an uncelebrated key to success

I watched with Canadian pride as our figure skating team won the gold medal at the 2018 Olympics in Korea. The announcer said this about Tessa Virtue, who skating with ice dance partner Scott Moir, sealed the deal for gold. “Curiosity drives her, not ego.” In my opinion, ego can only take you so far. Eventually, ego can corrupt and even crumble. Ego can cloud perspective and cause a loss of respect. But curiosity can bring innovation, resilience, and discovery. Curiosity can drive you into the unknown with anticipation rather than fear. It compels us to look for success around the next corner, to test drive the variables which will help us excel. Ego can end up imprisoning a person, and alienate those whom we want to serve and bring value to. Curiosity, conversely, is the activity of the truly free. Are you working and walking in the freedom of curiosity or in the slavery to ego?



I was sitting in the front row of the chapel, with all the other pastors and leaders who would take part in the Sunday worship. The worship centre was filled with students, faculty and families, and the worship team had taken its place on the platform. This was my India missions/ministry trip to New Theological Seminary in Dehradun, North India, in the latter part of 2009. Then something strange began to happen – at least strange to me. If this was summer camp I could understand it. But here were these men in shirt and ties, suits – who began to take their shoes off – all of them right there in the front row – the other preachers, the worship leader, the Scripture readers ….. I’m glad my host leaned over and quietly explained: “all of us who lead any part of worship believe we are standing on holy ground. To show our respect, we remove our footwear.” Then the light went on for me. Of course – just like Moses in Exodus chapter 3.

On holy ground, good things happen. Like the reassurance that God is here with us, right now! Like the invitation to Moses to join in on a great divine rescue plan. The trajectory of human history dramatically changed because of a divine encounter in a burning bush – HOLY GROUND!

So how is God getting your attention these days? What mission is He sending you on? Be alert, don’t miss the sign, listen carefully, and know that God will make up for all your inadequacy.


do we really ‘get’ worship?


Sometimes it is so frustrating – I mean we know Jesus said that true worship is a matter of where the heart is, that it is about spirit and not form right?  In John 4:23-24, in response to the question about the best location for a true church to worship, Jesus says = “the time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth – they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”  So why do we get sucked in to so many emotional battles over structure and style? I love what Pastor Ron Edmondson wrote on this subject – simple and to the point.   (you can see it on his blog here) I have posted it below. What do you think?


1. The volume or tempo of the music determines whether you think it’s a worship song. 

2.  A slight change in the order of the service makes you think they’ve harmed “worship”. 

3. You think raising hands or not raising hands determines the depth of a person’s worship. 

4. You believe the “proper” length of a “worship” service is dictated by your lunch schedule. 

5. You think worship has to be in a service or part of a programmed event. 

6. Certain instruments keep you from thinking worship is possible. 

7. You think worship is confined to a certain place or a certain time. 

8. The clothes you wear determines the quality of worship…for you AND others. 

9. You think worship always involves music. 

10. Your attempt to worship has more to do with a personal preference than the subject of worship.

why churches grow

Everyone has their own theories. And I have always taken Acts 2:42-47 as my model/philosophy. Five years ago Carey Nieuhof (Founding & Lead Pastor of Connexus Church in Ontario) wrote what follows. I think he is on to something, and last night I shared it with the Leadership Team in our new church. My guess is that these are difficult concepts for most traditional, established churches to embrace. However, here in Kimberley, we are not average, not traditional, and certainly not predictable. I modified just a few of Carey’s sentences to make it more applicable to our situation. I would love to hear reports from other churches, other leaders, as to what you have experienced.  Are these three factors ‘the keys’ to health & growth? What are we missing?

One of the questions that keeps coming up these days is, “why are some churches growing when so many churches are not?

I’ve thought about this question a lot over the years.  I remember a long drive to Chicago two years ago with an emerging church leader.  During the trip, he asked me point blank why some churches grow and others don’t.  It really made me think.  Within two months, I’d boiled the answer down to three factors — three factors that still make sense to me over two years later.

You might be disappointed, because few of the factors are shrouded in the mystery of church “language” or hyper-spiritual talk.  It might be more tempting to say “because God blesses growing churches”…but doesn’t that imply that God curses dying churches?  Or we might say “because the Holy Spirit is with growing churches…”  But again, is He then not with stagnant or declining churches?  And isn’t it possible to grow a church (at least on the short term) through human effort?  Is God actually behind every growing church, or sometimes can talented people grow a church while God has nothing to do with it?  I doubt the growth would last for years or decades, but I bet you can get solar-flare growth for a little while on human effort alone.

So, here’s my short list of three factors that I think lead to long term, sustainable, God-honoring, authentic growth in a church.  In my opinion, all three are necessary.  You can’t have two out of three and grow long term.  You need all three:

I. Biblical Integrity.  If you base your ministry on anything other than the Word of God, long term it will fizzle.  If people aren’t being led into a growing relationship with Jesus based on scripture, then they won’t stick around for long.  Scripture is the guide for life, for churches and for people.

2. Cultural Relevance.  You may believe the Bible, but if you speak Greek to a culture that speaks English…good luck.  Too many Christians love stuffy, antiquated church culture as much as they love Jesus.  That’s going to be an issue if you are trying to reach people who live firmly in 2012.  Musically, language wise and otherwise, churches need to move into a culturally relevant model of ministry that speaks to people where they are at.  Jesus did.

3. Structural Agility.  This is the unlikely inclusion in the list.  I added it because I have met way too many church leaders who base their ministry on scripture, do culturally relevant ministry, and don’t grow.  By structural agility, what I mean is that church leadership has to be sensitive to the constantly changing dynamics of size and scope of ministry at every size of growth and be willing to change how they function structurally as a result.

The structural changes are myriad.  A church of 300 must be organizationally different than a church of 100.  A church of 900 is going to be very different organizationally than a church of 400.  Many leaders get hung up because they try to pastor a church so that they “know everybody” when they can’t know everybody. The expectation of personal pastoral care by a pastor only has to disappear (see Exodus 18 & Ephesians 4:11-16). Biblically, it should always be care by-the-people for-the-people-anyway.

The role of leadership needs to become more and more equipping-based, where instead of doing the work they enable the work to be done by people.  Congregations become empowered when leaders release them to do the work of ministry.

Decision making also needs to change in a growing organization. It needs to move from consensus based decision making at a congregational level to leader-led decision making and leadership team-based decision making.  Elders will function more as the spiritual ‘guardrails’ of decision making.

Many people chafe at these changes (partly because they can only think in terms to the concept of ‘control’, partly because they’ve never been part of a growing church, partly because they are not willing to consider new models), but that explains why so many churches in Canada are struggling to survive.  We condemn ourselves to limited influence because we won’t make the structural and leadership decisions we need to make to grow the Kingdom. To ignore structural agility is to condemn your church to always being smaller than your vision (or even God Himself) wants you to be.

Those are my three. I realize when I say these things that they are counter-intuitive and often make other church leaders or church people angry, but I think they are just true.

–      Carey Nieuhof,  Connexus, Barrie/Orillia, November 2007

Modified by Rev. D. Johns & shared with the Session of St. Andrew’s Kimberley, July 17/12

hello, my name is doug, and I’m a pragmatist

Theologian, writer, great Bible preacher – phrases that describe the late John Stott. Jeff Loach lamented his recent passing by stating

 “We lack ‘elder statesmen’ in the church … I sometimes wonder if theology has taken a back seat to pragmatism.”

It is true I think. Go to most professional ministry conferences these days and the theme is driven by the questions – what works? how can we do it better? is your church successful? If not openly expressed, it is right there percolating under the surface of our humble and reserved ministry egos. I mean, if our preaching series must be pragmatic so must our ministry training.

Transition to Acts chapters 6 & 7. Stephen could indeed be judged a roaring success – both personally and professionally. Tweet this evidence! Is this not success which should be celebrated?

* he was one of only seven elected to ministry at a time when the church was desperate for some additional leadership

* he was able to showcase God’s power with great signs and wonders

* his eloquence in a public sermon, though it brought about an opposite reaction, rivalled the Apostle Peter – perhaps even more reasoned and logical, like Paul who would take the stage after him

But perhaps we should measure success with a different measuring stick. How about a new paradigm, less pragmatic? Try looking a success through a more mature spiritually sensitive lens and you might note :

* Stephen’s face was like the face of an angel!

* Stephen saw an open heaven, saw the glory of God, saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!

* Stephen had the courage and charcter, even while the stoning took place, to mirror the last words of Jesus!

Spiritual substance and excellence is sometimes more difficult  to resgister on the success meter. It certainly seems at first glance less worthy of jumboscreen fireworks. It is less pragmatic, but not necessarily less observable. Yet we get drawn into the pragmatic paradigm so frequently, so easily, so foolishly.

My quest, which I renew publically, is to get pumped up about seeing and reflecting in my countenance and my words, my Lord’s glory; and to catch a glimpse of heaven where Jesus stands to advocate for me, to welcome me. At least that’s my vow until I attend my next ministry conference when I will most assuredly and no doubt enthusiastically join ranks with my colleagues to do this thing we call church even better.  YES!

Romanian Church Leaders Gather, Eager to Learn

On Saturday March 19 2011 we held another Barnabas School of Ministry Seminar at Trinity Church in Bacau, Romania. I was excited to be with these students again, with some to renew friendships begun last November with others to greet for the first time. Our participants represented seven churches from the region, and numbered over thirty. And notice how many are young people!

The day of study, prayer and instruction was fruitful. Everyone took extensive notes in addition to the english outlines I provided. The Rhythm of teaching with translation is not difficult to establish, but it does require a little concentration! I loved preaching/teaching this way in Hindi while in India in 2009, and now in Romanian in 2010 & 2011. Pastor Marian excels at translation, and the few times there is any hesitation, voices call out out from the classroom with suggested possibilities. Ena & Kjeld Olesen, missionaries in Onesti from Denmark, attended again – and Ena translated into Danish for Kjeld. Like the United Nations!

Our topic this time was “Building Great Churches: Principles from the Book of Acts.” My introduction was a survey of global trends, changes and movements in the way we “do church” over the last 60 years. We explored concepts & movements such as church growth, charismatic renewal, seeker-friendly, missional, multi-site/satellite, emergent, … and a review of Natural Church Development (Christian Swarz) and Healthy Church Traits (Stephen Macchia). We then proceeded to look in depth at various principles clearly evident in Acts:

* Acts 1: Follow Instructions & Make the Connection to the world, to each other and to God.

* Acts 2: How to Preach a Powerful Sermon

* Acts 4: Shaken so as to Shake: persecution pressure & the response of prayer

* Acts 4& 5: Care to Share? Unity, Sensitivity & Generosity Changes Everything.

* Acts 6: Status Quo Does Not Grow – the challenge of too much work, the need to raise new leaders, the absolute need for effective churches to be ready to change

* Acts 12,13,15:Mentored for MinistryTeam Building in the midst of Team Trouble

* Acts 16: Ministry GPS: What to do when God asks you to make a big change … directional detours in the leaders life

In May, with God’s help to raise the travel funds, I want to bring Patrick Voo to teach in the area of How to do Outreach/Evangelism in a Post Modern Culture

The blessing, inspiration and education I am receiving through this partnership is simply amazing. Thanks to my many supporters who have made the trip possible! Thanks to my Presbytery and to First Church Brockville for releasing me to take study leave in this manner. You are helping to build the Kingdom of Jesus by strengthening servants & leaders in an area where ministry education is not available and affordable.

a quick look at basic leadership

Learning About Christian Leadership 

Acts 20:17-37

1.  Who has served as a spiritual role model for you? What about that person has rubbed off on you? 

2.  What characterized Paul’s ministry? 

3.  What does it mean to “keep watch”? 

4.  How & why is their appointment as elders divine, humbling & dangerous?

1 Thessalonians 2:1-13

 1.  What was one of your most memorable failures? (church, work, sports)

 2.  What does ‘ethical’ ministry look like? & the opposite?

 3.  How would Paul’s example of perseverance in the face of persecution encourage them?

 4.  What characteristics of a faithful Christian leader are listed?

  1 Timothy 3:1-15

 1.  When you were young, what did you aspire to be when you grew up?

 2.  Why a list of qualifications only, and not duties?

 3.  What kind of ‘test’ do you suppose the deacons were given?

 4.  Are these qualities important for all Christians?