This week I wrote the last words to my new novel about Pastor Butch Gregory and sent it to a couple of folks to proofread and also to a friend for his opinion.  The most important reader, Mrs. Greenbean, already read it and said she loved it.  So, to me it is already a success.  After these folks get finished and I make any corrections to continuity or plausibility, I”ll have to find a publisher!

Now, though,  I’m going to take a month or two off of writing before I start my next book and catch up on all my reading that I’ve  been pushing to the side.  “Let’s see, what have I got here in the pile,” he thought to himself  as he rummaged around the large stack of hardbacks, paperbacks, and magazines lying on the floor of his study.

Oops.  My bad.  Its hard to get away from 3rd person writing.  Anyway, what is stacked on my floor?

1.  A couple of Wayne Cordeiro books.  The Irresistible Church and The Divine Mentor.  Those will be great.  I love Wayne.

2.  Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.   A friend gave that to me for Christmas.  I like Keller; and I forgive him for being a Calvinist.  Notice how much he looks like Captain Picard.  I do.

3.  Launch by Nelson Searcy.  Searcy is such a self promoting hack, but his books are always insightful.   I got that book to help me think through our Silverdale church plant.

4.  Oooh, I’ve got Dr. No, Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, sitting right over there.  I might read that one first.  I’ve made it a project to read through all the original Bond novels.  So far I’ve been very surprised at how different Bond is in print as opposed to on film.  Its not quite the same.

5.  Viral Churches.  Some book from the denomination.  Looks infectious.  By the way, why do so many church books use medical terminology, and usually yucky terminology.  Why would anyone, on the face of it, want a church that was viral?  I blame Bill Hybels.  He started it by telling all of us should be contagious Christians.

He coughed as he wondered if he might not be  getting a fever; and then he thought about how much he admired Hybels.  If only he had hair that nice, maybe he too would have a large ministry.

Sorry, there goes that pesky 3rd person again.  Now, back to the list.

6.  The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1.  A friend gave me that as a gift.  It looks delicious; but it is so big that it intimidates me.  I haven’t had the gumption to start it yet.  It feels like the kind of thing that, if I started today, I might get finished by 2015.

7.  Oh, over there is the Biblical Archaeology Magazine I started last week.  I take a lot of magazines including Newsweek, National Geographic, and Christianity Today; but above them all BAR is my favorite.  Hands down.


It is not often that I blog about the internal workings of my church; but today I just can’t help myself.  Yesterday we had our February “Big Day.”  No, our Big Day had nothing to do with the Super Bowl.  Instead, it is about us taking a little extra effort to invite our friends, make sure we all show up, and give a little more attention than normal to our church.  The best analogy is that we treat Big Day Sundays like when people are having company over–we make sure everything is cleaned up, we try to cook a yummy meal, and we might even use real plates instead of paper ones.  It is a concept we learned from Nelson Searcy, primarily in his book Ignite.  Searcy is a church planter in New York and Florida and is a recognized leader on church growth and health.  Nelson writes books, but they all only have one word titles.  Nelson is an endless and tireless self promoter, but on some things he is right on the money.  This is one of them.  Nelson’s real gift is simplifying church into basic systems of concepts that work in our culture today.  Back in the olden days we would have simply called Big Day “High Attendance Sunday.”  Following Searcy’s strategy, we try to have one in February, one in the summer, and one in October plus the automatic Big Days of Easter (April 8 this year) and Christmas.

We’ve been doing this now for a year.  Yesterday was the one year anniversary of our first Big Day.  This year’s Big Day launched a three-week sermon series called Project 68; three sermons based on Micah 6:8.

Here is what we learned.

1.  Our church can logistically pull off three worship services.  For the first time ever, we held three worship services on campus yesterday.  We’ve had variations of this in the past, but never three back to back to back on the same site.  The staff (okay, it was me) was nervous about whether we could pull off all the ushering, the sound, the video and computer work, the greeters and the refreshments for three services.  Not only did we pull it off, I personally think we excelled at it.

2.  It is possible to have a meaningful, content rich worship service with exactly a one hour time limit.  We’ve gotten very comfortable taking 70 minutes for our usual format, which is good, but the necessity of getting everything in exactly one hour proved to be a good discipline for us to eliminate that which did not serve the goal(s).  I don’t think anyone would dare say they were cheated in content.

3.  I learned that the 9:00 worship time was surprisingly popular among a younger demographic.  I expected mostly middle-aged Babyboomers but what we got was mostly younger Gen-xers with small children or teens.  I’m trying to figure out what that might mean.  It could just be a “Super Bowl party is later thing so let’s get this over with” but there might be more to it.  I’ll need more data sampling.

4.  When there is only a 15 minute turn-around between services, being 1.5 minutes late matters.  The second service was 1.5 minutes late, and this caused a cascade of events that led to us starting 2 minutes late in the third service.  Fortunately, we recovered that 2 minutes and ended up finishing right on time at 12:30.

All in all–way to go team First Baptist!  In many ways this was a rehearsal for Easter and possible future implementation and I think we did a great job.  I can’t wait till April 8!


This morning in my email I received one of those ‘professional’ articles we pastors get all the time.  I usually just dump them quickly from my iPhone while I’m working out.  But today I lingered on the article and thought about it because it was about something I myself had wrestled with.  The article was titled “4 Reasons Not To Give An Altar Call” and it was pretty good.

For back story on this, allow me to explain that I grew up in a church environment which saw the obligatory “Invitation” as the most important part of the worship service.  For people who might not be familiar, that is the time when, following the sermon, the church sings a song (I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, Softly and Tenderly, Just as I Am) expectantly waiting for something to happen.  The somethings to happen are people to become Christ-followers, rededicate their lives, confess sin, join the church, or just slip down to the altar and kneel to pray.  It is a type of church action which is a throwback to the revivalistic tendencies of the 1800’s and was made universal by the great crusades of Billy Graham.

My personal problem is that I like what we used to call a “warm altar,” because it allows for immediate response to the word of God.  However, much of that is cultural context.  I decided that my desire for the warm altar was overridden by two other factors.

Factor One:  Altar calls can be manipulative.  Today whenever I am in a church service that features an altar call my Gen Xer DNA  shines through and I am certain that I am being manipulated.  For over ten years I used a weekly altar call, and whenever there was no action I always assumed that I’d done something wrong.  I was preconditioned to believe that preaching was only effective if people came forward.  That kind of belief is not only unscriptural it is a recipe for manipulation.

Factor Two:    Altar calls are not effective.  If people are seeking specific prayer or if they are trying to talk about salvation or confession of sin; it is hard to do that when loud instruments are playing and people are singing.  The effectiveness is also strained by the very public nature of such pressure to decide.  People who are not prone to public emotion or are unfamiliar with the practice simply will not participate in an altar call, thus making the practice that much more ineffective.

I came to these conclusions about 6 or 7 years ago, but did not make the change in my church until about two years ago.  When I did, we went cold turkey.  There was no slow weaning off of the endorphin high of an invitation; we just stopped having them.  Some people had a question or two about it, but no one really complained about it and I was surprised at how folks just accepted it.  Now we use these nice little cards (which I swiped from a Nelson Searcy Book) which are printed up each week, sermon specific, with boxes for people to check.  Then, I and other staff can follow up through email, phone calls, or face-to-face conversations on what the spiritual need is and how we can be/become followers of Jesus in an environment that is decidedly less pressurized and much more conducive to dialogue.  The by-product has been that we have seen an increase in all the things we used to count on the invitation to do; because the system we use makes more sense to people to whom they are targeted, namely, people who are not familiar with churchy culture.