that it is by grace he is saved, and if God’s hand is upon you, it cannot be resisted, and my chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, which includes how I view authority, sufficiency, and hermeneutics.”) but because we all agreed that God should get the glory.

“In every gospel presentation, there is an epistemological challenge.  People are being told that their understanding of God and ultimate reality is wrong…There is also a personal challenge regarding sin and a depiction of the listener’s fallen condition…There there is a proclamation of Christ as the answer and solution to their sin…The gospel makes us both humble and confident at once; these two attitude are critical for doing faithful and sound contextualization.”

This quote struck me in that only someone who is washed in humility and understands that it is by grace they have been saved, could say these things.  There are brief moments of my life when I truly fathom the love of God and the depth of depravity that He has saved me from.  It is these moments that cause me to love non-believers and the lost.  People say to me, “Yeah but you have the gift of evangelism” and I always want to respond, “No, I am being obedient, what is your excuse.”  Yeah, harsh but c’mon’ folks, if we say we are of God, made in His image, and love His word, then like Him, we also pursue those that are lost.  It is not a gift when thought of this way, but a humility born out of thankfulness for His pursuing you!  How can I not share?  Early in my Christian walk, I was an evidential apologist (facts/evidence – challenging folks to believe what is obvious to all) in which I quickly grew tired and weary of the responses, but also the incessant need to be ‘right’.  I remember the day when I was particularly ‘worn out’ with an exchange, when the spirit of God reminded me that it was only by grace that I understood in the first place.  It is for this reason that I am a presuppositionalist.  I am a firm believer in that if you join with people on their side to wrestle with things of the faith and if their argument is with God and His word, then it breaks down the walls of self-righteousness, arrogance, and pride when you join with them on the road to discovery without presuppositions.  Let me share what I mean with what I call the gasoline analogy.  For the sake of argument, let’s say I go to my usual gas station and find out that gas is only 15-cents a gallon.  I go in and verify with the store, and sure enough, it is 15-cents a gallon.  I verify that it is going to be this way until the end of the day.  In my excitement, as I am leaving I call up family and friends.  My family and friends who know me can respond a myriad of ways but again, for the sake of argument, these are the responses I am going to get.

1.  “Yeah, that sounds really good, but I bet it was fluke and after you left someone changed the prices back to what they were.”

2.  “I would really like to get over there and get some, but I never see these things or win anything, so it will probably be over by the time I get there.”

3.  “Yeah, right, are you sure you paid that much.  {seriously, let me show you my receipt}, Nah, I don’t believe it and you probably faked the receipt, you are so gullible, they will find out their error later and take the funds from your account.”

4.  “No there isn’t and I don’t believe you, why do you have to always get excited about things that don’t matter or are not true?”

5.  “Wow, I am going to head over there right now and get some.” {and never does} and never says anything to you about it and hopes you never bring it back up.

6.  “Really, I am pulling in there now, and although I don’t believe it, sure enough the sign says 15-cents and thanks for letting me know.  I am going to let some others know too!  Thanks for thinking of me.”

Here is what I discovered.  God is looking for #6.  For me, without the Omniscience of God, to find him/her, I have to go through a lot of 1-5’s.  I have learned to be a fan of the parable of the soils as it relates to evangelism, and it makes a lot of sense when you think of how people respond to the gospel, kind of like my analogy above.  I later learned that I need work on not being the obstacle (credibility, delivery, integrity, tone, patience, manipulating, etc.) for them hearing the gospel.  I don’t think enough is said about this in our ‘apologetics training’ either.  I used to know a guy who was particularly fond of preaching outside of Abortion clinics with his wife and kids.  He would bring unborn fetus pictures with him.  I used to try to ask the guy if he discipled anyone, if any of the young girls he was showing these pictures to lived in his house for 6-12 months because they did not have a home and they were now convicted of keeping the baby.  Always without fail, he would look at me like I was crazy, he truly believed he had done his part and all that was required.  I don’t believe that.  I am a fisherman… you catch em, you clean em.  What he never admitted was that he got some joy out of blasting, condemning, and shocking, not living, submitting, obeying or walking with them.  He then would appeal to Way of the Master ministries and claim he was doing what he was taught.  Really?  Keep telling yourself that.  Because we live in a moral relativistic society (truth is relative and opinions have weight/value over that ‘truth’).  We can come off as arrogant, self-righteous, us-vs.-them, condescending and forgetting, that they are made in the image of God and deserve respect.  I am a fan of participating with them in wrestling through it, and the funny thing is, it goes a lot farther than arguing.  I highly recommend a book I am currently reading part of the the  “Five Views” series on Apologetics, and to clarify, I am a presuppositionalist and have been for quite some time.  I discovered that it is the way Jesus did it, asking questions and letting people wrestle with the answers they had not really thought through.  Some great work in this area has also been done by Randy Newman, who is messianic Jewish in decent.

Active contextualization involves a three-part process:  entering the culture, challenging the culture, and then appealing to the listeners…If we are deeply involved in the lives, questions, and concerns of the people, then when we study the Bible in order to preach it to them, we will see God’s answers to their questions…Our criticism of the culture will have no power to persuade unless it is based on something that we can affirm in the beliefs and values of that culture.”

     In seminary, one of my favorite classes regarding the discussion of contextualization was by the late William Larkin (we always called him Dr. Larkin).  He was one of the must humble, tentative, patient, and loving apologists I had ever encountered.  His book/class on contextualization has been my go-to since graduating, and one that I highly recommend.  The biggest turning point in my Christian walk was when he discipled me through thinking and analyzing how historical and cultural relativism challenges the hermeneutical process when applied to scripture.  I remember thinking after one of my projects.  “Wow, we do bring a lot of our own presuppositions to the bible and make them authoritative without context or data gathering.  I wonder how many more of my ‘presuppositions’ are being imposed on the bible and impact my understanding, counsel, training, teaching, and methodology rather than letting the Bible/God speak for Himself.”  Contextualization is process, and it takes time.  It takes love, and it takes involvement.  It is why street corner ‘preachers’ do not win many converts, it is why ninja tract evangelists (they mysteriously end up in your wallet, in the public restroom, or with your receipt after a purchase for instance) are not producing fruit, it is why inward focused churches and movements do not have any new visitors or converts.  Cross-cultural churches are few and far between because everyone is bringing their presuppositions to the text, to people, to culture… and doing a lot of damage.  These quotes reminded me that the gospel is not about me or others like me but about the whole world, races, and worldviews.  Something we all need to be reminded of regularly.

“One occupational hazard of urban church planting is having a new church rent its worship space and therefore only corporately reside in a particular neighborhood for the few hours during which they rent the space.”

The PCA church I was on staff with recently told me they still have a ministry to a Section 8 housing area to this day.  I attribute that to a vision of the gospel to the city demolished the ‘renter’ mentality.  Here is the history of how that was established in 2005.  When I went to ask the property manager if we could serve the residents in some way and what would be best, I was immediately confronted with, “What makes you different than the other churches who come here and want to check their box and do their good deed but never invest in the people?”  I was stunned first by her comment, and second, grieved that was how the ‘church’ was perceived.  The mail boxes reflected 5-7 posters from local churches offering rides to church and bible studies, but no one was getting their hands dirty.  I reminded her that we were right next door, and that ‘church’ was not checking a box nor were people ‘projects’ to salve our consciences.  I suggested a monthly breakfast for the residents.  We would come during the last week of the month when their benefits were running out, and offer breakfast, offer stable foods to be taken with them (donated from local businesses), and just hang out with the residents and find out what the needs were.  The property manager was rightfully tentative about this, and decided to give us a try.  So we canvassed our church (local assets) on what we believed we were called to do.  Were we just reaching our neighbors and co-workers, or are we to reach all those where God had placed us?  Our church put together canned goods and clothing to provide the residents who would come through the breakfast line.  I challenged the leadership next with, what if they want to come to Wednesday night dinner (normally an inward focused event) or worship on Sunday, who is going to pick them up and drive them back?  What if someone needs a ride to the doctor, or for prescriptions or to the grocery store?  This really challenged many of the settlers at that church and thankfully a few saints ‘got it’ and got messy with the residents who lived next to our church.  Pretty soon, the Saturday breakfast was a pool in which many resources of the church were invested… from the deacons, to donations, to the community, the volunteers, and the critical point, when the residents themselves got involved and saw it as a resource for their community.  We had members of the church giving rides during the week, we did oil/filter change days, we did clothing auctions (that did not cost anything), we did food drives, we ran summer water camps for the kids etc.  I realized things had changed in everyone’s heart when one of the residents became a member and was baptized in front of the church and it was all because of the ‘Saturday breakfast ministry’.  We need more churches that are owners of their community in which they are placed and not renters, sadly I don’t see this changing any time soon.

“I believe most of these concerns can be reduced to two fundamental questions.  The first question deals with our attitude toward cultural change:  Should we be pessimistic or optimistic about the possibility for cultural change?  The second question exposes our understanding of the nature of culture itself and speaks to its potential for redemption:  Is this current culture redeemable and good or fundamentally fallen?  Our answers to these questions will reveal our alignments with biblical emphases as well as our imbalances…The biblical material calls for a balance of not compromises but being controlled simultaneously and all the time by all the teaching of scripture…I suggest 4 seasons in the cycle of the church’s relationship to culture…Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn…So the model we embrace will likely be influenced by the temperament and spiritual gifts we possess”

When I was first exposed to the power and purpose of the gospel (power=God, Sin, Jesus, Faith; purpose=Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration), I was actually in seminary and it was after taking “Progress of Redemption” based upon the material by Buck Hatch, that the Bible finally made sense to me.  It answered questions like, how does the old/new testament fit?  Has God’s plan ever changed?  Is God a benevolent grandpa who reacts to man’s disappointments and must set things right to clean up the mess?  Is God surprised by what man is doing? and many more.  Today I would understand this be Covenant Theology and one that to me, presents the Bible in a way that gives God all the glory for how He has pursued man.

I remember recently responding to a question on Quroa (after which I remembered why I do not like forums or these types of venues, as I have seen it reveal the worst of humanity especially for those who are honestly seeking answers. Do people really look to Quroa to answer their deepest needs and questions?) when a user asked how should they read the Bible.  Of course one of the responses which baited me to respond to,  to what I perceived to be – an honest question, and after scrolling through a long-winded 5-screen scrolling tirade complete with convoluted steps, filled with Christianese, I responded with, “What if God really did want everyone to know His plan and made it so simple that even a child could understand it, and the clincher, you don’t even have to know how to read, to understand it?  What if God’s Story was based upon what I will call 4/4.  What if the power of the Bible/gospel started with God, the problem of sin, His sending of Jesus, and the role of faith?  What if every story in the Bible can all be understood through the lens of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration?” Within 12-hours I was notified of 12+ responses to my response and 4 of them were from the ‘diatribe-guy’ who wanted to tell me that Covenant Theology was from the Devil and that I was causing people to go to hell because of my watering down of the gospel.  I thought to myself, “really?” and this dork thinks that he is evangelizing?  I closed my account because I get tired of these types of folks.  Folks like this ‘guy’ are more interested in getting the glory for his method rather than pointing someone to the Word and getting them reading and letting the Holy Spirit do the rest.  It was very clear, that this person had a pessimistic view of culture and that he believed he was an instrument of redemption, and if I just followed his 49-steps on how to read the bible then all would be right with the world and with God.  The reality of it is that this guy answered the second question above by outlining that culture was fundamentally fallen and only through rules, regulations, legalism, and his reading plan would things be right with the world.  Being a Christian for 20-years, I now fully get why most of Jesus’ arguments were with the Pharisees/Sadducees.  They were not interested in learning about God or how to have a relationship with Him, or how God worked in their daily lives.  Read Matthew 23 and see a great example of the exchanges Jesus had with the ‘too heavenly minded – no earthly good’ and His warning to the rest of us.  I heard it said, that sometimes people are looking for a fight because they are not in one.

“So a Christian is not a spiritual consumer, coming in to get his or her emotional needs met and then going home.  A missional church, then is one that trains and encourages its people to be in mission as individuals and as a body.  All of the voices in the missional conversation agree that the church must not be only attractional; it must equip and send the laity in to the world to minister.”

     Most of the church culture’s I have seen and participated in are filled with ‘consumers’ and ‘observers’ versus ‘participants’.  Let me explain.  A consumer believes the church owes them something.  For instance, that there should be youth groups to take care of his kids, marriage groups to take care of his marriage, single groups to take care of his singleness and operate as a dating venue, and that small groups should be social clubs.  A consumer wants feel-good bible study and unaccountability on how they live their lives.  An observer sits back and does nothing and gives nothing.  They tend to take up space and listen to calls to discipleship, volunteering, or evangelism and believe it is for the ‘other people.’  A participant gets their hands dirty, sees needs and fills them, doesn’t need permission to disciple or share the gospel, and gives back to their community out of the love and grace that has been shared with them.  I realize there are deviations and these short definitions may seem harsh and callous.  But humor me with these definitions as I share some manifestations I have seen of them.  I have seen consumer’s when challenged to step up and get in the rotation for teaching Sunday school for their own kids balk and complain that I was not a good pastor and needed to be doing that for them.   I remember one particular ‘consumer’ who insisted that I have curriculum, activities, and refreshments for little ones.  We did not have any small kids other than his and one other family, and when I mentioned that it sounded like he had a passion for it and should start that ministry, balked at me and started recruiting others against me and the leadership.

I have seen good causes get left undone because observers checked their box in showing up, but did not tithe, give back, nor serve others and the burden was left on the 10% who always do (participants).  I have seen consumers compromise solid theology and hermeneutics, refuse accountability, and threaten to ‘take their toys and leave’ when the community wanted to walk beside them through their bad marriage.   I have seen consumers and observers compromise what is happening in small groups because they felt they were too legalistic ( their term for when someone asked them how their bible reading was, marriage, or work life).  We live in a culture of unaccountability and reproach.  A recent article I was reading talked about the blessing of community and being in each other’s lives.  These things are not promoted or shared, or presented as the norm as they should be.  Another article I was reading was titled, “Why modern Christianity makes people vomit” and they author was right on with similar sentiments on how consumers/observers continue to do so much damage to the witness for Christ and culture. We need to promote what we want.  I remember going to Randy Pope’s church in Atlanta and only hearing about evangelism, discipleship, and small groups.  These were the things that were important to their culture, therefore were the only things that got the limelight.  It literally dripped of evangelism stories, it was thick with discipleship and how many groups were in operation around the area.  They promoted what was important and made sure that it was also reinforced.  We need more of that.

“In general, simply bringing nonbelievers into the Christian community at any point is safe if the whole community is very warm and accepting toward those without faith.  If the community is not culturally alien, if the community is shepherded by pastors who make lay ministry a priority, and if the church is doing balanced and integrative ministry…Let me propose four ‘fronts’ to ministry:  1) connecting people to God (through evangelism and worship); 2) connecting people to one another (through community and discipleship); 3) connecting people to the city (through mercy and justice); and 4) connecting people to the culture (through integration of faith and work).”

I wrote in the margin of my book, “Where is this?!?!”  Over the years I feel like I have grown increasingly more and more hermetic like Arthur Pink, due to topics like these in the church.   I remember back to when I was in seminary one day, working with Campus Crusade For Christ, I had taken a ‘friend’ with me (although a strong believer – it builds the case) and on the way to our ministry location, he started telling me how thankful he was that I was I ‘letting him’ into ministry and that ‘others’ had not given him opportunities and he felt useless in the body Christ.  I wept that day with that ‘friend’ because Christianity sometimes is a ‘bubba club’ (Matthew 23).  Perhaps some more examples will explain.  When I was on staff at a PCA church in 2000’s as a biblical counselor, small group director, and tech ministry leader, I was able to participate in the lives of many that came through the doors.  As God has graced me, I am a natural presuppositional discipleship-evangelist.  Roughly translated, I would rather be around broken, messy, high-maintenance, caustic, rough, non-believers than the religious righteous most of the time.  This is true of me even today.  I remember I was talking with a Hispanic family that was interested in spiritual things and worked at the restaurant that I had many ‘appointments’ at.  One day he asked me where I went to church and if he and his family could visit.  Because I tend to have rose-colored glasses I said sure, and invited him to the next thing he and his family could attend.  It was an event called “Wednesday night dinner” and although pitched as an ‘open’ even and opportunity, it really isn’t.  I remember arriving late, and much to my chagrin, my ‘friend’ and his wife were sitting at a table alone!  As I looked across the venue, I saw pockets of my ‘church family’ in their circles and conversations, but no one had greeted nor welcomed my friend and his wife.  Connie and I immediately and warmly brought them some food and proceeded to have some time to talk.  There was a slight language barrier with his wife, however, she had brought an electronic translator so she could talk with us.  Sitting at the table behind us was a couple of Parishioner’s who had taught ESL (English As A Second Language), and I knew that one of them in particular was more fluent in Spanish than I was.  I remember, going and sitting down with that person and asking if they would come join us and assist me to communicate with my friend’s wife.  I will never forget the response.  “I am sorry, I just came here to eat and meet with my friends, not do ESL.  I do that all day long and don’t want to do it when I am off and especially at church.”  I was nervously smiled at and the conversation ended.  I went back and sat with my friend as we struggled through sharing the ‘Christian Community’ with my friend.

Another time, I was involved in a section 8 housing ministry (mentioned earlier) and it was Thanksgiving.  Again, our church advertised that we would be having a ‘family meal together’ but that this was also a venue to bring non-believers, safe, yada-yada.  We had invited a whole bunch of them, and when we arrived they had been shuffled to an isolated table outside of the busy conversations, groups, and clicks.  I walked in on seeing one parishioner telling one of the ‘visitors’, “I am sorry, that seat is taken, I think you might want to sit over there with the rest of the XXXXXXXX Housing folks over there.”

Another time, I invited a ‘friend’ to a Sunday morning service and afterwards when we were having lunch, he said to me, “I did not meet anyone today.  I thought they would be warm and welcoming like you and Connie.  I did not understand all the ‘rituals’ (order of service, up-and-down for singing, raising hands, tithe message, little bread-little grape juice, why do people dress up, etc.).”  It is ‘real’ questions like these that are not ‘safe’ to ask and I realized how foreign it was for non-believers to come to our churches without translation, even when they are just coming on an invitation.  I remember them asking Connie and I why we did all those things and was it like that every week, and who decides what is presented.  Talk about warm and fuzzy conversation.  If I have to give disclaimers, explain away behaviors, and traditions, then it is not really safe.

Another time we were involved in a ‘church plant’ (which is supposed to be the safest place on earth for non-believers right?) and when I asked if I could bring a few of my non-believing friends to our small group, the ‘leader’ was uncomfortable and said that it was perhaps not the venue to bring a non-believer and that I was more than welcome to bring him to Sunday (see previous paragraph on how well that turns out).  I remember saying to the leader, “I am sorry, I thought that Christianity was about doing life together?  Is that not what we are supposed to be living?”  The conversation went further on and finally I said, “Let me be frank with you (the leader), first, I never invite someone to my ‘church’ activities if I have not first invited them to my house and my life.  Second, part of my life involves my church gatherings and attendance and if I am communicating the importance of having others around for fellowship and discipleship, why not start with the periphery ministries of the church which will have venues for dialogue (c’mon folks is Sunday morning really the time to get into deep-discussions and people’s stories – or is it more passive, sit in a pew and follow the order of worship and check your box and leave?).  Finally, if I cannot invite them to small group, why would I invite them to Sunday morning which is even more confusing, isolated, vernacular and tradition eccentric?  I realized that day, that I could not rely on the church systems to participate in evangelism/discipleship.  Churches want cleaned up, behaving, in-line, submissive and compliant observers rather than open-dialogue or questions.

Another church we were attending, allowed us to have a ‘missional community’ at our house.  Mind you we had been doing it long before getting permission, going through The Story, having community and neighborhood events in which we served and participated with many non-believers.  Of course, whom know we are believers and feel ‘safe’ to ask questions but also be real and authentic.  The pastor at the church we were attending is a good friend of mine.  He asked me if I would participate in some of the groups that were nearby and ‘energize them’ toward evangelism and engaging their communities.  As we started participating it became blatantly obvious this ‘group’ was not interested in evangelism but having a social club.  Being honest though, there was a few times at the beginning that attempts were made to engage neighbors but there was always excuses.  “Oh we can’t do that…We don’t have an HOA…”  Connie and I would delicately ask questions, “How many of your neighbors do you know?”  Crickets…  There was/is always the guy who believes that by waving at his neighbor or by happenstance their families walked out together that there was a bond.  We would press deeper and suggest events or ways to engage and the reasons why they couldn’t …“I work every day and Saturday is my only day to surf”.  One of my favorites was when a couple of friends of ours started an apartment ministry in their complex and when I inquired and even mentioned that Connie and were participating, the ‘evangelist’ could not find the time or get out of his comfort zone to participate in his own apartment complex…all he had to do was show up, the rest had been already done!

Later, my pastor friend asked us to host a missional community, and the main drive was for a ‘project’ guy who came to my pastor friend begging for a missional community and fellowship.  We had just wrapped up a “Story” (mentioned above) group and the guy was so uncomfortable to have non-believers around that he complained to my pastor friend that I was not caring for him and that he thought this was a ‘care group’ and that he was going to be around believers.  My pastor friend attempted to persuade him to persevere but that all changed the day he ‘ninja’ visited and returned the materials I had loaned him that he was interested in, mumbling something about thanks for the group, but sorry I will no longer be attending.  I think I saw him like 5x after that at Sunday services.  He was a consumer, and took his toys and left when he was not the focus.

I share these ‘memories’ because it is not safe in most Christian environments, and despite the ‘missional community’ or ‘gospel-centered’ mantra that is part of what’s happening now Christianity, many still fault to what my seminary professor (Roy King) said.  “Either they are inward focused or outward focused but rarely both (like Keller is talking about).”

Maybe you can tell that in some areas I have grown disappointed (not with His bride) but with the denial and stained glass masquerade of Churchianity these days.  We say we have the ‘good news’ but we so easily forget (and I include myself in this) that God is great – so we do not have to be in control; God is glorious – so we do not have to fear others; God is good – so we do not have to look elsewhere; God is gracious – so we do not have to prove ourselves.  We forget to ask, “How does the Gospel address this?” and, “What about the Gospel are we are not believing?”  If we did, I think that we just might be ‘safer’ places for everyone.  Or maybe I am just taking ‘pot shots’ at His bride forgetting that none of these things mentioned above were meant to permanently satisfy and if I am looking for them to be ‘perfect’ then I am going to be sorely disappointed.  Needless to say, there is a lot of work that needs to be done, for the ‘church’ to become the Center Church.  I also believe that many of us think we are going to get extra credit for climbing a mountain, when the reality is, there is an elevator next door (nothing new under the sun…) and instead of looking for the ‘new’ nugget, new method, or ‘yeah but we do it this way…’ we were faithful with the things we have already been taught, there would be no need for a blog posting/rant like this or for that sake a book like this.

The Great Commission
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him they worshiped Him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of
all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matt 28:16-20 ESV


Disclosure of Material Connection: I freely purchased this book and audio book and I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The man in the mirror: Solving the 24 problems men face; 25th anniversary edition, revised, updated–Book review

     When I bought a case of these for Christmas last year (2015), I did so knowing that the material was fantastic, but also that it had been some time since I initially read it.  I actually think that it was when I had initially professed faith in Christ back in…dang it has been a long time.  What I received in my case however was the anniversary, revised and updated edition and with bold letters, “Foreword by R.C. Sproul”.  I was pleasantly surprised that this great book had been updated and this was my queue that I needed to re-read it.  If you are not familiar with Patrick Morley or Man in the Mirror then I hope this review gives you some exposure to one of the best Men’s Ministry Missions.  Yes, I said it… mission.  One of the few heart beats to my call is reaching men and it is books/missions like this that have help me personally and millions of other men.

     On to the book review.  The 24 problems men face are are grouped under 7 topic headings; Solving our Identity Problems, Solving our Relationship Problems, Solving our Money Problems, Solving our Time Problems, Solving our Temperament Problems, Solving our Integrity Problems, and Conclusion.  As you can see under these topicMIM headings, much can be said and address under these.  These are also areas where most of us would agree that most of the problems a man face can be found.  This time around with my reading, I found sections 2, 5, and 6 (Relationship, Temperament, and Integrity) to be the places that were most impactful for me this time around.

     This re-read was just as interesting as the first time I read it.  It challenged, inspired, and enlightened me in ways that I needed to be reminded of especially in regards to my relationships, temperament and integrity.  I like the end of chapter ‘deep questions’ as they could be used either for small groups, a reading group, or accountability partner.  I would enjoy having these discussions with other guys and the fellowship and ‘fox hole’ experience that follows.  Patrick Morley does hold your attention in the new, revised updated edition just like he did the first time around.  I found the information to be presented in a cohesive and appealing manner (essentially short chapters) that would make it conducive to all types of men.  Finally, I want to finish in that Patrick successfully conveys Biblical truth and it because of this, that I bought a case of 48 of these and gave them out to co-workers, friends, acquaintances, and vendors.  I highly recommend this book to others, and especially the follow up, if you gifted it to someone.  You will never know where people are when they get a chance to look at the gift found in this book.  I have quite a few redemptive moments with co-workers and the like because of investing this book in others.



Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Man in the Mirror. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”